Special Needs Preppers: Physical and Medical Challenges

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preppers with medical and physical special needsAmong our friends, loved ones, and neighbors, it’s very likely there are some with special needs, including physical, mental, medical, and age-related challenges. This article will address preppers with physical and medical challenges.

In the case of many physical challenges, such as blindness, a person doesn’t need medication, although there could possibly be accompanying health issues that require prescription drugs. On the other hand, many with a medical need won’t have additional physical challenges as long as they receive their medication. Examples in this second category include diabetes or a relatively minor heart problem.

Physical & Medical Challenges: Physical limitations

If your prepper family includes a loved one with physical limitations, these suggestions will help you prepare for disasters and possible worst case scenarios.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an app available for their NOAA Extreme Weather Information Sheet that will notifies users of impending weather hazards. Download this app onto your electronic device, and you can customize the settings for whatever physical limitations you or your family may have and for the area in which you live. (They actually have quite a few, and this page has their complete list of mobile websites and apps.) This is also available via email.

Buy a Special-Needs NOAA Weather Radio. These radios vibrate and provide simple text messages for those with hearing problems. In addition, they have accessories that include a pillow vibrator, a strobe light, and a bed shaker. They can also be adapted to provide large print or Braille messages for those with visual problems.

An extra-bright flashlight and high quality whistle will make it easier to get attention and help in an emergency.

Hearing issues

One all-too-common physical limitation is poor hearing or even deafness, particularly among the elderly. One simple step to take is to make sure your smoke detectors have flashing lights. If a loved one uses hearing aids, keep a spare pair (possibly an old pair, given the expense of hearing aids) in a Faraday Cage. This will keep them safe from an EMP but, on a more practical note, will also keep them dry and air tight in flooding, storms, and through fire-fighting, if it is done well.

  • Hearing aids are small. You can use something the size of an Altoids tin to create a Faraday cage for them. Line the cage with foam or another insulating material and place the hearing aids in the middle. Seal it closed with aluminum or another conductive tape. (The general idea is to make sure the power surge stays outside the box, not inside.)
  • Paint can reduce conductivity, leaving the contents vulnerable to power surges. Paint and other coatings may also interfere with how well the tape adheres, making it no longer waterproof. The simple answer to this is to either use a container without paint or to use sandpaper or another abrasive to remove the paint from the area the aluminum tape will cover. Also, if there is a sticker, remove as much as you can and then remove the reside with Goo Gone or a similar product.
  • From a reader, Jim, sporting goods stores, such as Academy, carry “hearing enhancement devices” for hunters. These are inexpensive and, in a pinch, would be better than nothing for someone with hearing loss.

A hearing member of the family may want to record a short video or two with instructions for emergency workers, giving information about the deaf family member. It’s unlikely that a responder will know American Sign Language and if your loved one is alone, there will be no other way to communicate important, possibly life saving, information.

Children, the elderly, and others can use this pre-recorded video to explain their needs and limitations to first-responders. If you do this, make sure copies are on any digital device they routinely carry and tape a note on the outside alerting emergency responders to look for the video.


The white cane with a red tip is a well-known symbol of blindness. Keep a spare, even if it isn’t used in regular daily life. That visual cue could be priceless for getting help in an emergency.

If your vision impaired loved one has a guide dogs, remember to prepare for them as well. They’ll obviously have the same needs as other dogs: food, water, toys. Make sure to make a bug out bag for the guide-dog as well as the humans. If (s)he wears a vest or other special identifier, keep a spare in the bug out bag. It’s also critical that you keep up-t0-date copies of every single vaccination and all relevant training and certifications, preferably laminated so they are waterproof, with your emergency items.

By law, guide dogs should be allowed even in refugee/evacuation centers that don’t otherwise allow animals, but you might also be required to show proof of vaccinations. Don’t give them an excuse to not allow your guide dog. Have the paperwork ready to go. Better yet, contact your local animal shelter or emergency management office to see what you should do in advance and which shelters are most likely to accept service animals with a minimum of fuss.

NOTE: You may consider your pet to be your Emotional Support Animal or some other type of support animal, but check out these legalities when it comes to the expectation that your animal will be allowed just anywhere.

Another help for blind family members is to memorize the exact location of bug out bags, emergency and medical items, and where each item is kept within your kits. You may need to find them in a hurry. You might even add braille labels and an inventory list, so nothing gets left behind.

If you rely on your hands to feel the environment, stock up on nitrile gloves, or vinyl, if you have a nitrile allergy like I do. All kind of muck, germs, dirt, and general ick covers everything in the aftermath of a disaster. No one wants that on their hands, and vision loss makes it far too easy to put your hands into some seriously nasty ick. A pair of work gloves could be invaluable, especially if there are a lot of severely damaged buildings with masses of broken glass, splintered wood,and sharp metal around.

TTY (Text Telephone)

With all the newer gadgets we have, especially with the ease of getting vibrating or written messages, many people who would have used TTY or Braille TTY (Tele-TYpewriter) in the past either never started or have stopped and gotten rid of their machines. Don’t! Keep or get a TTY machine for emergency use, and check regularly to ensure it stays in good working order, including keeping a charge. This device enables a regular landline phone to send and receive text messages, which can be a literal lifesaver if cell and Internet service are out.

Many 911 services are set up to use these services and it will be difficult to impossible for you to get through without them. Even if cell service is available, the lines may be overloaded in the aftermath of a widespread emergency. If you have a working TTY machine, you can still get information by calling official government information lines as well as by calling friends and family outside the immediate area.

