Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

Track This Blog By E-mail

Head shot of Lisa Salinger

Guest blogger Lisa Salinger (at left) works for Serotek in the Sales and Customer Service departments. She is a regular contributor on the SeroTalk Podcast Network and provides training in the use of Serotek's screen reader and related products. Prior to this, she worked as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist/Rehabilitation Teacher for the state of Pennsylvania. You can visit her website, Lisa's Creative Solutions, and follow her on Twitter @lisasali.

Preparation and Forethought for Any Disaster

The process of preparing for a disaster should start well before such action is needed. But before you start gathering supplies, you need to prepare mentally. As a congenitally blind person, and a fairly non-visual thinker, I couldn't imagine what devastation looked like, and I really didn't want to know.

I can recall a blindness radio program in which a guest was describing the destruction after 9/11. I didn't listen for very long. I couldn't wrap my mind around damage that extensive, and since I wasn't bombarded with visual images from the TV, I didn't have to. I already cared deeply about the loss of life, and I didn't know how much more I could absorb.

My advice to blind people now is to take advantage of emergency preparedness information, however difficult it may be. At some point, you might find yourself in a situation in which that information could prove to be invaluable.

My Personal Disaster Experience: A Home Flood

In 2011, my home was flooded, and I lost nearly everything. My first and greatest mistake was not to have thought about flooding – and what it meant – before this. Prior to my own home flood, I had been in a home that experienced minimal flooding. It had about an inch of water; just a puddle really. The flooded area was about the diameter of a pizza pan.

I knew in my head that floods could be bigger, and extremely destructive, but in another part of me, the image of the word "Flood" brought forth the image of that glorified puddle.

I had never thought about exactly how the water would get in. In my case, it came in through a drain in the floor of one room, and was very audibly bubbling through a crack in the wall of another room. I had no idea how fast the area would flood. Initially, the water was only in one room up to my ankles. Within fifteen minutes' time, it was about two feet deep. The estimate is that I had three to five feet of water.

I didn't realize that the water would be brown. Of course, it makes sense, but it never crossed my mind. I thought that a few things would be lost, but that once things dried out, nearly everything would be okay. I did not realize that a layer of mud would cover everything, and that mold would begin to grow very quickly.

I didn't even think about the fact that my actual house would be affected. Ultimately, the paneling had to be torn down, and the insulation, which was still wringing wet after nearly a month, had to be disposed of.

I'm providing what may seem like extraneous background information in order to emphasize the point that if you know what to expect, you can be better prepared. I would have moved my clothes and bedding, for example, but I was in no hurry because I thought they would simply need to dry after the flood abated.

My Suggestions for Disaster Planning

It is important, whether the disaster be a hurricane, flood, fire, or some other natural or man-made event, to have all the facts, and to plan accordingly.

I believe the most effective planning process is based upon two primary components: (a) one's remaining senses and (b) the activities you perform throughout the course of a normal day.

Using Your Senses

When thinking about the senses, my thought process should have been something like this: I have no sight, so I need to think about my "sight substitutes." Do I have an extra cane? Do I have supplies for my guide dog? Do I have food, medication, and water, if necessary?

Do I have a non-electrical way to know what's going on? This could include an emergency radio, or the necessary apps on my smart phone, as well as a way to keep my phone charged. This overlaps into the area of hearing as well.

For the sense of taste, do I have food I can use that does not need to be refrigerated or heated? What temperature should each food item be? Many times, significant temperature changes come on the heels of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Having enough clothing to change and to stay warm is essential. I have no sense of smell, but I was told the smell from the mold was pungent. I do have mild asthma, and just thinking about the sense of smell, and ultimately the nose and breathing, should be a reminder to take along an extra inhaler.

Your Daily Routine

It is also helpful to think about your daily routine. If you go through the day and mentally list all the things you do, even the small ones, you will think to take items that might have escaped your notice. Things like medications are fairly obvious, but I also needed a way to record relevant information after the disaster.


I moved back into my home a year and a day after the flood. Then, last week, I moved out again. I've moved back in safely as of late Saturday night, but I can certainly do without the déjà vu. While no amount of preparation can change the outcome, basic planning and a little forethought are steps in the right direction.

Planning for the Future
Getting Around
Environmental assessment and modification
There are currently 5 comments

Re: Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

Here are some great ideas about emergency preparedness from "Friend of VisionAware" Jeremiah Taylor:

I found being blind causes a feeling of a loss of control. Regardless of ability, we need to plan or ask assistance. When power was lost, I lost some more control! I had to ask "What is happening?" "Are they fixing the wires?" "Can we walk and get water?" etc., so a blind person must realize once their environment changes so does the amount of control they have.

Always plan to react to the possibility of less control. If the blind person is not familiar with their outside surroundings as they never need to venture into certain areas, they should learn what is around them, learn where the main water turn-off valve is, etc! Every blind person needs to know what is under their windows and how far are the windows from the ground. If there is a fire and they need to leave from a window, it would be important they understand how to open a certain window and climb out safely. Can they drop to the ground or will they hit a pipe, open drain, or will they fall on a fence, etc.

When I first moved to my building, I had to learn to navigate the building. Before I learned the elevator, I asked to be shown the staircase and how to get out of the building in case of a fire and maybe a flood.

I would also suggest that every person, especially a blind person, have strong, high-top boots. Many times I use my feet to determine what is in front of me rather than always bending down. So mud, waste matter, and all this stuff that is on the ground can be very disgusting and a good pair of high-top boots can provide much emotional and physical comfort. Walking with confidence without fear is important as always "watching" your step can be dangerous and stressful!

