Preparing for an emergency

Thanks to the cooler weather and colorful trees it brings, October is my favorite month. But alas, sometimes bad things happen even in what I have proclaimed to be “the best month of the year.”

I remember a particular afternoon in October 2007. I was watering the plants in our back yard and looking up at the mountains a few miles away – the mountains that happened to be on fire in several places!

The dry breeze wafted ash particles into our yard. Now, what if a live ember or two drifted in? What if the wind picked up and pushed the fire in our direction?

Four blocks closer to the mountains, families were now being told to evacuate.

My husband was out of town on business. In the house were our two atypical teenage boys and two dogs (who also had their quirks).  If we were told to evacuate, what would I load in the car? How would our guys cope with going to a shelter?

Hmmm – it would be nice to be MORE PREPARED!

No matter where you live, there’s a possibility of some kind of natural disaster. Extreme weather, floods, landslides, earthquakes – everybody’s got something to watch out for. And let’s not forget disasters of human origin (train derailment, pipeline rupture, and other nasty accidents.)

I recently attended an LDA chapter meeting where the guest speaker’s topic was Family Preparedness for an Emergency. While all families should have a plan and some emergency supplies on hand, special-needs families go to the head of the list of People Who Should Be Prepared. Because, let’s face it, having to evacuate your home, or having to do without electricity or fresh water for days is stressful enough – but dealing with that AND with loved ones who don’t tolerate change or chaos? Oof, and double-oof! We need to be as ready and as smart about emergency situations as we can be.

This link from FEMA is a very good reference for general preparedness.  It guides you through the basic elements of Being Informed (about what could happen, and what is happening as disaster strikes), Making a Plan (if scattered, how will you get together in a safe place), and Building a Kit (of supplies).

The American Red Cross also knows a thing or two about preparing for emergencies. Their website includes this page regarding people with disabilities. Note the link on that page to a booklet relating specifically for people with disabilities and special needs, including learning disabilities.

Clicking either the FEMA or the Red Cross links should get you well on your way to better preparedness. Instead of presenting that information all over again, I’ll just highlight a few good ideas that were brought up in the meeting I attended, and some things that occurred to me.

Where To Meet Up

In case your residence is no longer there, or not accessible, you’ll want to have established a place where scattered members of your family can find each other. A smart meeting place would have at least some of these characteristics: out of the danger zone (like, not next to a river that’s prone to flooding); close to major streets; easy for all family members to find, by car or on foot; at or near where helpful people or supplies are likely to be (hospital, store, etc,) The presenter at the meeting said her family’s rendezvous place is Costco. Brilliant! For them, it is close to home, right off the freeway, and a good place to obtain supplies.


  • Among the documents you should have handy is an updated list of contact names and phone numbers. These days, rather than dialing a number, most of us find a contact in our phone and push “Call.” In an emergency, if your phone is lost or unusable, you may need to borrow someone else’s phone – and that stranger is not likely to have your Aunt Matilda in their contact list.
  • You’ll want to have access to documents like insurance policies, bank records, proof of ownership of house and cars, and important medical records. To have a paper version, you can put photocopies of the originals in a sealable plastic bag. Another option is to have these documents available digitally. You can store scanned versions on a USB, or you can have them stored in “the cloud.”
  • If you’ve been exposed to the concept of a special needs trust, you may have heard about a document called a letter of intent. This document, which you will have written, describes all the ins and outs about your special-needs family member – to provide guidance to whoever is providing support to your son or daughter after your demise. This would be an excellent document to include in the plastic bag or on the USB.


  • Your supplies can be stored in a large, sturdy plastic container – easy to grab and load in the car. One person at the meeting said they keep their family’s supplies in a large ice chest.
  • Have on hand one gallon of water per person per day. The presenter suggested having enough water for three days. If you have pets, add more water to your supply.
  • Include canned foods that are high in liquid content. Don’t forget a manual can opener! Avoid putting salty foods in the kit. The goal is to stay hydrated and make sure your water supplies last.
  • Have a change of clothes for each person, ideally including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sturdy shoes. (Since our older son wears T-shirts, shorts and sandals year-round – it’s a sensory thing – I’m not sure how cooperative he’d be in wearing anything else!) Anyway, you know those ratty but well-loved clothes you finally persuaded your teen to stop wearing? Don’t throw them out – save them for the emergency kit! Not only will they be useful in an emergency, but they’ll provide physical and psychological comfort in a time of overwhelming stress.
  • Especially for our special-needs peeps, it would be helpful if the kit includes comfort items and ways to pass the time. An old stuffed animal or blanket, well-loved books from the past, travel games and a deck of cards might all help tone down the distress levels. I wouldn’t want to depend solely on electronic devices, since electricity for charging them may not be available.

If you have a tip to include, please share it in a comment on this post.

In honesty, our family would not score all that high on preparedness at the moment. We’ve maintained an “earthquake kit” for years, rotating the food items out every six months. We used to keep many spare gallons of water, but lately have slacked off on that. Since our move a few years ago, we haven’t set up a new rendezvous location. Neither of our sons, who have their own apartments in town, have anything resembling an emergency plan or kit.

Do you feel you’re too busy to set all of this up? Depending on the individual, you may want to consider giving the task to your atypical teen or young adult. That could be a truly helpful contribution s/he can make to the family.

In any event, writing this post is giving me a much-needed kick in the pants to become better prepared. I hope it motivates you as well.

PS:  We never did have to evacuate back in 2007. My heart goes out to families who have been less fortunate in the face of an emergency.


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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