Is Your MS Ready for a Disaster?

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by Ed Tobias |

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natural disaster, Red Cross

American Red Cross shelter in Immokalee, FL, after Hurricane Irma destroyed most of that town. Photo by Daniel Cima for the American Red Cross


Hurricane season began on June 1 in the Atlantic region. For people living along the coast, as I do, it’s time to plan for moving quickly. For people with mobility problems, planning is essential since, as you know, moving isn’t something that we do quickly.

I wrote about this last November, but it’s time to review some updated tips and suggestions. They’re good for a variety of disasters. Fires, floods, industrial accidents, and other incidents can all result in hurry-up-and-go.

Stay or go?

In Florida, where they know a thing or two about disasters, the state’s emergency management website says “your unique circumstances and the nature of the emergency should be carefully evaluated before either option is decided upon. As a person with disabilities/special needs or a caretaker of individuals with special needs, your disaster plan should consider, and have options for both situations.”

Evacuation shelters

The American Red Cross is one of the disaster agencies that set up evacuation centers. When a person with a disability comes to a Red Cross shelter, a worker will speak with them about their specific needs and how they can help. That help can include assisting a person to move from a wheelchair to a cot, cutting food, and navigating a cafeteria-style food service line. In many shelters, they can provide items such as shower stools, commode chairs, and a variety of cots that make shelters safe and comfortable for everyone.

Houston, Texas shelter

Red Cross volunteers speak with a shelter resident in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Photo by Daniel Cima for The American Red Cross)

In Florida, and perhaps in some other states, some shelters are specifically designed for people with special needs. They provide safe housing for people who need extra help because of a medical condition, or who need special supervision by a healthcare professional. But you can’t just show up at a special needs shelter. In Florida, registration is required before an emergency happens, and a person with a disability must meet certain eligibility requirements to be admitted. Those requirements can differ in various counties, so contacting emergency management officials in the state and county where you live before a disaster hits is a must-do.

Things to bring with you

According to the Red Cross, evacuation shelters are typically only meant to house people for 12 to 24 hours until the storm or other disaster moves through. These shelters may not have enough supplies to provide a cot and blanket for each person, so shelter planners recommend you bring the following items with you if you can:

  • Bedding (sleeping bag)
  • Clothing (for several days)
  • Medications and copies of prescriptions
  • Your child’s stuffed animal, blanket, or other “lovey”
  • Your emergency kit (recommendations can be found on the Red Cross website).

Don’t Bring:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Illegal drugs
  • Weapons
  • Pets (unless you’re going to a pet shelter)

In longer-term shelters, you may find more robust services, such as warm meals and a place to shower, but don’t expect these in a shelter that’s been set up quickly for a stay of a day or two.

Special items for mobility

Here are some edited recommendations from the website:

  • If you use a power wheelchair, try to have a lightweight, manual chair available as a backup. Know the size and weight of your wheelchair in addition to whether or not it is collapsible, in case it has to be transported.
  • Show others how to operate your wheelchair.
  • Buy an extra battery for your power wheelchair or scooter and keep it charged.
  • Consider keeping a patch kit or a can of sealant for flat tires, if your tires are inflatable.
  • Keep an extra cane or walker, if you use one.
  • If you use a seat cushion to protect your skin or maintain your balance, and you must evacuate without your wheelchair, take your cushion.

Nobody knows your needs better than you do. And now, when the sun is shining, is the time to make sure you can meet your needs if disaster lands on your doorstep.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at

Connect with Ed and other MS patients on our forums to discuss this column and much more!


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Brad Root avatar

Brad Root

This is an important subject
I know I don’t have a plan and do not have a backpack with items I would need


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