Can You Hear The Beep Where You Sleep?*

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on June 22, 2015

Disasters are a common occurrence worldwide, and no region or state can be assured that something unexpected will not threaten property, health and lives with no, or minimal, warning. Whether earthquakes in Nepal, typhoons in Southeast Asia or floods in the American South, we seem to be experiencing disasters unlike anything that has occurred in the last 100 years. While there is no way to avoid a massive earthquake, other than moving out of regions of the world where earthquake zones exist, many lives could be saved during flooding and fires if people would heed warnings and evacuate in time.

In the United States, deadly blizzards targeted the Northeastern U.S. several times last winter, and periodically swept across the middle of the country. Melting snow and torrential rains have followed, resulting in massive flooding that has caused billions of dollars in property and crop damage and taken the lives, too many of them, of those who were unable to evacuate in time. Even though there is usually plenty of warning when rivers overflow their banks or major storms approach, too many people do not heed those warnings. This is not a new phenomenon, as the memory of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is all too painful to many of the families who lost over 1500 loved ones in disastrous flooding in New Orleans during what has been categorized as "the most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history."

Things are no safer where the climate is drier.

This fire season is shaping up to be one of the worst on record in the wildlands of the western United States, thanks to an ongoing drought. Reservoirs are drying up, and brittle vegetation burns like gasoline as fires again surge across miles of dry grasslands, brush and forests while threatening hundreds of homes each summer..

Residents of rural areas are continually warned to create a defensible perimeter around their homes, by removing vegetation and debris. That task requires outside assistance for people who are paralyzed or have other types of chronic disabling conditions. Those unable to operate a chainsaw or garden tools, or to haul away garbage or branches, must rely on the generosity of family, friends or civic organizations that are willing to donate the time and effort to help increase the size of their safe zone. That same type of assistance may be necessary in order to help some people with disabilities evacuate from fire or flood zones.

When it comes to fire prevention at home, those of us who are paralyzed must put in a lot more effort than our neighbors in order to be prepared for these disasters that kill or maim many people with disabilities every year. Many of us require outside assistance in order to complete such simple tasks as changing smoke detector batteries when we reset our clocks for Daylight Savings Time each Spring or Fall. Worse yet, it is not uncommon to have batteries removed by a well-meaning caregiver or household member when the "low battery" beeping starts annoying us in the middle of the night and no replacement batteries are available in the home. Without that annoying beep going off, residents of the house might never know that a fire has started.

News sources report on hundreds of residential fires each year, and unfortunately too many of those reports involve death or serious injury on the part of people with disabilities who were unable to escape the flames or smoke. While it appears that no organization is maintaining a separate record of the impact of fires on people with disabilities, perusing media reports makes it clear that the disability community is facing serious risk of injury or death.

Some of the fires that were reported by such sorces in recent months involve seniors, people living in group homes, low income housing, or those who use mobility devices but live on upper floors. Self-evacuation was not an option for many of those fire victims, as by the time firefighters arrived there was often no opportunity for any type of evacuation. The causes of the fires vary, but careless smokers, unsafe cooking practices, disconnected smoke detectors, electrical malfunctions, fireworks and even children playing with matches appear to present the greatest risks.

Despite their best efforts, many people find it necessary to evacuate from their homes to escape disaster every year. That might occur with plenty of warning, like during flooding, or it might be virtually instantaneous in the case of a residential fire or earthquake. No matter what the circumstances, it pays to be prepared for it.

There is excellent information available about getting prepared for disasters and evacuating from them, for people with all types of disabilities, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency website. It may seem like basic information that everyone should know, but evacuating without bringing along essential medications and supplies, or arranging for the needs of our pets, might turn a timely evacuation into a real personal disaster. We all owe it to our families, other loved ones and the first responders in our communities to plan ahead, get prepared and share this information widely.

*Please note that the title of this article is borrowed from the National Fire Protection Association and is the motto of their Fire Prevention Week in October, 2015. However, don't wait for October. This is a great reminder and an excellent time to make sure that those in your household are doing whatever possible to prevent and escape fires, including the installation of smoke detectors in every bedroom.

© 2015 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.