Web Resource to Help People with Disabilities Prepare for Hurricane Season

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston professor Lex Frieden recently announced the launch of a Web site (http://www.disability911.com) to help people with disabilities prepare for the 2008 hurricane season in the event they have to leave their homes or shelter in place.

The Web site includes hurricane planning tips for people with disabilities, their family members and caregivers, as well as information for emergency planning and response officials.

Frieden uses a wheelchair following a car accident in college. Frieden said that no one has to tell him how important storm preparations are for people with disabilities. When Tropical Storm Allison flooded the Bayou City in 2001, he found himself in waist deep water in his home. Luckily, the water got no higher.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2002 about 18 percent of Americans said they had a disability, and 12 percent had a severe disability.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita walloped the Gulf Coast in 2005, many people with disabilities were chased from their coastal homes by gale force winds and surging tides. Some were separated from their service animals, others from their needed medications, and still others from their wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

When it comes to hurricane planning, Frieden said there are two main issues-- preparation and response.

"Preparation is the key to surviving a hurricane or any other type of disaster," he said. "You need to be prepared to evacuate if you live in a surge zone. You need to know where you are going and when you need to leave. You need to be packed well before a disaster is imminent and ready to leave when directed by responsible authorities."

Many people with disabilities were not prepared for the 2005 hurricanes. "Among the biggest problems with the evacuees fleeing Katrina and Rita were the loss of medical records, prescriptions, life-sustaining health supplies and even eyeglasses," he said.

"People with disabilities and others should be prepared to follow the directions of emergency officials as to whether or not there is a need to evacuate," Frieden said. "Public authorities have improved plans and methods for instructing evacuations since Katrina and Rita."

"People with disabilities should have at least a seven-day supply of food, water, medical supplies, and battery-power backups if necessary," Frieden said. "They should also make plans to have caregiver alternatives, if needed. Such preparation is important because people may be instructed to shelter in place."

If a person with a disability gets trapped by rising water or other calamity, it is important to have a cell phone or landline handy to summon assistance, Frieden said. "It is also a good idea to let family or friends know your plans in case of emergency, so they can check on you," he added.

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