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What to do During and After an Environmental Emergency


Getting ready for environmental emergencies increases the safety of the individual(s) you support. Your actions during an emergency are important.

Planning ahead is the first step in keeping the person you support safe.

The Consumer Advisory Committee with the assistance of The Office of Human Rights and Advocacy Services has developed the "Feeling Safe Being Safe" materials.  These resources are intended to assist you and other support persons in helping the individuals you support develop their own emergency preparedness plans.  The resources available are written in plain, easy to understand language and include a training webcast, DVD, worksheet/disaster plan, a personal assessment, supply lists, a printable magnet and so much more.   Click on the link below to register and get your FREE materials.

How to Respond to an Emergency

There are several things you can do in any emergency situation.  First, it is helpful to remain calm. Staying calm will help you initiate the disaster plan you have created.

Second, take a moment to check yourself for injury.  If you are okay, check the individual(s) you support.  Take care of urgent needs first.

Finally, check your surroundings for hazards and move if necessary.

Different Types of Emergencies

Use the information below from and the American Red Cross to learn what to do during and after different types of environmental emergencies.


What to do in an earthquake depends on where you are when it strikes.

  • If you are indoors, stay indoors and drop, cover, and hold on.
    • Drop to the floor and take cover under a piece of heavy furniture.
    • Cover.  Protect your head with one arm and,
    • Hold onto the furniture with the other.
  • If you are not around any sturdy furniture, crouch with your head back against an inside wall and cover your head and neck.
  • If the individual you support is in a wheelchair, lock the break and help the individual to cover his or her head and neck.
  • If the individual is in bed, have him or her stay in bed.  Pull up the sheets to protect the body from debris.  Cover the head and neck with a pillow.
  • If you and the individual are outside, move into the open.  Stay away from buildings, streetlights, trees and utility wires.  Once in the open, drop, cover, and hold on until the shaking stops.
  • If you and the individual are near a building, get inside quickly.  Drop, cover, and hold on.
  • If you are in your car, safely pull over.  Put the car in park and cover your head and neck.


If the fire is indoors, use your escape route to leave immediately.

  • Remember to get out and stay out.
  • Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency phone number.
  • If closed doors or handles are warm, use your second way out. Never open doors that are warm to the touch.
  • Crawl low under smoke.
  • Go to your outside meeting place and then call for help.

When smoke, heat, or flames block your way out, stay in the room with the doors closed.  Place a wet towel under the door.  Call the fire department or 9-1-1.  Open a window and wave a brightly colored cloth or flashlight to signal for help.

Storms and Floods

Listen to local radio and television stations.  Try to locate the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) station for flood warnings.  Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

If a flood or flash flood warning is issued, leave immediately.  Head for higher ground and stay there.

During a flood:

  • Stay away from floodwaters, no matter how deep.
  • Do not walk or drive through flood water.
  • If you must drive and come to a flooded road, do not drive through it.   Turn around and go another way.
  • Do not let children play in the flood water.
  • If you touch flood water, wash your hands thoroughly.  The water may be contaminated.   
  • It is harder to see flood danger at night.  Be careful.

After a flood:

  • Do not return home until you are told to do so by the local disaster center.
  • Before entering a home, look for loose power lines, damaged gas lines, foundation cracks or other damage.
  • If you smell natural or propane gas or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately.  Call the fire department as soon as you can.
  • During cleanup, use rubber gloves and rubber boots.
  • Do not eat or drink any food or water that has been touched by flood water.   Do not use flood water for anything.

Heat Wave

Listen to your NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR)  station for updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).  The local regional center and Community Care Licensing facility may also provide alerts.   Make sure you are part of their alert system.

During a heat wave:

  • Never leave anyone or pets alone in a car.
  • Offer the person you support plenty of fluids.  Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty.   Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
  • Encourage the person you support to eat small meals and eat more often.
  • Suggest the person you support wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light colored clothing.  Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Encourage the person you support to slow down, stay indoors, and avoid heavy exercise when it is really hot.  Wait until it cools down for outdoor games and activities.
  • Use a buddy system when working in really hot weather.  Take many breaks if you must work outdoors.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, spend much of their time alone, or who are affected by the heat.
  • Check on your animals frequently.  Make sure that they have plenty of water and are not affected by the heat.

After an Emergency

What you should do after an environmental emergency depends on the type of emergency.  In general, you should:

  • Stay calm and help the individual follow their Personal Disaster Plan.
  • Check yourself and others around you for injuries.  Give first aid and get help if you need to.
  • Listen to instructions from your local emergency response agencies.  If the power is out, use a battery powered radio.
  • Decide if it is safe to stay in the individual’s home or leave.
  • If you need to leave, help the individual get to the local disaster center.
  • Help the individual to contact his or her family contact and the members of their Personal Support Team.  Tell these contacts of the individual’s location and status.

After the emergency is over, it is important to get ready for the next one.  Review the disaster plan and decide what worked.  If something didn’t work, make changes to your plan.  Refill the individual’s General Emergency Supply and Portable Emergency Supply Kits.


NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations.  They broadcast continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office.  NWR broadcasts official weather service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24- hours a day, 7 days a week.

NWR requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal.  You can buy a standalone receiver at many retail outlets, including electronics, department, and sporting goods stores for between $20 and $100.  More consumer information about the NWR receiver can be found on the National Weather Service website.

The California Emergency Medical Agency offers advice for individuals with disabilities or access and functional needs.  This article explains how to act in various settings when an earthquake strikes.

The American Red Cross has developed information intended to make planning for an evacuation less stressful for persons with disabilities by addressing some of their particular concerns.  It is also intended to familiarize caregivers or members of a support group with some of the challenges facing people with disabilities. 

Last updated on Thu, 11/18/2010 - 16:48