People with Mobility Problems

Preparing for Emergencies: A Checklist for People with Mobility Problems

Emergencies like fires and floods can present a special challenge to everyone. The challenge of protecting oneself requires planning, and oftentimes, assistance from others. This holds true for the millions of people with mobility problems as well. Protecting yourself and your family when disaster strikes requires planning ahead.

This checklist will help you get started. Discuss these ideas with your family, friends, and/or a personal care attendant. Prepare an emergency plan and post it where everyone will see it.

Ask Questions

Call your local emergency management office or Red Cross chapter.

  • Ask what disaster could occur in your area and how to prepare for each.
  • Ask how you would be warned of an emergency.
  • Ask about special aid that may be available to you in an emergency. Find out if help is available for evacuation and in public shelters. Many communities ask people with a disability to register, usual with the local fire department or emergency management office, so help can be provided quickly in an emergency. Check if this option is available in your community.
  • Ask your supervisor about emergency plans at your workplace and what provision have been made to assist you to evacuate if needed.
  • Ask your children's' teachers and caregivers about emergency plans for schools and day-care centers.
  • If you currently have a personal care attendant obtained from an agency, check to see if the agency has special provisions for emergencies (e.g., providing serves at another location should an evacuation be ordered.

Create a Plan

Because a disaster can disrupt your primary emergency plan, it is also important for you to develop a backup plan for each essential provision to ensure your safety.

  • Meet with household members and/or your personal care attendant. Discuss what measure you might have to take in case of fire, severe weather, earthquakes and other emergencies that might occur in your community.
  • Learn what you will need to do for each type of emergency. For example, most people head for a basement when there is a tornado warning, but most basements are not wheelchair-accessible. Determine what your alternative safe place will be and how you will get there.
  • Post emergency telephone numbers near telephones and teach your children how and when to call for help.
  • Learn what to do in case of power outages and personal injuries. Know how to connect or start a back-up power supply for essential medical equipment.
  • If you or someone in your household uses a wheelchair, make more than on exit from your home wheelchair-accessible in case the primary exit is blocked.
  • Arrange for a relative and/or neighbor to check on you in an emergency. Also arrange for a backup person to fill this role.
  • Learn how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at main valves or switches.
  • Plan and practice to how escape from your home in an emergency.
  • Consider getting a medical alert system that will allow you to call for help if you are immobilized.
  • If you live in an apartment, ask the management to identify and mark accessible exits. Know in advance where they are located.
  • Learn your community's emergency evacuation routes. Listen to a battery-operated radio for emergency information.
  • Pick one out-of-state and one local friend or relative for family members to call if separated by disaster.
  • Pick two meeting places: A place near your home in case of fire, and a place outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home after a disaster.
  • Keep family records, including medical records, in a watertight, fire-proof container.

Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit

Assemble supplies you might need in an evacuation. Store them in an easy-to-carry container such as a backpack or duffle bag. Include:

  • A battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries for them.
  • A first aid kit, and prescription medicines you take and an extra pair of glasses. Include copies of written prescriptions for medication and glasses.
  • Extra hearing aid batteries.
  • A supply of water (one gallon per person per day). Store water in sealed, unbreakable containers. Identify the storage date and replace every six months.
  • A supply of non-perishable food and a non-electric can opener, plus any special foods you require.
  • If you have a baby, include extra diapers and other infant care items.
  • Extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, medication, catheters, food for guide or service dogs, or other special equipment you might need.
  • A change of clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes.
  • Blankets or sleeping bags.
  • A list of family physicians and the relative or friend who should be notified if you are injured, along with a backup contact person.
  • A list of the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers.
  • An extra set of car keys.
  • Store back-up equipment, such as a manual wheelchair, at a neighbor's home, school, or your workplace.

Escape Plan

In a fire or other emergency, you may need to evacuate on a moment's notice. Be ready to get out fast.

Develop an escape plan by drawing a floor plan of your residence. Show the location of doors, windows, stairways, ramps elevators, large furniture, and of emergency supplies (Disaster Supplies Kit), fire extinguishers, first aid kits and utility shut off points.

Indicate at least two exit routes from each room and mark a place outside the home where household members or your personal care attendant should meet in case of fire.

If you or someone in your household uses a wheelchair, make more than one exit from your home wheelchair-accessible in case the primary exit is blocked in a disaster.

Show important points outside such as garages, patios, stairways, driveways and porches. If your home has more than two floors, use an additional sheet of paper.

Practice emergency evacuation drills at least two times a year, and include family and/or your personal care attendant in the drills.

Home Hazard Hunt

In a disaster, anything that can move, fall, break, cause a fire or impeded your mobility is a potential hazard.

  • Repair defective electrical wiring. Smell for leaky gas connections. If you smell gas, turn the gas off and call a professional to repair it.
  • Keep the shut-off switch for oxygen equipment near your bed or chair so you can get to it quickly if there is a fire and turn it off.
  • Secure large oxygen tanks so they cannot fall over.
  • Fasten shelves securely to the wall. Place large, heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Hang pictures and mirrors away from beds. Bolt large pictures or mirrors to wall studs.
  • Secure water heater by wrapping strap iron around it and screwing the ends to wall studs.
  • Repair cracks in ceilings or foundations. Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products away from heat sources.
  • Have chimneys, flue pipes, vent connectors and gas vents cleaned and repaired by a professional.

If You Need to Evacuate

  • Listen to a battery-powered radio for the location of emergency shelters.
  • Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
  • Take your Disaster Supplies Kit.
  • Lock your home.
  • Use travel routes specified or special assistance provided by local officials.
  • Confirm upon arrival at a shelter that it can meet any special care needs that you may require. If your shelter cannot, consider seeking an alternative shelter than can meet your needs if the situation allows.

If You Have Time

  • Shut off water, gas and electricity if instructed to do so. Let others know when you left and where you are going.
  • Make arrangements for pets. Animals other than service animals may not be allowed in public shelters due to local health codes.

Prepare a Car Kit


  • Battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries and maps.
  • Blanket and first aid kit.
  • Shovel.
  • Tire repair kit, booster cables pump and flares.
  • Fire extinguisher (5 lb., A-B-C type)
  • Bottled water and non-perishable foods that conform with special dietary needs such as granola bars, raisins and cookies.

Fire Safety

  • Plan two escape routes out of each room. If you live in an apartment, use the stairways to leave the building or to get to an "area of rescue assistance." Never use the elevators.
  • Install smoke detectors. Clean and test smoke detectors one a month. Change batteries at least once a year.
  • Consider installing home sprinklers.
  • If there is a fire, do not try to fight the fire. Get out fast.
  • Feel the bottom of the door with the palm of your hand before opening it. If it is hot, use your second way out.
  • Do not stop for pets or possessions. Call the fire department after you are outside.
  • Never go back into a burning building.

For additional information on how to prepare for hazards in your community, contact your local emergency management office, Red Cross chapter, or write the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of Emergency Management, Washington, D.C. 20472.