Planning for natural disasters with hearing loss

Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados, create special challenges for those with hearing loss. For example, tornados often have early warning sirens alerting local residents to head to their basements or otherwise take cover, but those with hearing loss are prone to not hear the sirens. Similarly, in the worst-case scenario, if a disaster hits and someone with hearing loss is trapped in his or her home or a destroyed area, he or she may not be able to hear the calls of rescuers checking to see if anyone needs help.

People with hearing loss need to prepare for emergencies in different waysSince about half of adults 75 or older have hearing loss and many older adults are choosing to "age in place" in their own homes these days, this scenario is not uncommon. If someone you know and love has hearing loss, and especially if they live alone and have hearing loss, here are some ways that you can help them prepare in case disaster strikes:

Keep an emergency kit

The kit should be packed with the basics, such as extra clothing, at least three days' worth of food and water, and bandages and other sterile first aid supplies. This kit should also include:

  • A pen and paper in case it is necessary to communicate with someone via writing back and forth if sign language, speech reading or assistive listening devices are not an option
  • Four weeks' worth of disposable batteries if the person uses hearing aids or a cochlear implant, just in case there's no power to recharge batteries, or no way to purchase them
  • A flashlight and extra batteries, which could be helpful in any situation but is also important for those who need to speech read
  • Phone numbers for the hearing aid or cochlear implant manufacturer in case a device needs to be fixed, and phone numbers for local resources and centers that serve seniors and those who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • A sealed, waterproof container to hold hearing aids or cochlear implants to keep them clean and dry
  • Communication cards that are pre-written with basic needs like "food," "water," and "pain" in case of injury

Purchase alert systems

There are various types of alert systems that can be purchased to alert someone with hearing loss in case of an emergency. Here are the various options and how they function:

  • Weather Alert Systems: These radios tune into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 24 hour/7 days a week National Weather Service broadcast. They are designed for people with hearing loss because the alerts are delivered with closed captioning, flashing and vibrating. You can also sign up for text message and email alerts through NOAA Weather Wire Service, which is especially a good idea if the person with hearing loss accesses emails on his or her phone. These radios can also be connected to bed shakers, strobe lights, induction loops and t-coils to alert you to an emergency.
  • Help the person make sure that his or her home has both audio and visual smoke and carbon monoxide detection alarms, and that at least one of these alarms is battery-operated. Remind your friend or family member to check the batteries of his or her devices monthly. The alarms typically come with extra loud signals as well as flashing strobe-like lights. There are even bed-shaking options that go under one's pillow or connect to the bed to shake them awake in the event of an emergency.

Let others know

Other people can also be an excellent resource in keeping someone with hearing loss safe.

  • Put signs near the entrances to your home so that if emergency personnel come to the door, they will know that the individual with hearing loss might not be able to hear them.
  • Many people choose to keep a laminated business card-style emergency card in their wallet that alerts people to their situation with a statement like "I have hearing loss and I need ...," while others prefer to wear an easily visible medical alert bracelet.
  • Close neighbors should know that someone has hearing loss. Talk to them to be assured that they will wake you up in case of an emergency.
  • Check to see if your community has access to Reverse 911, where someone will call you if there is an emergency.
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