TEXAS COUNCIL for
DEVELOPMENTAL
DISABILITIES

Emergency Preparedness: Plan Ahead and Take Action

Emergency situations, including winter storms and other natural disasters, can happen at any time. To stay safe and healthy, preparing ahead of time is crucial.

The following information includes resources to help people with disabilities and their families prepare for emergency situations. We’ve also included strategies to advocate for Texans with disabilities to have access to emergency information and preparation that is responsive to their needs.

Building an Emergency Supply Kit

During an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days. Being prepared means having your own foodwater, and other supplies (PDF). An emergency supply kit is a collection of basic items you might need during an emergency. Ready.gov, a website created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has a checklist you can use to build your emergency supply kit with important items you might need.

Preparing in Advance

Preparing for emergencies before they happen can make a big difference in how quickly you recover while keeping you and your family as safe and healthy as possible. The article, “Are we Truly Prepared for Emergencies?,” covers important things to consider when preparing in advance for emergencies. The article is coauthored by Dr. Beth Stalvey, TCDD executive director; and Dr. Christin Bradley, regional disability integration advisor at the FEMA Region 6 Recovery Office.

Staying Safe During Winter Storms

During extremely cold weather and winter storms, staying warm and safe can be a challenge. Winter storms can bring cold temperatures, power failures, loss of communication services, and icy roads. The following resources can help you prepare for extreme weather and stay safe during a storm.

The Texas Governor’s Office has a list of winter weather resources, including information about Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance, state warming centers, insurance assistance, and how you can get involved to help Texans in need.

Disability Rights Texas has a webpage with Winter Preparedness Tips for Texans with Disabilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have resources on how to prepare and stay safe, including materials and information in Spanish:

Accessing Disaster Preparedness Resources

Since natural disasters and other emergency situations can happen at any time, here are some additional resources you can use to prepare yourself.

Know about the disaster hotline
The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies operates a disaster hotline, which you can contact any time at 1-800-626-4959.

Locate emergency supplies and shelters
Visit Texas Division of Emergency Management website and select your region and county to find local information on where to find potable water, warming centers, and shelters.

Find community resources
Search Texas A&M University’s Directory of Community Resources for People with Disabilities to find resources and organizations by category and location, developed as part of Project REDD (Research and Education on Disability and Disaster).

You can also access ASL videos that provide information on the FEMA registration process:

Taking Action to Help Texans with Disabilities

During Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, many Texas with disabilities were forced to live without needed support, risk dangerous travel conditions to reach hospital emergency rooms to access power for essential medical equipment, and overcome other obstacles. The impact of the storm and its aftermath were reminders of an ongoing situation in our state: Texas needs improvement in emergency preparedness and response for people with disabilities.

Our priority is to ensure that Texans with disabilities have equal access to, and are proactively included in, all community resources designed to maintain and improve individual and public health and safety, including during public health emergencies. Texans with disabilities deserve emergency planning that is responsive to their needs. Here’s how you can help:

Contact your legislators to ask for the change you wish to see
Find information about districts and members of the Texas Legislature, the State Board of Education, and the Texas Congressional delegation at Texas Legislature Online: Who Represents Me?.

Connect with the Public Utilities Commission
The Public Utilities Commission of Texas has a program for people who rely on electric devices to sustain life. The program lets people register to receive notifications and possible protections from interruptions or disconnections of electrical service. If you or someone in your household needs to apply for chronic or critical care status, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Download the Application for Chronic Condition or Critical Care Residential Customer Status, which is available in English(PDF) and Spanish (PDF).
  2. Bring a completed application to your doctor, who will fill it out for you and fax it to your utility company.
  3. Once your doctor sends the application, your utility company will then confirm your chronic or critical care status.
      

Register for STEAR
The State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR) is a free registry that provides local emergency planners and emergency responders with additional information on needs in the community. Who should register? People with disabilities, people with limited mobility, people with communication barriers, and people who require additional medical assistance, transportation assistance, or personal care assistance during an emergency event.

Advocate and support locally
Contact your local media professionals to share your experience. Advocate for people with disabilities in your networks and on social media. Support nonprofit organizations serving Texans with disabilities through donations and volunteerism. Know your neighbors and offer help to those in need through acts of kindness, big and small.

Creating individual emergency preparedness plans for people with disabilities and their families must be a priority. People with disabilities and their families must be involved in planning and implementing first responder and relief worker training that addresses the needs of people with disabilities in an emergency event, including accessible transportation; adherence to an individual’s existing emergency preparedness plan; and the importance of keeping families and other support networks, including service animals, together throughout the evacuation and relocation processes.

The following principles are integral to the health and safety of people with disabilities during an emergency event:

  • Individuals and families create, review, and regularly revise (at least annually) their emergency preparedness plans, including “shelter in place” plans, with support from long-term services and support programs when appropriate.
  • Confidentiality of personal and medical information included in an emergency preparedness plan or provided to any registry system or service provider.
  • Participation of people with disabilities and families in developing local, regional, and state emergency preparedness plans, including “shelter in place” plans, that are responsive to the needs and preferences of people with disabilities.
  • Participation of people with disabilities and their families in developing training for first responders and relief workers on the needs of people with all disabilities during and after an emergency event, including information on invisible disabilities, self-determination, and preserving support networks.
  • Information on emergency preparedness and planning resources must be available to everyone in a plain language format that meets established accessibility standards for people with disabilities.
      

Policymakers and all who work in public service must consider the disproportionate impact of emergencies such as Winter Storm Uri on Texans with disabilities and develop more inclusive and equitable emergency response policies and protocols. Whether it is COVID-19 vaccine distribution, prioritized aid for people with disabilities who depend on electricity to power their health equipment, or mobility services that would transport Texans with disabilities to warming centers — our leaders must prioritize the health and safety of people most in need.

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