From the Director’s Desk: SCI Day and Staying #Ready for Emergencies

Earlier this week, we recognized World Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Day, which is always celebrated on September 5th and helps kicks off Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. This year’s theme is SCI in Conflicts and Disasters: Prepare and Prevent. It’s an apt theme, since September is also National Preparedness Month in the US.

The SCI and NIDILRR community recently lost Dr. David R. Gater, an exceptional rehabilitation physician and researcher, mentor to many, and a staunch advocate for the health and wellness of people with SCI.  Dr. Gater co-authored important commentaries in The Lancet and Spinal Cord Series and Cases on the need for greater preparedness in the SCI community as climate change leads to more extreme weather events. The authors noted that people with disabilities and special medical needs are disproportionally impacted by such events and argued that both individuals and medical providers should be preparing for the challenges of climate disasters.

All of this has me thinking about my own preparedness. I’ve lived in Maryland for all of my life and lived a good number of those years as a quadriplegic. Living in the mid-Atlantic region, we are at lower risk of encountering some of the major environmental disasters that have impacted the Gulf and Atlantic coast regions, the Southwest, and the Northwest. But we’re not immune from these risks, which is why it is helpful to be prepared. Gratefully, I’ve planned well enough that major events in my area were challenging, but not a disaster.

In February 2010, Snowmageddon hit the region, dumping nearly three feet of snow in some areas. We had some warning from forecasters, so I was able to run through my preparedness plans: check in with my family ahead of time, check my go-bags and batteries, make sure my van was gassed up and I had extra firewood set aside. We were stuck for three or four days without power, but I stayed warm by my fire.

Planning ahead also meant I was ready when we didn’t have advanced warning of the 2012 derecho that swept through the area. Like many Marylanders, my house was without power for five days, but our offices were up and running. My van was ready to go, and I could drive into work and charge my chair during the day. Sadly, no amount of reasonable preparation would have spared me from taking very cold morning showers; I have a gas water heater. For those hot and humid nights after the storm, I had a small battery-powered fan that kept my body temperature manageable. Prepared foods from the store and prevalent fast food shops made it possible to stay in my home until power returned. 

It is becoming more and more evident that harsh weather events are becoming more extreme and, as Dr. Gater and his colleagues noted, people with disabilities like SCI are at greater risk of serious negative impacts from storms, fires, and other disasters. I still worry about the what-ifs: What if I can’t stay in my home during an emergency? What if I can’t use my van? What if…? In these types of situations, 100 things can go wrong — if you think of 50 of them, you’re a genius. Being an eternal optimist, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Running through my plans and procedures helps me with those What Ifs. Every person’s plan will be unique, but here are some of the steps I take to stay #Ready:

  • Have a go-bag in an easily accessible location. Mine includes personal care items like urological supplies, bandages, a battery pack, some clothes, a paperback book, some cash, and a copy of important papers. Be sure to include over-the-counter supplements along with extra prescription medication and to rotate them in and out to keep them fresh. Set a specific day and time to check the contents in your go bag, like when you change your smoke detector batteries. 
  • Insulate yourself. I sometimes have difficulty staying warm in winter or cooling down in summer. I keep handwarmers and a warm sweatshirt in that go-bag and in my van. In winter I keep my fireplace wood stocked and in shape. In summer I have good fans I can run on a battery.
  • Know how to patch and repair. Cushions, tires, even mattresses that hold air, water, or other conforming material can spring a leak at the worst time. Have a patch kit and know how to use it!
  • After the derecho event I acquired a gas-powered generator. It’s a midsize model and will power numerous devices in my household including my air flotation bed, charge my power chair, and a small refrigerator. Generators should never be used indoors or placed near windows, or you may be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Remember gas generators need maintenance, too: Be sure to empty the gas tank after each use and it never hurts to have a dry gas additive available.
  • Check in with family, neighbors, or personal care attendants ahead of time. If you know a storm is coming, talk about what you’ve planned and how they may be needed. Take a few minutes, once or twice a year, to make sure you have updated contact information for those events you can’t plan for.

Check out our article on low- and no-cost preparedness resources for more helpful tips and links to our series on emergency preparedness for mobility and other disabilities.

Being an Eagle Scout I try to keep the Boy Scouts of America motto “Be Prepared” close to heart. I also think about a sports adage I learned in Little League football. It’s the 5 P’s:  Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!

Be Safe!

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