Special Needs Evacuation Kit

People with special needs should be prioritized in our planning process since their risks and vulnerabilities may be much grater than our own. Bugging out with people who have limited mobility or extensive health problems is not recommended, however, being able to evacuate safely is important. Prepare a kit and practice your evacuation plan well in advance.

Items to include in your special needs emergency kit

Two major elements are needed when building a go-bag for someone with special needs: basic items and personalized items.

1. Basic items: A standard adult go-bag contains the basic items for survival, such as food, water, first aid, and supplies to stay warm and build a fire.

2. Personalized items: Anyone who has a disability has probably found a way to deal with their needs in a unique way, whether it be their medication, the way they move from point A to point B, or the type of meals they’re required to eat. Any personal needs that have to be met in non-emergency situations will also have to be met in post-disaster or crisis scenarios.

Since the term “special needs/ disabilities” covers a multitude of challenges and impairments, we cannot provide you with a specific checklist. Instead, we provided suggestions based on the different categories that a person’s needs may fall under.

The first step to build a go-kit is to brainstorm. We recommend you jot down a list of every need you can think of and then rank them in priority, from high to medium to low. This will help you identify which items to add to the kit and determine the best action plan for an emergency. Our recommendation is to have a standard go bag as well as:

  • An exit and evacuation plan — Long before an emergency occurs, you should plan a home exit and evacuation route, transportation arrangements, and evacuation shelters (especially for those who have pets). Your state’s emergency management office should have some information on local evacuation roads and sheltering facilities. It’s important to note that in some circumstances, taking shelter at home may be the preferred option, whereas in other cases, evacuating early may be critical. You’ll need to evaluate all options while considering different scenarios. Remember some of the challenges that disasters may pose, such as blocked roads/sidewalks or not being able to use your building’s elevator and having to take the stairs.

  • A communication plan — Imagine if phone lines or the power grid goes down. How will you alert someone that you’re in need of help if you cannot move, speak, or are in a difficult position? Sign up for a medical alert system that does not require the use of a landline or mobile phone. For the best case scenario where you are able to use a mobile phone, be sure to keep an extra charger nearby. Your communication plan should also include a list of local and out-of-state emergency contacts. Keep this list on a refrigerator door, or somewhere that is easy for you and others to see.

  • Critical medication — If you’re dependent on medication, whether it’s prescribed or not, be sure to have a minimum of 7 days’ worth of it at all times. Learn how to properly store it, especially for the long-term. Keep copies of all current prescription medication, their dosage, the doctor’s contact information, the local pharmacy used to pickup the prescription, and the insurance company and policy numbers. A medical ID bracelet or necklace is beneficial and some hospitals offer them for free, so talk to your doctor about getting one.

  • Adaptive equipment and tools — Consider any items you use to perform daily activities which will also be important to have during a post-disaster scenario. Keep a list of all medical devices currently in use, as well as the style, serial number, and manufacturer information of each device. Be sure to include information on pacemakers, defibrillators, or any device that has been implanted inside the body.

  • A portable generator — This is necessary if there’s a dependency on electric medical equipment. Have a backup of gasoline and rechargeable batteries as well.

Need-specific items for an evacuation kit

The following suggestions highlight items that may be necessary for those with more specific needs. Surely you may not require the use of everything mentioned, but it should give you a general idea to help you brainstorm.

Digestive and immune system disorders

Including dietary restrictions, Celiac disease, Graves’ disease, MS, and IBS.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and doctor’s written prescription.
  • Nutritional supplements to improve immunity and boost energy levels.
  • Special diets — Store food supplies that are in accordance with your diet. You can find our long-lasting food guide for vegans (all meat and dairy-free items) here.
  • Celiac disease —Be sure to double check that the food supply you’ve stored is strictly gluten free.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome — Stockpile foods that are not going to trigger symptoms of IBS.
  • Bladder control — This includes pads, diapers, extra hygiene items, and any medicine that supports bladder control and digestion.

Physical disabilities

Including mobility, dexterity, and stamina.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription, including joint pain medication if applicable.
  • Mobility aid — Such as a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter, or any other equipment that is used to assist with mobility. Consider the possibility of not being able to use your mobility aids and how you would be able to move around without them.
  • Patch kit — Replacement pieces, like extra inner tubes, in case your walker or wheelchair gets a flat tire, loses a screw, or breaks.
  • Heavy-duty work gloves — If you have a manual wheelchair, you’ll need something to protect your hands in order to push yourself around. 
  • Extra batteries and a rechargeable system — for those with motorized wheelchairs. For evacuation scenarios, manual wheelchairs are recommended.
  • Knee or ankle brace.
  • Communication flashcards (laminated, if possible) with brief instructions, such as “My knees are stuck in a bent position. Please do not straighten them.”

