People with mobility disabilities include people who have walking and / or moving limitations. They may or may not use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, and other devices as aids to movement. Most people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs do not have acute medical needs and can be accommodated in general population shelters.

Most people believe that they will be helped by firefighters, police officers and paramedics in a large emergency. The truth is 70 percent of the time, in big emergencies, your Personal Assistant, friends, coworkers, neighbors and other people do the “first responding.” It is important to make sure these folks are aware of your specific needs in the case of an emergency. These people are known as your support team.

These tips take some time to do, but they do not include any cost. These no cost preparedness activities include: identifying your support teams and evacuation plans, collecting emergency health information and emergency documents.


  1. Get a Kit

In addition to the list of recommended items to include in a Disaster Supplies Kit, people who have mobility impairments may consider including the following items:

  •   A pair of heavy gloves to use while wheeling or making your way over glass and debris
  •   Extra battery for motorized wheelchair
  •   If you do not have puncture proof tires, keep a patch kit or can of "seal-in-air product" to repair flat tires and/or keep an extra supply of inner tubes
  •   Electrical back-up for medical equipment
  •   Include important documents. These include:
    • Identification: copies of driver's license/passport (for family members, as well)
    • Personal and property insurance
    • Passwords
    • Banking and credit card information (consider signing up for Direct Deposit and electronic banking
    • Pet's veterinary medical records and pictures for emergency identification if you are separated.
  •   Options for storing your important documents such as personal and financial records include:
    • Create a password-protected area in “the Cloud” allowing you access from any internet connected mobile device anytime and anywhere.
    • Store information on a secure password protected flash drive. A flash drive can be kept on a key ring. 
    • Store information in a folder in your email program and on your computer.
  1. Make a Plan
  • Establish a support team (family, friends, neighbors). Do not rely exclusively on local emergency responders for assistance.  
  • Have members of your support team agree to check in on you.
  • Base your plan on your worst, most limited days. That is, those days that you have the most difficulty with activities that involve mobility, seeing, hearing, understanding, and getting around.
  • Be sure to ask if your support team can provide you with transportation. Ensure that they have room for you in their vehicle in addition to themselves and their family. Check that their vehicles are accessible to you and your equipment.
  • Contact local transportation providers to ask if they are able to help you in an emergency. Do they keep a list of those who will need help with transportation? Make sure that this is not your only plan! A back up plan is critical.   
  • Learn how and if you are able to use a fire extinguisher. If you cannot operate one, it is important to know how to use one so you can instruct others in an emergency. 
  • Test your abilities to do specific emergency actions to determine what you can do independently and what you will need help with (using a fire extinguisher, activating a fire alarm, shutting off gas and water, evacuating buildings where you spend your time (home, school, job, church, etc.)
  • Meet with your family members, friends, and building manager to review community hazards and emergency plans.
  • Choose an out-of-town contact
  • Decide where to meet your household members if ever separated during an emergency.
  • If you have a motorized wheelchair or scooter, consider having an extra battery available. Ask your vendor how you will be able to charge batteries.
  • Arrange and secure furniture and other items to provide paths of travel and barrier free passages.
  • If you spend time above the first floor of an elevator building, plan and practice using alternate methods of evacuation.
  • If you cannot use stairs, discuss lifting and carrying techniques that will work for you.
  • Be sure to have electrical backup for any medical equipment.
  • If you are unable to drop and cover and hold, cover your head and neck with your arms or a pillow until the shaking stops.
  • Some local emergency management offices maintain registries for people with disabilities.
  • Some registries are only used to collect planning information; others may be used to offer assistance in emergencies. If you add your name and information to a registry, be sure you understand what you can expect.
  • Be aware that a registry is NEVER a substitute for personal preparedness. Even if the registry is linked to first responders, assistance may not be available for hours or days in a disaster.
  • A support team typically is made up of people willing to help each other in an emergency. They include your PAs and others at places where you spend time, like your home, workplace, or school. If you create a large team, you are more likely to get help when you need it.
  • Create support teams where everyone is included and trained. That way everyone can help! When you include many people, you create bigger teams.
  • Include in your plan how to communicate with your personal assistants (PAs) and support team at home, at work, etc., via: landline phone, cell phone, email, social media, text message or other devices (two-way radio, ham radio, personal emergency call response system, etc.
  • Do not assume you have been included in emergency plans. If you rely on an employer or the building manager to make sure things are in place, it may or may not happen.
  • Check out the emergency plans where you spend your time. Are the needs of people who cannot use steps, run, hear, see, and understand, included in the plan?
  • Seek out the people responsible for the emergency plans and discuss if, where and how the plan may need to be strengthened to include you and others with functional needs.
  • To plan for a safe evacuation, be part of the discussion that creates the procedures and selects equipment that work best for you and your abilities.
  • If you rely on electricity and battery dependent assistive technology and medical devices create a plan for alternative sources of power.
  • Plan for how your devices can be moved. Have your support teams think through and plan for different situations: 
  • Know what the evacuation procedures are if you spend time above or below the ground floor of multi-story buildings.
    • Are evacuation devices available?
    • If yes, where are they located? 
    • If no, could they be purchased? If no, what is the plan?
    • Can you transfer in and out of evacuation devices independently, or with assistance? 
    • Are floor wardens (designated emergency leaders) and others trained with you on how to use these evacuation devices? 
    • Can you give quick instructions regarding how safely to transport you if you need to be carried, carried with or without your wheelchair?
    • Include in these instructions areas of caution and vulnerability regarding how to safely transfer you from your wheelchair. 
    • If you want to be lifted in while staying in your wheelchair make sure this is realistic (How much does your chair weigh with you in it).
    • Determine if the places where you spend time have “evacuation elevators.” If yes, know where they are located and if no, plan for other ways to evacuate.
  1. Be Informed
  • Develop a communication plan with your family.
  • Ask your local fire department, police department, about whether they offer any emergency special assistance programs.
  • Ask your city or county how they will warn you of a disaster situation and provide information to you before, during, and after a disaster. Sign up for San Mateo County alerts and warnings at
  • Know which television and radio stations in your area broadcast the Emergency Alert System (EAS). In San Mateo County, those TV stations are KTVU TV-2, KRON TV-4, KPIX TV-5, KGO TV-7, and KNTV-11 (NBC Bay Area). EAS radio stations include: KCBS 740 AM and 106.9 FM, KQED 88.5 FM, and KCSM 91.1 FM.


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