Mind: Learning from Disability and Disaster.

What can we learn from Hurricane Maria and the long-term loss of both roads and electricity in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands?

Most of us do not live on an island or area readily isolated from help, yet it happens. It can happen to many of us if the right (or very wrong) circumstances happen.

Please begin to think before a hurricane, tornado, mudslide, wildfire, or industrial accident happens near you.

1. Do you have an evacuation plan? We all should, thinking not only of natural disasters common to our areas but also unnatural disasters such as fires or explosions at local industrial plants that might occur.

Keep vital supplies ready and easily accessed. Have a written plan ready. Practice packing a car or readying what each person would carry to a bus or other means of evacuation.

Does your plan include not only supplies for family members, including pets, but also the steps you need to take for people with behavioral disabilities (such as my son’s autism or my late mother’s dementia) or physical needs, including medications and equipment?
Have you done any drills? Have you thought whether your plan or drill should be updated because the small child you could carry is now tall child and could scream and run away from you?

2. On the flip side, do you have a plan and strengthened place prepared to shelter within your home or somewhere nearby in your neighborhood? Could you stay in your home if it were partially destroyed?

A recent report on deaths after Hurricane Maria suggested many involved people who had no electricity, lacked functional roofing, and could not evacuate.

Think about all of your medical/health-related equipment and every medication or other material that requires refrigeration or freezing. Also,can you keep medicine or other material dry if needed, should flooding occur? Can you keep dry?

Do you need a generator for electricity if an emergency happens in hot weather? Could you prepare battery or other backup for up to 3-4 weeks, if necessary?

I don’t have all the answers. In many cases I am still asking the questions.

However, I know we need to ask the questions, as we get older, move to different places, and as many kinds of storms become more catastrophic due to building in areas prone to flood or wind damage, as well as unchanged areas with aging roads and electrical grids.

In my case, I know the drill for hurricanes and blizzards as they have historically occurred in New England, but I have not thought of myself as living in tornado country. Yet, there have been two tornados with localized but significant damage in my state in the last 15 years and one in my town, the other side of town, but still— my town.

We all need to be ready for disaster. We all need to consider our greater vulnerability if we live with disability or other personal or family challenge, and we should all be open to what we can do both for our local neighbors and those whom we will never meet….

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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