Hearing impairment

Including deaf and hard of hearing.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Hearing aids, cochlear implants, or adaptive devices kept in a waterproof case — imagine the possibility that a disaster could activate sprinkler systems inside a building. This could damage the hearing aids a person is wearing at the moment.
  • Extra batteries for the hearing aids and cochlear implants. Also, a way to recharge the batteries.
  • Manufacturer information, serial numbers, and any other information pertaining to the adaptive devices in use.
  • Text Telephone (TTY) and charger.
  • Pen and paper sealed in a waterproof baggie for easier communication.
  • A weather radio that has a flashing alert or text display.
  • Communication flashcards with brief instructions for fast communication in critical times. The cards should have brief commands, such as “My name is ______ and I’m deaf. Grab my attention before speaking to me.” “I use American Sign Language and need an interpreter.” “I am hard of hearing. Please write things down for me.” “I can’t hear alarms or sirens.” “I can read lips. Please face me and make eye contact when you talk to me. Speak slowly.” “My emergency supplies are located
    in ______. Please help me get them.” “The best way to communicate with me is by using an interpreter/ by texting/ by writing it down/ by lip reading/ by putting my hearing aids on.”

Visual impairment

Including blind and partial vision.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses, contacts, and UV protection glasses.
  • White cane, or a smart cane with extra batteries or charger.
  • High-powered flashlight with side beams and extra batteries.
  • If you require the use of electronic adaptive services, include extra batteries.
  • Large name tag that will go on chest or the outside of the go-bag. The tag should say something along the lines of “Hi, my name is _____. I’m visually impaired. Please say your name and let me know when you’re directing yourself to me.”
  • Braille communication device.
  • Communication flashcards (laminated, if possible) with brief instructions such as “I’m blind/ visually impaired. Please let me grasp your arm to walk.”
  • Tags for the emergency kit in Braille. Also, include any manuals or important documents in Braille.
  • Audio file of all items stored in the backpack which includes mention of expiration dates and when to rotate.

Cognitive, intellectual or learning disability

Including people who have difficulty, limitations, or reduced capacity in the skills required to sustain oneself. These include but are not limited to learning tasks, processing information, social and communication skills, speech disorders, self-care, safety, and attention deficit disorders.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Pen and paper sealed in a waterproof baggie for easier person-to-person communication.
  • Phone with a rechargeable battery — this may be one of the best communication tools to stay in touch with family.
  • Laminated communication flashcards with brief instructions, such as “I cannot read. I use a device to communicate.” “I forget easily. Please write down information for me.” “Please speak slowly. I have difficulty understanding.”
  • Recommendation: Leave notes or reminders around the house for the person or their caregiver as to where their emergency kit and supplies are located.
  • Comfort item(s) to cope with stress.

Mental health conditions

Such as illnesses of the mind or brain which affect the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. These include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Therapist or doctor’s contact information.
  • Comfort item(s) to cope with stress.

Neurological disability

Such as damage to the nervous system that results in the loss of mental or physical functions.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Prescribed medical devices, batteries (if battery-powered), and a way to recharge the batteries. Also include the serial numbers, operation manual, and the manufacturer’s information for the medical device.

Developmental and brain disabilities

These include but are not limited to autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and acquired or traumatic brain injuries (ABI/TBI).

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Anything that is used for day-to-day functions, including chargers or extra batteries, if applicable.
  • Comfort items — Include toys, blankets, or other comfort items to alleviate some of the stress and help overcome post-disaster challenges.
  • Communication flashcards (laminated, if possible) with brief instructions such as “I have a brain injury. Please write down any important information.”

Chronic health conditions

These include but are not limited to allergies, arthritis, insomnia, heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, diseases affecting the organs, impaired breathing, and hospice care.

