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How to Prepare for an Environmental Emergency

Broken road

Print the personal assessment here!

Print the personal disaster plan here!

Print the emergency supply checklist here!

What are Environmental Emergencies?

An environmental emergency is a disaster that can happen anywhere.  This type of emergency can include a flood, fire, earthquake, or chemical spill.  They often happen without warning.  Local government agencies are prepared to respond to an emergency, however, they cannot be everywhere at once.  Planning ahead is the best way to keep yourself and the individual(s) you support safe.

Environmental emergencies are different in different areas.

The San Francisco Bay Area is more likely to have an earthquake than the Midwest and, the Midwest is more likely to have a tornado than San Francisco.  You should be prepared for any type of environmental emergency.  It helps to know which types of emergencies are more likely to happen in your area.  Contact your local health department and American Red Cross chapter for this information.

Think, Plan, Do for Emergencies

Help the individual you support by using the “Think, Plan, Do” model below:


  • Where might the individual be during a disaster?  At home?  Work?  What places does the individual often go?
  • Who might help the individual at each of these places?
  • What will the individual need following a disaster?
    • Supplies to stay safe and healthy at home until the emergency is over.
    • Supplies to stay safe and healthy at work until the emergency is over.
    • A portable emergency supply kit to grab, if the individual needs to leave home and go to a community shelter.
    • A small pack of important medical information and supplies.


  • Start a Personal Support Team of trusted friends and relatives for home, work, school, and other places the individual often goes.
  • Give members of the Personal Support Team a copy of the individual’s Medical Information Form.
  • Gather supplies to be prepared to stay at home or work until the emergency is over.
  • Gather supplies for a portable emergency supply kit.  Does the individual need more than one kit?
  • Check the individual’s home and work to make sure that they are safe and secure.
  • Call local disaster preparedness organizations (usually listed in the front of your phone book) and ask where disaster evacuation centers are located.


  • Practice home and work disaster plans so that you and the individual(s) you support know what to do in an emergency.  Becoming familiar with the plan helps decrease stress in an emergency situation.
  • Talk with the individual’s Personal Support Team about how each person can help following a disaster.
  • Introduce the individual to their neighbors.  Their neighbors will be the closest people during an emergency and may be able to help.
  • Visit evacuation center locations so you and the individual know where they are located and become familiar with them.
  • Register the individual(s) with the local fire department or emergency rescue services so that emergency information can be sent out quickly.


Planning for an Environmental Emergency

    There are several steps you can take to help prepare the individual you support for an environmental emergency.

    • Complete a Personal Assessment for Disaster Planning
    • Create a Personal Disaster Plan
    • Make an Emergency Supply Kit
    • Identify a Personal Support Team or Teams

    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. 


    Personal Assessment for Disaster Planning

    The personal assessment will help identify what support the individual will need before, during, and after an emergency. (See the attached Personal Assessment for Disaster Planning tool).

    Personal Disaster Plan

    Developing a personal disaster plan with the individual(s) will guide the Personal Support Team in an emergency.  The individual should keep a copy of his or her Personal Disaster Plan in their emergency supply kits, car, wallet, wheelchair pack, and at work.  (See the attached Personal Disaster Plan).

    An important part of the individual’s Personal Disaster Plan is a family communication system.  The individual should ask a friend or family member who lives in another state to be their “family contact”. The family contact is responsible for keeping track of each member of the family after an emergency. When communication is available, you should help the individual call the family contact to tell them where the individual is as well as important health information.

    Emergency Supply Kits

    Emergency supplies include food, water, tools, medical supplies, and much more.  The supply kits you prepare with the individual you support should provide everything he or she needs to live without assistance for at least three days.  There are two main types of supply kits, a General Emergency Supply Kit and a Portable Emergency Supply Kit.  (See the attached Emergency Supply Kits Checklist).

    Personal Support Team

    As a supporter, you can help the individual start Personal Support Teams.  These can be teams of roommates, relatives, neighbors, friends, and co-workers.  As a team, they can help the individual in an emergency.  A support team should consist of at least three people the individual can trust.  The individual can start a team for each location where they spend a lot of time, for example, at home, school, the workplace, or a volunteer site.

    With the individual’s Personal Support Teams, you and the individual(s) can:

    • Think of what support the individual would need during an emergency.
    • Arrange for the team to immediately check on the individual in the event of an emergency.
    • Establish a means of communication to use during an emergency.
    • Choose an emergency meeting place everyone is familiar with where the individual and his or her team can reunite after exiting a building.

    Be sure to give each member of every support team copies of the individual’s Personal Disaster Plan and Personal Assessment.

    It’s important to review and revise these plans as the teams and conditions change.

    Stay Where You Are or Evacuate

    Staying at home, work, or a licensed care facility is always better than evacuating when possible. However, the local disaster agency may decide that everyone must go to a shelter or leave the area.   You should be prepared to evacuate with your Portable Emergency Supply Kit.

    If you and the individual(s) you support decide to leave the area, try to go with a member of the individual’s Personal Support Team.  If this is not possible, go to the public evacuation center for your area.  Plan ahead of time – learn the location of these planned shelters.



    • DDS Emergency Preparedness Consumer Corner
    • DDS Consumer Corner, Feeling Safe, Being Safe
    • National Organization on DisAbility 
    • California Department of Public Health 
    • American Red Cross Disaster Services

    How to learn More

    • Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters


    Last updated on Fri, 11/19/2010 - 11:57