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What to Do in an Emergency?

Last Updated:
Thursday, May 10, 2007

By Elizabeth Spiers

Your Silent Call vibrates and you answer your Braille TTY. Your SSP is on the line. “A hurricane is coming,” he types. “You need to leave right now!”

How can you get ready for an emergency? For people who have both vision and hearing loss, getting information about an emergency is critical. So is getting adequate access to services so you can deal with how an emergency affects you, and recover from it. Planning ahead is particularly important, so you can be prepared.

Before an Emergency Happens

Make a Plan.

Ask yourself: Can I get information about an emergency before it happens?

  • Check your television news for emergency information.  The TV news stations may provide emergency information through open or closed captions, scrolling text, crawls at the bottom of the screen, or pictures.
  • Use the TV, Internet, email alerts, or a buddy system to get information about an emergency. Do not call 911 unless you have a serious emergency.
  • Sign up for emergency e-mails or other notification services. Emergency emails can be sent to your computer, pager and/or cell phone. Many local governments and news stations offer text messaging services for your county or town. You can also subscribe to a national service:
  • Do not get rid of your TTY or Braille TTY, even if you rarely use it. You may need the TTY and your home phone to make calls if your videophone or internet is down. Also, make sure your TTY is in full operating order. A fully-charged TTY can keep running for several hours without power.
  • Invest in a battery-operated charger for your pager or cell phone, if you use one. If your SSP, friend or family member has a charger in his or her car, ask if you can use the charger to charge your cell phone or pager. Be sure the charger is compatible with your pager or cell phone.
  • Select at least two or three neighbors who can let you know if an emergency is happening. You can also ask friends, family members, SSPs or interpreters you know who live near you to let you know about an emergency.

Ask yourself: Can I contact people if emergency warning services don’t work? Can people let me know an emergency is happening or going to happen?

  • Have at least three people you can contact in an emergency, and more buddies if possible. At least one person should be out of state. Another should be in your neighborhood. Don’t worry about calling them before you evacuate. You can call them after you leave to let them know where you are. It is often better to call a person out of state because phone lines may be busy or not working in your neighborhood.
  • Have a neighbor, family member or friend check on you in case an emergency happens or is about to happen. You may want to agree to meet at a specific place in case of emergencies.
  • You also may want to check on your neighbors or friends to see if you can help them and if they are all right during an emergency.

Ask yourself: Do I have enough food, water and supplies to last through an emergency?

  • Prepare an emergency kit (see article elsewhere in this issue).

Ask yourself: Do I know what to do during an emergency?

Evacuate: Leave the area (hurricane, flood).

  • If at all possible, leave as soon as you hear about the emergency—don’t wait! It is better to leave the area ahead of time even if the hurricane or flood doesn’t hit your neighborhood or city.
  • Arrange with a friend, family member or neighbor to take you to a different place if you have to leave. Work out a way to contact each other.
  • Make arrangements to take public transportation ahead of time as another option for evacuation. Make sure you have enough money to use public transportation.
  • Sometimes you can call a local police or rescue station, or your local emergency management office to find out whether or not to evacuate.
  • Some news broadcasts may provide 800 numbers to call to find out whether or not to evacuate. You can use your TTY and a state relay service to call these numbers.

Shelter in Place:Stay in your home or a safe building nearby if air is not safe to breathe (chemical spill, bomb explosion), or if being outside is not safe (tornado).

  • Go to a hallway (without windows) or a room with no windows (bathroom or closet) and wait until the emergency has ended.
  • If you can, find the nearest building where you can take shelter. Sometimes the emergency news broadcasts can let people know where to go for shelter. Also, a local emergency management center or Red Cross chapter may have information about available shelters. 
  • If you are already in a building (for example, at work), stay where you are, or go to a safe area.
  • Close all doors, windows and ventilation systems (air conditioning and heating vents, fireplaces) so bad air can’t get in.

For information about available emergency programs, contact your local Red Cross, usually listed in your phone book. You can also contact the website at There, you can find your local Red Cross by typing in your zip code. If you do not have access to a computer or the Internet, you can call the Red Cross at 1-866-438-4636 Voice or 1-800-526-1417 TTY. You can write them also to receive information about local Red Cross chapters at American Red Cross Headquarters, 2025 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006.

You may want to check with your local emergency management office to see if they have information and resources about emergency preparation. You should find your local office in your phone book.

Also, you can check with your local service agency and/or school for deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind people to see if they can help you with emergency planning. Some agencies may have people skilled in deafness or deaf-blindness who can help you get the services you need.

National organizations: You could consider asking people in your church, volunteer group, deaf-blind group or community organization to see if they can be your buddies in an emergency. zations such as Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc (TDI), National Association of the Deaf, and Hearing Loss Association of America have information on emergency preparation for deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing people.

TDI has a special program on emergency preparedness: Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN). Contact information is below:

  • Telecommunicaitons for the Deaf, Inc. (TDI)
  • 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 604
  • Silver Spring, MD 20910
  • Phone: (301) 589-3006 TTY, Voice and VP

Other National Organizations

  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
  • 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820
  • Silver Spring, MD 20910
  • Phone: (301) 587-1789 TTY (301) 587-1788 Voice
  • Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)
  • 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200
  • Bethesda, MD
  • Phone: (301) 657-2249 TTY, 301 657-2248 Voice.
  • Website:

Sources for Deaf-Blind Specific Information: Participants, Emergency Preparedness Focus Groups for Deaf-Blind individuals, December 3, 2005 and January 5, 2006, Greenville, North Carolina. Facilitated by Mary Polly Easley, Telecommunications Access of North Carolina.