  • Emergency medical information sheet.
  • Prescription medication and a doctor’s written prescription.
  • Medical devices, including copies of their serial numbers and operation manuals.
  • Extra batteries and rechargeable methods for medical devices.
  • Portable medical oxygen tank.
  • If you’re using a life-support system, determine an alternative power source, such as a generator and fuel, that can provide you support for at least a week.
  • EpiPen.
  • Portable dialysis machine— If this applies, you should also consider a generator to power up the machine.
  • Insulin — For those with diabetes, ask your doctor how to store insulin pens for the long-term and what to do if insulin is no longer available for whatever reason.
  • Menopause — Discuss options with your doctor if you’re undergoing hormone therapy.
  • Spare eyeglasses, dentures, canes, hearing aids, and whatever other equipment is used and necessary for day-to-day living.

Other functional or access needs

This includes anything that was not mentioned above, such as:

  • Loved ones advanced in age / elderly —
      • For those who wear dentures, be sure to have a denture care and repair kit in your bag.
      • Elderly people are more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and are thereby more susceptible to hypothermia and hyperthermia. Keep extra warm clothing or blankets as well as cooling devices.
      • Remember to include pads and other bladder control garments, if needed.

  • Persons who use special equipment — Special equipment may include catheters, oxygen, and other necessary items. Consult with your doctor how to properly store such items for the long-term, and how to purchase more in the event of an emergency. If you require assistance for bathing, personal grooming, cooking, or anything else, determine which items are important to take with you (such as a shower chair, elevated toilet seat, special eating utensils) and who will help you maintain your hygiene during an emergency.

  • Persons with limited access to transportation — Having access to a vehicle or a reliable method of transportation during an emergency is extremely important. In the midst of a disaster or evacuation warning, it might become difficult to find someone to drive you to a safe location. That is why it’s important to connect with neighbors, relatives, or friends who are willing and able to accommodate you if you’re in need of a ride. Be sure to jot down their contact information in your evacuation plan, and have a backup contact in case they’re unable to help you last minute. Ensure your needs can be met if you require the use of a specially-equipped vehicle and/or have a pet or service animal.

  • Persons with limited language (English) proficiency— Those who don’t speak the mother tongue of the country they live in (such as English in the United States) may have a difficult time communicating their needs. To relieve the communication barrier, consider having a translation device or dictionary, as well as some laminated communication cards.

  • Persons with limited access to financial resources — If you have a limited income or an economic disadvantage of any kind, consider starting an emergency fund. Yes, you can do this even if you’re broke right now. Learn 21 ways to start an emergency fund here for more information.

  • Persons with pets or service animals — For more information on putting together supplies for pets and service animals, see the pet emergency kit section.

Disaster planning tips for people with special needs

  1. Revise your Grab-and-Go kit list and plan with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to recommend or remind you of additional items that will be vital for you to overcome a disaster, as well as suggest options for obtaining medication or treatment in a post-emergency scenario. Be sure to ask your doctor if your medical records can be accessed electronically and if it’s possible to transfer them easily from one hospital to another.

  2. Find out which resources are available to you in your community. People who need special-access transportation should look into vans or buses with wheelchair lifts. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may find ASL interpreters and Computer Assisted Transcription services provided by the community. Sign up for adapted warnings and alerts if those services are needed.

  3. Get “Invisawear” smart jewelry, the discreet way to send an SOS. By clicking on the pendant, your emergency contacts receive a text notification and your GPS location.

  4. Leave notes with reminders. Disasters are stressful and it’s easy for anyone to forget crucial items that may be difficult to store in a backpack. I recommend everyone to leave a note attached to the front of their go-bag that includes any instructions for last-minute evacuations. The note can say something like “Please take my insulin from the refrigerator,” “Get my oxygen tank,” or whichever reminders apply to you.

  5. Build a support network. Identify at least three trustworthy people in your community with whom you can stay in touch with before, during, and after a disaster. These are the people who can help you by preparing your supplies for an evacuation, assist you at the time of an evacuation, and bring you food, medication, or run other important errands for you post-disaster. They should have copies of your house keys, your medical and emergency contacts information, and know the location of your grab-and-go kit.

  6. Contact your utility company to inquire about signing up as a priority client for the restoration of power. This can be life-saving if you require the use of equipment or devices that are dependent on electricity. Some utility companies will work to restore your power faster than other clients who are not in dire need.

Action Step

Determine which items you will need for your special needs emergency kit.

Fill out the contents list below. If the items you’re including have expiration dates, fill those out and the rotation date for a future reminder.

Fill out the identification card template and protect it inside a luggage tag. Attach it to the outside of the backpack.

Fill out the communication flashcard templates, if applicable.

Fill out the “I need help running my errands” template. This can come in handy during an emergency.