Thank god it was just a false alarm in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. Imagine getting a text message that a missle had been launched in your direction and was going to land in a matter of minutes!
Even though we knew how the story ended, it was hard not to feel for all of those people who were panicking, running and trying to find shelter. And I could not help wondering what I would do if I were in that situation. Because of my multiple sclerosis, I can’t run and can’t really walk without assistance. Where would I go, and would I be in danger of being pushed aside and possibly trampled by a panicky crowd?
It reminded me of the lengthy and downright surreal battle I had with my former employer over how I and other people with disabilities would be able to exit our building in the event of a fire.
I worked on the tenth floor, and several times a year we would suddenly get an announcement on the intercom, saying:
ATTENTION, ATTENTION. THERE IS A FIRE EMERENCY IN THE BUILDING. PLEASE EXIT THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY, USING THE STAIRS. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR.
Thankfully, they were all either false alarms or unannounced drills. But they caused me to review our safety policy, which said that people who could not navigate the stairs should just stay in the stairwell and wait for either the “all clear” signal or for fire personnel to come and rescue us.
I had a lot of questions about this, such as: How do we stay in contact with others from inside the stairwell? How do we know that we will be safe from fire while we are in there? Are the walkie-talkies checked regularly to make sure the batteries are still working?
When I started asking these questions, I was first told that I would get answers. But in typical bureacratic fashion, the facts got muddled and the blame started shifting, and I still didn’t know what to do. Eventually, my questions were answered. But this was because I played an active role in finding the answers and rewriting the policy accordingly. And although my employer and I never resolved our communication problems, at least I felt safer.
Even without these kinds of bureacratic battles, it is easy for those of us with disabilities to fall into a kind of mailaise about the futility of trying to prepare for potential disasters. This can stem from a belief that we are powerless to help ourselves, or that we are already such a burden to people that we don’t want to cause more trouble in the event of an emergency. And as we know, herein begins the slippery slope of starting to believe that we are “lesser” beings and our safety is not as high a priority as it is for others.
We need to work hard to keep from falling into that way of thinking. The Red Cross and other agencies have a lot of information about how people with disabilities can and should plan for emergencies, just like everyone else. Do we have adequate food and water on hand? Do we have telephone numbers at the ready? Do we know who to contact about getting transportation, should that be necessary?
Below is a link to some of this information, and there is a lot more available.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and safe new year!