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Staying Above the Rising Waters: How Your Own Personal Emergency Preparation Can Save Your Life.

SHORT HILLS, N.J., Oct. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This article is by Nate Herpich on behalf of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center (PRC). The PRC is a national resource which provides a road map of complimentary services and programs to empower individuals living with paralysis.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy leveled Liz Treston's city of Long Beach, New York, and many of its residents were there to witness the carnage. The year before, a large percentage evacuated prior to Hurricane Irene, but damage to their homes proved minimal. So this time around, she says, most people stayed put.

By the time the ocean came flying down the street and into the finished basement of Treston's home, it was too late for her to leave. "I'm lucky, I live in a house that is higher up than my neighbors," she says, "so the first floor of my home remained untouched. I don't know what I would have done had I been on lower ground." While she waited out the rising water, she heard her appliances crash and fall downstairs, and she smelled sewage invading her home. Electricity was lost. Her brand new adapted van, and her manual chair that was in it, were both swept out to sea. Luckily, she ended up safe, as the waters receded before reaching the top floor of her house.

Treston, who lives with spinal cord injury, says that she spends every day with the trauma of this natural disaster and how it deeply affected her home and community: She can still visualize the whitecaps that crashed against both her house and her neighbors' homes that day. The process of rebuilding will take awhile, she says. But while she is thankful that she wasn't badly hurt during the flood, the rising waters helped her to realize that she wasn't properly prepared for that day. Things were very close to being even worse and she knows, that in the future, she needs to be better prepared for emergencies that may come her way.

"Anyone that thinks they're just going to be okay during an emergency, but who has not properly prepared, is kidding themselves," she says. "We're all very smart people in my family, but we weren't close to being ready. In many ways, I'm lucky that I'm still here to tell this story."

Don't Assume Everything Will Be Okay Treston says that, when the waters were at their highest, she wrote a goodbye note and her social security number on her arm for any rescuers that might have found her. It got that bad. All of her files are now gone, and they included critical information such as how, and where, to order her catheters and prescription drugs. When she was finally able to evacuate, she went to her mother's home in nearby Westchester County, but was unable to find appropriate accommodations to address all of her needs. She developed pressure wounds while stuck in bed at her mom's.

Unfortunately, Treston's experience is not uncommon, says Paul Timmons, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board at Portlight Strategies, an organization designed to assist the disabled, and run by people living with disabilities, and which specializes in offering aid to those affected by natural disasters in particular.

"People living with disabilities should remember that they have very specific needs, and they should know what they'll need should they be forced to evacuate their homes," says Timmons. "No one should ever expect that even disaster shelters will be equipped with everything they might need to weather a storm."

Have a Plan in Place The good news is, everyone can prepare for a natural disaster, and should do so, and do so now . Disasters, including something as simple as a power outage that could have real personal ramifications, aren't always forecasted. So get to it! Put together a plan, and practice it, says Timmons, because the chances are, when the emergency happens, things are going to be chaotic. Knowing exactly what needs to be done will go a long way toward ensuring that an evacuation can go as smoothly as possible, given the circumstances.

Here's some key advice:

- Prepare a "go bag" with everything in it that you'll need for an extended period of time. Treston suggests pretending that you are going on vacation for two weeks, and pack accordingly. Think about things like consumable supplies and sterile equipment that you may need. If you can't bring your chair on the day in question, you may need to be able to bring your chair's cushion. Where will you sleep, if not at home, and can you bring something like an egg crate to provide support and comfort? Do you have enough cash? Power outages could mean no ATM access.

Think about those things that you need personally , and put them in that bag. A good idea is take notes for a period of several days, writing down what it is you use on a daily basis, so you'll know exactly what you should bring.

- Put all of your important documents on a thumb drive, so that you'll know where and how to get critical, life-saving supplies, medication, and the like, or be able to access important insurance information, phone numbers, email addresses and the like. Keep an updated version in your "go bag."

- If your day-to-day depends on electricity, think about how you will access it should the lights go out. Do you have a generator in place?

- Know your exits, and if and how you're able to access them.

- Ask yourself if you have a procedure in effect for communicating with first responders, should you be unable to evacuate. If stuck at home, have you stockpiled enough non-perishable food items and water?

'Nothing About Us, without Us' Above all, people living with disabilities must accept personal responsibility in how they approach emergency preparedness. But they also have an important role to play in their communities, says Marcie Roth, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Since we need to think fast to manage our own particular needs," she says, "we can be better suited to helping our community prepare for emergencies that might arise. It's important that all local communities engage people with disabilities as experts in emergency preparedness. 'Nothing about us, without us.'"

Think about what it is you bring to the table, and share your knowledge -- it will be beneficial for you, and for those around you as well. It's critical to create an environment of mutual support, says Roth. Perhaps a person with a disability has a generator at home for daily needs; this might be an option for able-bodied people needing cell phones during an emergency when power has gone out. Think about how an able-bodied neighbor near you could similarly be helpful in a time of need.

By and large, local organizations are those who can effect change when it comes to disability services, and are the best way to connect people in the aftermath of a natural disaster, says Roth. The Federal government simply doesn't have the same kind of local connections.Contact your local emergency management office to find out more about how you can get involved in your community's emergency preparedness planning.

And research your local facilities, and find out what is currently in place. "Are your local shelters accessible in a way that meets your needs?" says Timmons. "Don't take someone's word for it, make sure they are, yourself." And if they're not, you may very well be the one to have to advocate for change.

Becoming Whole Again For Treston, living through Sandy was like putting the moment her doctor told her she would never walk again on a "loop tape" -- she lives, and relives the disaster each and every day as she seeks to rebuild her life in Long Beach. But, she says, she is also well on her way back, and looks forward optimistically.

"Few of us ever expect to have to live through a natural disaster," she says. "I wish I was better prepared last October. But I can tell you what I've learned through this: The more information you have and bring with you, the sooner you can move back to a habitable state..."

"And the sooner you will become whole again."

To best prepare for an emergency, check out these critical resources into emergency preparedness(PDF).

You can also contact a Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialist to order a "Tips for First Responders" booklet.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to enhancing care and providing critical support to the paralysis community in the here and now. Visit the Paralysis Resource Center at paralysis.org and take advantage of the free resources available.

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SOURCE Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center
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Date:Oct 22, 2014
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