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Emergency Preparation for Families with Special Health Needs


The 2013 hurricane season began June 1, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a very active season. Hurricanes and other disasters present a serious danger to anyone living in their path, but families with members who have special health needs face unique challenges when disaster strikes. These families need to make additional preparations in case the worst happens.

It’s important to remember that families may have to rely on their own resources following a disaster. A common misconception is that government assistance is available immediately. It can take several days or even weeks for federal aid to arrive, depending on the size of the disaster and the number of people affected.
During emergencies, TRICARE sometimes waives referral and authorization requirements and allows beneficiaries to obtain extra doses of their prescription medication. Sign up for state-specific TRICARE disaster alerts at

The first step is to have a disaster plan. The plan should have information on meeting places, important personal information for each family member and locations for where family members are likely to be if a disaster strikes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a template families can use to build their plan at All families should also have a disaster kit including water, food, extra batteries and a first aid kit. Visit for more details on how to build a disaster kit.

Families with special health needs may have to consider what to do with medications that have to be refrigerated, and what to do if a family member requires a climate controlled environment if the power goes out. If you live near a military base and are part of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), contact the local EFMP office and ask if the base has a plan to support family members with special medical needs during a disaster.

If the disaster plans involves going to an emergency evacuation shelter, make sure to bring everything needed to support a family member with special needs. Don’t assume the shelter will have medications, incontinence supplies, medical equipment or other items. Expect to sleep on a cot or on the floor and bring any necessary positioning pillows or other specialty bedding. Families with a service animal should bring its tags, license, medication, food, water, bags for waste and other items it may need.

As with many other aspects of living with a family member who has special medical needs, preparing for a disaster requires additional thought and preparation. Each family’s needs are unique, but some tips apply to most – pack light, bring an extra pair of reading glasses or hearing aid batteries and bring all relevant medical information, including a list of allergies and military IDs or insurance cards. Share emergency plans in advance to help family members with a communication disability and prepare emergency plan reminders in a form they can comprehend during a tense situation.

FEMA maintains a website,, with a wealth of information about preparing for disasters. A list of resources for families with special health needs can be found at Always be prepared for a disaster, and if the worst happens, think safety first.  Preparing in advance can relieve a great deal of stress and make a big difference when facing an emergency.

Last Updated 9/3/2013