Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 25, 2015
Emergency preparedness for loved ones with special needs takes planning, care

When my granddaughter, Lindsey, was three, I remember she almost tripped over three bulging backpacks near the storage room door.

She asked what they were and I explained that Grandpa Rod, Aunt Heidi and I had them in case we ever needed to leave home fast because of an emergency.

At the same time, newspapers were filled with photos of people back east stranded in blizzards and helpless without alternatives to electricity. While I was thankful we had power, stored food and water, plus a wood burning stove in the basement, I realized our family also needed to be better prepared for an earthquake, fire, toxic spill or flood.

To get ready, I decided to duplicate Heidi’s 72-hour backpack. She has one where she currently lives as a young adult in a host-home, and a second one at my home when she comes for visits and holidays. Either way, we’re ready to evacuate with items prepared and personalized just for her. An emergency is traumatizing enough without having your loved one with special needs traumatized, too.

After lunch, Lindsey and I sorted the contents of Heidi’s emergency backpack and swapped out summer clothes for larger winter styles. We confirmed the recommended emergency items: a sleeping bag, foil blanket, flashlight, non-perishable food, water container, toilet paper, wet wipes, soap, lip balm, toothbrush, hat, and a duplicate of her favorite T-shirt.

I was grateful Heidi didn’t have to worry about hearing-aid batteries, reserve oxygen tanks, or manual wheelchair alternatives like many people with disabilities do. We swapped cans of ravioli, juice, and granola bars with fresh ones, and kept the can opener nearby.

Preparedness is not something I try to dwell on — or I freak out. And the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” doesn’t lessen my guilt and worry, either. Yet, wisdom gently whispers, “You may face intense emergencies and disasters — so do what you can.”

Hence, I’m still eating that elephant, one bite at a time. Because Heidi has Down syndrome and some autism, she doesn’t easily adapt to changes or stressful situations. Disasters will be a challenge for her, so over the years I’ve prepared all that I could. I analyzed ways to prevent problems, and positively practiced some basics in preparedness, like fire drills for our family.

“Grandma, is this little notebook so Heidi can draw pictures?” Lindsey asked.

“Well, maybe. But mainly it’s important things about her,” I said. “Others need this information in case we get separated. The notebook has Heidi’s medical things like Down syndrome and her autistic tendencies like running off, her allergies and identification photos. Also, how to get hold of Grandpa or me. It even has your mom and dad’s phone numbers and Heidi’s Aunt Marie’s home phone in California. Grandpa and I have a twin notebook in our backpacks, too.”

I realized several of the names and numbers of Heidi’s network were outdated as neighbors had moved, support staff changed employment, plus Rod had a new cell phone number.

Heidi’s long list of medication and dosages was not necessary anymore, either. Thankfully, we had been able to gently detoxify her polluted system and improve her intense autistic tendencies with nutrition. This enabled her doctor to agree that gradual weaning off her prescriptions was achievable. I was grateful the big worry of prescriptions during disasters had been overcome. Instead, I made a note to add fresh “gummy” vitamins and amino acids to her backpack.

For Heidi’s first-aid kit, I added homeopathy pellets that melt under her tongue and Redmond bentonite clay for external and internal benefits. The bottles of lavender, peppermint, and yarrow essential oils were great and stayed in the kit because they were compact, concentrated, and offered multiple healing properties.

As Lindsey unpacked a plate and cup identical to ones Heidi loves, I knew they would bring comfort amid the chaos. Yet I knew Heidi may digress, so we kept some protective underwear nearby (we try to not call them diapers now). I also had included favorite miniature Disney characters, a small ball, little books, and a sweet picture of Jesus holding a little girl.

Since that day, I’ve gathered preparedness information in our area, plus Heidi’s current home, emergency guidelines for those with special needs, and informed both local emergency teams of her vulnerable limitations (like possible non-compliance to verbal instructions).

We’ve also looked into the special needs registry online, plus locations of possible emergency shelters. By the way, the recommendation of 72-hour survival kits to sustain your life is now 96 hours (4-5 days) and medications for a week or more.

I’m grateful we haven’t had to use our big emergency supply backpacks, but I sleep better, knowing they’re always available. You will too. The more proactive we become, the more peace of mind we feel.


Pearson is an award-winning writer, a national motivational speaker and a family emergency preparedness expert. She can be reached at

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