In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri devastated many parts of Texas and severely impacted the lives of many people with disabilities. The winter storm ushered in extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snow, leaving many people stranded without access to power and water for days on end.
Winter is here once again, and it is critical that Texans with disabilities take steps now to prepare. We’ve listed some tips and resources to help you prepare.
Be Informed and Get Alerts
The most critical information for preparedness is knowing what your local jurisdiction has planned for the event so you can make your own plan. Before a storm hits, contact your local emergency management department to let them know about your specific needs and to ask how those needs will be addressed. To connect with your local emergency managers, contact your county or visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s website.
It is also important to sign up to get weather alerts on a mobile device so you know when extreme weather is coming or getting more severe. A mobile device could include a regular cell phone, a smartphone, or a tablet. If you use a regular cell phone and your local jurisdiction issues severe weather alerts via text message, you can sign up for those alerts. If you use a smartphone or a tablet, your device may come with a weather app that provides weather alerts, or one of the local TV news stations may offer a weather app that issues alerts. Also, some communities in Texas provide an Accessible Hazard Alert System that sends alerts in American Sign Language, braille, voice, and text.
During a winter storm, access to power, water, and transportation could be limited or completely cut off. In case you have to stay in one place for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to stock up on essential things that you need to live. These items might include food, water, medications, medical supplies, and more. To acquire extra medications, coordinate in advance with your doctor so you know how to make this happen. For medical supplies, talk to your durable medical equipment (DME) provider.
With the threat of losing power, you may need to keep extra ice and a cooler on hand to prevent certain food and medications from spoiling. Also, you may not be able to cook food, so items that are prepackaged and ready-to-eat can be helpful. And while COVID-19 continues to exist, you may also want to keep extra facemasks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes on hand if you live with other people.
Severe winter weather means colder than normal temperatures, and it is important to stay warm, whether you are travelling to a shelter or sheltering in place at home. Make sure you have plenty of clothes and blankets so your body does not get too cold and to limit your skin’s exposure to cold air and wind.
Also, if possible, have additional heat sources on hand. Because multiple things can happen during a winter storm, it is best to be ready for anything. For example, a furnace could malfunction, so having electric-powered heaters could help. On the other hand, the power could go out, so non-electric-powered sources of heat could be necessary. Examples could include propane heaters and burning wood in a fireplace, as long as the appropriate safety measures are in place. Any equipment should be used following the manufacturer’s guidelines, and all heat sources should have appropriate space and ventilation to ensure safety and to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Identify Alternative Power Sources
If the power goes out, many of the items in your home may not work. If you rely on electricity to refrigerate your medications, power medical equipment, or charge a wheelchair battery, you need to know what your options are. When creating your plan, connect with your local emergency management department, as well as your DME/assistive technology and healthcare providers, to discuss what alternative power sources will be available if power is lost.
Also, if you live in the community and rely on DME that requires electricity, you should register with the local utility provider as a “critical care/chronic condition residential customer.” Registering does not guarantee you’ll have access to power, but it can help your local jurisdiction plan and prepare for your needs.
You can get more information about preparing for severe winter weather from these resources:
- Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources (Disability Rights Texas)
- Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices (PDF, Pacific ADA Center)
- Weather Safety Information for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (National Weather Service)
- Cold Weather Safety and Preparedness for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (PDF, National Weather Service)