Re: Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

Excellent post and comment. And certainly a timely topic. We lived in Maine for 15 years and went through Hurricane Bob and the ice storm of 1998. Hurricane bob was brief and violent and we lived right on the ocean when it hit. The storm surge coincided with high tide and the waves topped 25 feet. Oddly we never felt afraid. The fear on that day revolved around transportation. We lived in Ellsworth, on the coast and my office was in Bangor, an hour inland. Before we moved to the coast I worked out a network of transportation. There was no public transportation to be had so I carpooled with folks, many of whom are still friends. My need for transportation caused me to reach out and I found both transportation and friendship, but I digress. That's a topic for another post.

When I entered my client's home, just after noon on that day, I heard the radio announce that all Maine State government offices were closed. The guy I rode with worked for the state and I panicked. But he was right there waiting for me. I got home an hour later and then my worries centered on my husband who had gone to an island on a mail boat to work with his student. I called a neighbor who calmed me down and she was right. My husband got home fine and we were perfectly safe.

Whenever I've moved to a new place I've found long time residents to be a great source of information on all things weather related. All of my discomfort and panic was self induced and it was all resolved by locals who had lived there for a long time and who knew the weather patterns and what to expect. Ask and you'll get good and valuable information from your neighbors.

The ice storm was a horse of a different color. It lasted for four days and we were without power for 8 days. When you move to a new place you should learn about your water and power sources. for example, if you're on city water you'll still have running water even if you lose power. If your water comes from a well you won't have water because wells require pumps that use electricity to pump the water from the well. If you don't have water you won't have water to drink or to flush toilets with. It's a good idea to keep empty containers around that you can fill up for drinking water purposes before a storm hits. Fill bathtubs with water for toilet flushing purposes.

If it's winter and you don't have a backup source of heat consider going somewhere else until the storm is over. If you do have a source of heat such as a fireplace or wood stove make sure you have plenty of wood or alternative fuel in a dry protected place. Get where you're going long before the storm is predicted to hit.

When you go outside for the first time following a winter storm wear good boots and use a hiking stick or a ski pole to help you balance in case there's ice.

We live in Alabama now and have gone through some pretty violent tornadic weather since we moved here. Tornadoes are even briefer and more violent than hurricanes. Keep a weather radio on and be prepared to move fast. If there's a tornado warning, have your safe place identified and get to it in a hurry. Go to an interior room, a basement or a storm safe room.

Sometimes making it through bad weather is a matter of endurance . Sometimes it's a matter of moving fast. But it's always a matter of being prepared.

Re: Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

Excellent post and so timely. I and a co-worker just did an emergency preparedness presentation for first responders. We shared about how to help a blind person who might have to come to a shelter during an emergency.

While preparing for the presentation I thought about my own situation and listening to the news about Hurricane Sandy just brought home the issue even more. I discovered that I am not as prepared as I need to be. I just recently went out and purchased about 4 gallons of drinking water and will be purchasing more. I have flashlights and extra batteries and I have even purchased a water and fire proof container to store all my importnat papers like birth records, SSI card, old tax returns, credit cards, etc.

I have also created an emergency friends and family contact list so in case people important in my life can contact each other. Now I just need to be sure those people have keys to my home. Preparing for an emergency can be a bit overwhelming but I am determined to do as muchc as I can to be prepared.

Empish in Atlanta

Re: Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

This article covers some critical points with great detail. As a manufacturer of Braille-equipped emergency preparedness and first aid kits, I have found the biggest challenge in emergency preparedness is apathy. It’s human nature to not want to think about the “what if” scenarios and it is common to not dwell on the topic of emergency preparedness.

Getting people to spend a little bit of time and money preparing for an event that hopefully may happen is not easy.

Just remember, if you have the proper plan and supplies in place prior to an emergency, you greatly increase the likelihood that you will survive the event with less stress and a better outcome.

GrabPak works closely with many state and local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind as well as numerous state, county and city emergency services organizations. You can check out our emergency products for the blind at www.grabpak.com

Re: Emergency Preparedness with Blindness and Visual Impairment: A First-Person Account

New Gamification Partnership Promises Improved Emergency Preparedness for Visually Impaired and Youth

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, little progress has been made in preparing communities for better outcomes in disasters. We are still witnessing an unacceptable lack of awareness when it comes to preparing our most valuable and vulnerable members of our society – our children and special needs citizens.

PrepBiz™ Gamification App Solution

PrepBiz™ 1.0 gamification app educates children, youth, adults and visually impaired individuals on best practice recommendation responses to disasters, hazards and active shooter incidents. Players must overcome challenges by choosing the safest course of action to avoid obstacles, hurdles and mishaps to reach safe points with pop up boxes alerting to common hazards and other information related to the incidents while remaining safe.

PrepBiz™ 1.0 (VI) is an audio-only action/adventure game for mobile phones, tablets and computers where ears replace eyes thanks to a very innovative technology: binaural sound and players are guided only by 3D sound and live the adventure by controlling their Avatar with multi-point tactile gestures.

PrepWorld LLC, (www.prepworld.org) the parent company and designers of the PrepBiz™ gamification system have taken the challenge to explore not only if games could be effective in emergency preparedness, but how and why.

Log in to Post a Comment

Follow Us:

Blog Archive Browse Archive

Join Our Mission

Help us expand our resources for people with vision loss.