Between blizzards, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires and the seemingly endless 24 hour news cycle covering it all, it seems there is no place in the country safe from potentially devastating natural disasters. Of course there is no denying that disaster preparation is important, but there are additional precautions people with hearing loss can take to ensure they are prepared in case of an emergency.
First off, think about which emergency situations might occur in your area, and plan accordingly. For example, those on the West Coast should think about the possibility of earthquakes. Although it seems like a small thing, storing hearing aids overnight in a container that is attached with Velcro to the bedside table will guarantee your devices are at your fingertips when you need them, and don’t accidentally become lost. Those on the East Coast in areas prone to hurricanes should carefully plan and pack emergency kits with extra hearing aid supplies in case evacuation is recommended. And for those in the Midwest, having an NOAA weather radio designed for individuals with hearing loss can be a lifesaver in the event of a tornado.
In the event of a blizzard, wildfire or flooding, it is important to have a shelter-in-place plan and an emergency kit prepared in case you need to leave your home suddenly. Your emergency kit should be packed carefully and placed in a location that is quickly and easily accessible. When dealing with an earthquake or a tornado, you won’t have much notice; you might have to evacuate your home quickly. No matter what the situation, it is vital you have everything you need to make sure your hearing aids continue to function in an emergency so you can hear instructions.
An emergency kit for an individual with hearing loss, in addition to the supplies the Red Cross recommends, should contain the following:
- Extra hearing aid batteries (a four week supply is recommended)
- Battery removal tool
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Pen and paper
- Waterproof container for hearing aids
- Phone number of your hearing healthcare professional
- Batteries or chargers for any additional ALDs you might have
If you use a hearing service dog, make sure your kit contains necessary equipment, a supply of food and a copy of his service animal ID. Emergency shelters do not allow pets unless they are identified as service animals, so having a copy of the ID is crucial. Even if your service dog is well-trained and normally stays right by your side, remember that he may become frightened or agitated by a chaotic situation; remembering a leash and collar can ensure he doesn’t accidentally become separated from you in the confusion.
Weather alerts are another important issue to consider; how will you be notified of impending emergency situations? Individuals with hearing loss can find it difficult to hear alerts or instructions. An NOAA weather alert radio with strobe lights, bed shakers and text alerts can keep you informed, as well as wake you in the middle of the night to alert you to a potential threat. You can also sign up for alerts on your mobile phone through EmergencyEmail.org. Don’t rely on the emergency alerts that scroll across the bottom of your television screen; if you use closed captioning these messages can sometimes be blocked from your view.
In addition to packing an emergency kit, there are there are other steps those with hearing loss need to take to make sure they are prepared for an emergency event. Get to know those in your community, so you can ask a close neighbor or friend to alert you in the event of an impending disaster. Most communities now have CERT programs; signing up for the one in your area lets volunteers who might be out helping after a disaster know that you have hearing loss and might need special assistance. Another system to sign up for is reverse 911, which places calls to your phone in case of a weather-related or other emergency.
If you have a child with hearing loss, making a family plan regarding what to do in the event of an emergency could make all the difference in the outcome. You might want to role play various natural disaster situations, such as where to go in the event of a tornado, just in case you are separated from your child when a weather emergency strikes. Also, talk to your child about what to do and how to ask for help if you become separated and his hearing device or implant stops working. If you have a child with hearing loss who is home alone for a period of time during the day while you are at work, ask a neighbor, friend or family member to check on him to make sure he is safe and informed.
Remember, your hearing loss doesn’t have to put you at a disadvantage in the event of a natural disaster. With community support, planning and preparation, you can have peace of mind knowing you’ll stay safe and informed during any emergency.