Even if everything is up and running, cell phones break and get misplaced all the time. TTY is a solid back-up to your cell phone, and one that is less likely to be misplaced or borrowed!

Physical & medical challenges: Medical issues

Prepping families with medical needs must take those into consideration when packing emergency kits, making evacuation plans, and preparing for long-term disasters.

First, make sure to inventory your loved one’s medical needs. There are items you will need to buy in advance and others you will need to grab at the last minute, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what they are and where to find them well in advance.

  • Medicine (both prescription and over-the-counter)
  • Specialized equipment (insulin pump, oxygen tank, CPAP machine)
  • Small items (bedpan, denture tray)
  • Disposable items (adult diapers, special skin care items, special bedding)
  • Batteries for any equipment, including daily use items like hearing aids
  • Testing equipment (blood pressure cuff, thermometer, glucose monitor)

Make two lists, one for items they will need to have immediately and one for items that are necessary but will not be needed right away. The less-immediate-need items can be packed away, out of reach.

It is inevitable that some items cannot be packed until the last minute. These should be listed together with clear instructions about where to find them, any special storage requirements (including refrigeration), and how much you need to pack per day.

NOTE: Read this for more information about planning a last minute emergency kit. It includes a printable list!

Check and rotate your supplies every two to three months. Check the expiration dates and use items that are expiring first, saving the ones with the most distant expiration for your emergency kit. It’s not a bad idea to simply swap prescriptions every time you receive a new one, even if that is every month. That way you know you always have usable medication in your emergency bag.

Medical equipment

If your loved one requires oxygen, keep extra tanks on hand but also keep a list of places where you can buy more, not just near where you live but also along evacuation routes and near your destination. If you have to evacuate, call ahead and arrange to have extra tanks waiting for you instead of trying to fit a week or more of oxygen tanks into your car along with everything else.

The same principle holds true for any other equipment needs. There’s a good chance that you won’t be able to bring everything with you in an evacuation. It makes more sense to either pre-stage some items along your most likely evacuation route or arrange for a place to get replacements at the other end.

If you or your loved one relies on electrically powered medical equipment, make sure you either have enough batteries or a generator to keep everything up and running.

TIP: If you are evacuating or in a refugee center, make sure any assistive devices you or your loved one require are clearly labeled as “assistive devices” to reduce the risk of being separated from them.

Another consideration is security, both for valuable, smaller medical equipment and prescription drugs. Invest in a small, portable safe that can be tucked under a car seat or cabled to an immovable object in the event that you end up in a shelter or other location that doesn’t offer much in the way of security.


In an evacuation scenario, if you go to a shelter or refugee center, or even stay with family and friends, notify them immediately if there is a diabetic in the family. This will help them provide you with the support and supplies you need, even if it’s just moving to the front of the line for a snack or meal.

Your emergency supplies should contain quick sugar foods in case the blood sugar level drops. Mylar pouches of fruit juice, small packets of real honey (check the label), jelly beans, hard candies, and gum drops can all be stored in small packets. In fact, candies can easily be vacuum sealed using a Food Saver, which will keep them fresh. Just be sure to also have on hand a pair of scissors or a pocket knife to open the packets.

Keep these high sugar foods in outside pouches of an emergency kit or in some other location that is both easy to find and easy to remember. You may not be able to find what you need quickly when you are not at home, even if you are simply staying at a friend’s house. If the diabetic is alone, it’s even more vital that they can quickly access these foods.

Pack oral medication, insulin, delivery supplies, lancets, extra batteries for your meter and/or pump, and an extra glucagonemergency kit. If you have a family member, young or old, who needs help with their diabetes, make sure they know to whom they should go for help and provide them with written or recorded instructions (as discussed above) in case they need to get help from someone inexperienced with diabetes.

Finding a way to keep a supply of insulin refrigerated in an emergency is a huge challenge. One option is a small refrigerator designed for use in a big rig. They run on a 12 volt car or truck battery, something that is easily stored and easy to replace.

The State of New Jersey has a really good checklist and information for disaster preparedness for diabetics. Take a few minutes to review the information there, including the hints and tips. According to their information, insulin can be kept at room temperature for up to 28 days and insulin pens can be used at room temperature. DO NOT use insulin that clumps or sticks to the sides of the container.

Ask your doctor for a written prescription for insulin that you can keep in an emergency kit in case you end up far from home and in need of a refill.

READ MORE: Here at The Survival Mom, we have other articles with helpful information for diabetics:

No matter what physical and medical challenges your family is struggling with, the preparedness basics remain the same: Be prepared for an absolute, bare bones minimum of three days without any outside help, but know that in a true emergency, it will probably be at least two weeks until you receive any meaningful outside help, and longer than that before things return to (modified) normal.

The good news? You can be ready for these events, challenges and all!

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5 thoughts on “Special Needs Preppers: Physical and Medical Challenges”

  1. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for April 26, 2016 | The Preparedness Podcast

  2. Pingback: Prepping with special needs kids... - Sandra Nieto

  3. I guess I was expecting something different. This article is more for a scenario during a “temporary disaster,” not prepping for an a Carrington-type event.
    In a more permanent event, there is no purchasing another oxygen tank, there are no emergency responders to give medical information to, there is no pharmacy to refill meds.
    People would need to know how to handle impending end of life situations and how to help the family handle the inevitable.

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