The recent storms that have hit the Philippines brought some concern to majority of the citizens who are residing in areas known to have been perilously afflicted by floods. Since the 2010 onslaught of Ondoy, I guess Filipinos have learned to be prepared for disasters and to follow advice. But one question that has just struck me, how do we prepare the families of children with special needs?
With a rough estimate of 2-5% of the entire population having some form of disabilities, it is not absurd to think that there are families of children with special needs that having braving the storms and trying their best to troop to evacuation centers. I can’t even begin to imagine how stressful this can be.
Are there programs that teach these types of families of how to handle this type of situation? Are the current disaster prepared, response and prevention programs inclusive enough to encompass the special needs of these families? Are evacuation centers adept to accommodate these families and children? Is it only the families, of can even children with special needs be taught emergency responses for situations like these?
Here are several relevant programs that I have found to be useful.
Emergency Plan for Students with Special Needs by Marin School District (2010). http://mcoeweb.marin.k12.ca.us/emerprep/MCOESpecialNeeds.pdf
“This plan includes procedures ensuring the full participation of students and staff with special needs and disabilities through the planning and implementation of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery strategies as part of the overall management of school emergencies and disasters.”
This is particularly useful for schools that have inclusive and mainstream programs. It teaches school personnel with SOPs to undertake whenever disaster arise, making sure of the safety, above all of children with special needs.
Emergency Preparedness for Families of Children with Special Needs (2007). Care Connections for Children. http://www.hampton.k12.va.us/schoolinformation/emergency/EmergencyPreparednessforFamilies.pdf
“Emergencies can occur without warning. Where will your family be when disaster strikes? They could be anywhere—at work, at school or in the car. How will you find each other? Will you know if your children are safe? What if your child has special needs? You may need to evacuate your neighborhood or be confined to your home. What would you do if basic services—water, gas, electricity or telephones–were cut off for several days? Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away. If you have a child with special needs, planning becomes critical. You could be on your own for several days with limited resources. “
As a program aimed at the families, this very useful because I uses language that are easy to understand and in a format that would facilitate clear understanding. I particularly find the checklists very clever, and suggest that each family have a copy (translated in Filipino perhaps?) posted on the refrigerator’s or doors of each home. In a separate section, an emergency kit provides the family with a list of materials and supplies that should be always ready and easily accessible. Such applies not only to these types of families, but also to the general public. This actually got me thinking of preparing my own kit.
Preparing Emergencies for the Special Needs Population: A checklist for People with Mobility Problems. http://www.dhhr.wv.gov/healthprep/plan/specialpopulations/Documents/A%20Checklist%20for%20People%20with%20Mobility%20Issues.pdf
This is a short but informative checklist that is specifically for mobility-challenged individuals.
Integrating Students with Special Needs and Disabilities into Emergency Response and Crisis Management Planning. ERCMExpress Vol 2, Issue 1, 2006. http://rems.ed.gov/docs/Disability_NewsletterV2I1.pdf
“Planning for students in emergencies means planning for all students, including those with disabilities and special needs. Lessons learned from recent disasters have not only emphasized this point, but they have also illuminated the critical steps schools need to take to protect their campuses. Meeting the needs of students with disabilities and special needs in the event of an emergency does not have to be a daunting or a costly task. It simply requires administrators and officials to take into account the entire school community, from students and staff members to visitors and volunteers, and then take the appropriate actions to ensure the safety of all.”
Finally, here is a strategy that promotes collaboration between educators and allied health practitioners, including OTs, in teaching children with special needs simple, but useful responses to disaster situations. And it doesn’t end there, whatever is taught to the kids, should likewise be taught to the adults, the families. Because disasters can happen anywhere.
Perhaps we all can take cue from these and try to respond to the need through ample preparation at the level of the schools, the families, ourselves, and of course the kids themselves. Stay safe everyone!