LivAbility Magazine

Edition 16 | Spring 2019

You are your first line of defense

Story by Kade Garner

Minutes, mere minutes.

When a natural disaster strikes, a few minutes is all it takes for a family to lose its home.

In 2017, the United States experienced one of the most devastating series of natural disasters on record. According to, natural disasters caused more than $300 billion in damage that year. Much of this cost resulted from the loss of private, family homes.

Government programs and agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are in place to reduce lost lives and property from any hazard or disaster, “by leading and supporting the nation in a comprehensive, risk-based emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.” Preparing for disasters, however, is the responsibility of the individual.

LivAbility is committed to ensuring our consumers are ready to make those few minutes they need to evacuate their homes as efficient as possible.

From first-hand advice to emergency-preparedness checklists, we want to make sure you are ready when disaster reaches your doorstep.

The following information is first-hand, word-for-word advice from people of all different positions and perspectives designed to inform all readers.

Shelsey Silva – In 2017, tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in wildfires across California. Silva and her family lost their home in the middle of the night. The Silva family wasn’t prepared for an emergency and lost nearly everything in the fire, with just minutes to evacuate. Silva uses a wheelchair and had to stay in temporary housing that was not adapted to her needs. She now gives advice to others in the disability community on preparing for disasters:

“I would have had a ready-to-go kit with important papers because they’re hard to get back.”

“Now [I’d include] a change of clothes and probably necessary stuff that girls need [feminine hygiene products].”

“Try to be more aware and pay more attention [to the news and weather reports] ‘cause we didn’t get much of an evacuation notice.’”

April Reed – Reed is the Vice President of Advocacy at Ability360 (Center for Independent Living). Reed works with community leaders regularly to help them provide better emergency care to their local disability communities. While there are agencies and programs that may provide help in emergencies, Reed stresses the importance of each individual being prepared to take care of him or herself in these situations:

“We’ll help you find those resources … We’ll brainstorm with you … Do that with us now, don’t wait.”

Independent Living Skills advocates can help you locate those resources you need to be ready.

“We work with community leaders and legislators to help them identify the needs of the disability community in their jurisdiction.”

Gillian Aitken – Aitken is an advocate for the disability community. She has used a wheelchair since she was young and has been advocating for accessibility everywhere she has been. She volunteers as a Red Cross disaster-relief nurse and has seen first-hand how the disability community is affected by disasters. She wants the disability community to be more prepared for any emergency:

Knowing your disability … knowing if you need accommodations [in shelters after a disaster] is crucial.

“Know FEMA’s language. ‘Functional Needs’ is a term that will be used to categorize you in post-disaster care.”

Do your best to know the basics. A physician to contact, your basic meds, etc.

Sara Ann Joehnk – Joehnk works as a disability-integration specialist for the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council. Joehnk helps those in the disability community to become more independent by teaching life skills. For Joehnk, being prepared for an emergency is an independent-living skill. She has some advice to make emergency preparedness a little easier:

Knowing where your alert [for disasters] is coming from is key.

Cloud storage [for personal documents] is really useful. You don’t have to worry about taking anything physical with you.

“If you need to buy that one extra water bottle … That’s fine … keep it small to fit your lifestyle … You don’t need to get it all now.”

Know your ability, your needs, your plan. Preparedness is up to you. While there are agencies, groups and individuals willing to help, you are your first line of defense.

Remember that, for the first few days after a disaster, help may not be available.

You have to be prepared to take care of yourself.

Emergency Checklist:

  1. First Aid Kit
  2. Prescriptions
  3. Important Documents
  4. Money
  5. Radio
  6. Flashlight
Kade Garner

Kade Garner

Kade Garner is a Northern-Arizona native. When he is not hooked up to an IV filled with diet soda, he is probably filming an event, taking pictures of his dog or binge watching a new series. He’s an okay writer.

Read more by Kade Garner.