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Disaster Preparedness Tips for Hard of Hearing People

Disaster Preparedness Tips for Hard of Hearing People

By Cheryl Heppner

Editor: Are you prepared for a disaster in your area? Have you thought about the special requirements for people with hearing loss? Here’s Cheryl Heppner’s report on Mary Clark’s Disaster Preparedness Workshop from the Omaha SHHH Convention.


Mary is a member of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) for the City of Brea, California. She was previously a disaster services volunteer in Minnesota and has spent time in Miami during a hurricane watch. She works for a large biomedical manufacturer and is president of the Orange County chapter of SHHH. Mary participates in her employer’s disaster team and has received specialty training.


– Disasters are both natural and man-made. Natural disasters include such things as fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake; man-made disasters include such things as terrorism and plane crash. Both kinds of disaster are unexpected and unpredictable. They disrupt your access to basic things you need and they put your safety at risk.

– We must adopt an “I’m prepared” attitude. Fear is our biggest enemy and we can protect ourselves, our families and our property by taking control if we are prepared. The top five things you will need in a disaster are water, food, light, communications and special needs. You should store as many as you can in an emergency kit and keep the rest in a location where you can find them fast if you need to exit your home in a hurry.

– Plan to store bottled water for drinking — 1 gallon per person per day for 3 days. (Three days gives some time for electricity to be restored, rioting and looting to be under control, roads to be repaired, etc.)
– During an emergency, if you suspect the water is unsafe, add 3 drops of bleach or iodine per quart. Mary noted that a Big Gulp cup is 44 oz. and a quart is 32 oz. Use this water for washing. If you need to drink it, add something like Tang, Crystal Lite, or Kool-Aid to mask the flavor.
– You can also use water from your water heater or swimming pool.
– Remember that you need this water at both work and home.

– Under stress you will need food to keep your energy up. Store enough for 3 days.
– Get high protein choices but not necessarily sugar. Protein bars, canned tuna (if you have a can opener). Those little square boxes of food that kids like are easy to store and canned fruit is also good.
– Watch food expiration dates. One woman in the audience goes through her emergency kit each year when the Post Office has its annual food drive. She gives away any food that is not outdated and replaces it. Mary said that it’s also a good idea to replace old bandages and band-aids. Diapers, bandanas, dishtowels and pads can also be used as emergency bandages.

– Speechreaders will need flashlights with lots of batteries. You can buy big packages cheaply at Costco and Sam’s Club. You can also use light sticks; stock them up at Halloween when they are cheap. They last anywhere from 3-12 hours. You can extend the shelf life by keeping them in the freezer. There are also crank flashlights that don’t need batteries.
– Camping lanterns are also helpful, but may need matches. Matches and candles are not recommended unless you can be sure there is no gas leak. Some backpacking lanterns fold up to be small and the sides shield the flame.

– Have a battery operated, solar powered, or dynamo radio (and batteries, if needed). Even if you can’t understand it, you may be able to find someone else who will listen and tell you what is being said. A battery operated TV with captions is also good.
– Cell phones may not work and pay phones are becoming scarce. In a disaster, the phone network can be overloaded because of all the dial tones from phones off the hook, and it will shut down. Emergency operations calls will take priority for whatever phone service is available. Pay phones will still work, but the calls will be prioritized — you can call people outside of the area to say you are okay, but not those within your area. Keep a roll of quarters for this purpose, and get together with your family to decide on a contact person who lives out of state. Inform your family to call this person when they need to find out how you are in an emergency.
– The Weather Channel offers notification services, including wireless text and email messages. NOAA also broadcasts emergency notices that can be received by their weather radio and a new TV. The radio has text and you can hook it up to a flashing light or vibrator to alert you. Silent Call Corp. and others have flashing lights and vibrators. Some local TV stations offer local weather alerts free of charge to pagers.
– Take responsibility to get to know and work with the emergency communication system in your community.

– Have all the medicine you’ll need for at least 3 days.
– Have spare hearing aid or cochlear implant batteries.
– Store enough food for your pet and have a spare leash.
– Talk to friends, neighbors and co-workers about a buddy system, and have at least two. Share with them what your needs are, and work out a way to communicate. One woman who lives alone always put a picture in her window at night and took it out in the morning so her neighbor would know she was all right.
– Add a dry aid kit to your emergency kit for your cochlear implant or hearing aid, even if it’s only a plastic bag with something to remove moisture.
– Local emergency and law enforcement people are trained to deal with disability but ours is invisible. Consider having a little placard in your pocket or wallet, that says “I’m hard of hearing, I need….” Laminate it. Clip one to your car visor. Also see if emergency management staff in your area have a registry so they will know about your hearing loss.

Other Information

Search and rescue teams are trained to call out “hello, is anybody there?” Keep a whistle always on hand to use, on a key chain, or a flat one in your wallet. A whistle is not a natural sound so it gets attention. You can only shout for help about 15 minutes before your voice will no longer carry, and you will be hoarse for days.

To paraphrase Tom Ridge, disasters (terrorism) force us to make a choice. We can be afraid, or we can be ready.

Mary would add shoes to the list. One of the biggest sources of injuries after an emergency due to weather such as earthquake, hurricane or tornado, is from people who cut their feet on broken glass because they did not have their shoes on. Keep your shoes close by your bed at night so you always know where they are.

Find out what is kept in your local shelters. Do they have an amplified phone, hearing aid repair kit?

An empty coffee tin is handy. It can be used to store things but can also be useful to cook things.


(c)2004 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), www.nvrc.org. When sharing this information, please ensure credit is given to NVRC.