People with special needs

When preparing for emergencies, the term 'special needs' can cover a number of situations, not just someone with an identified mental or physical disability. An elderly person, someone with limited English, a pregnant woman, someone with a broken leg, or a single parent with many children all need additional help. If you have a friend, neighbour, or family member with 'special needs' discuss their needs and make sure you understand each other's expectations, in the event of an emergency.

Build a personal support network of a minimum of three people to alert you to weather warnings, or to help if you need to be evacuated. Your support network can be from your family, carers, friends, neighbours, or co-workers; people you know you can rely on to understand what needs to be done. You might require more detailed planning for emergencies, so inform your local SES of any special needs or concerns you have about isolation or evacuation.

Make sure members of your support network understand how to operate and equipment that you need.

Do you or the person you care for:

  • Need assistance with personal care, such as bathing or dressing
  • Use special equipment such as a wheelchair, oxygen bottle, or shower chair
  • Need accessible transportation
  • Need help to leave their home or office
  • Need help shutting of utilities such as power and water, or
  • Require a service animal such as a seeing-eye dog?


People with physical or sensory disabilities will require additional help and again you could subtly lead them into a conversation about what they have planned in case of natural disasters. The local SES welcomes information about people with special needs who might require additional help to get to a shelter.

Someone who is visually impaired might be extremely reluctant to leave familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger. A guide dog could become confused or disoriented during a disaster. People who are blind or partially sighted may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dog, to safety during a disaster.

If you or someone in your family has a specific medical condition, consider writing a document that details the medical condition, the medications, treatment, or other considerations that will enable others to provide additional care during an emergency. Keep this and a list of essential medications and their correct dosage in your Emergency Kit. Good preparation could be the difference between life and death. Don't forget to list your doctor's details on your list of emergency contacts.

If you use a motorised wheelchair, have a lightweight manual wheelchair available for emergencies. Know the size and weight of your wheelchair, in addition to whether or not it is collapsible, in case it has to be transported. Make a list of the local non-profit or community-based organisations that know you or assist people with access and functional needs and keep that with your Emergency Plan. If local authorities advise that you need to evacuate, be sure to take any of the following items you need with you.

During an emergency, you might become isolated by floodwaters, so keep a seven-day supply of essential medication at all times. Keep copies of your essential pharmacy scripts in your Emergency Kit along with the correct dosage. If you don't have a script, in an emergency any pharmacy can provide you with a three-day supply of medication, but you'll need to know the correct name and dosage. Also, if you cannot pay for the medication, in an emergency pharmacists can get reimbursement for those goods, from the Department of Health and Ageing.

Wearing a medical alert tag or bracelet to identify your disability or health condition makes good sense and assists with emergency medical treatment, should that be necessary. Medical ID bracelets are an excellent way of keeping loved ones with medical conditions safe.

Different medical conditions require different equipment, so evaluate your own situation and decide on the best course of action. Know where to go for assistance if you are dependent on a renal dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment. If you lose power or become isolated and your special needs cannot be met contact your doctor or local hospital for advice. Call Triple 000 for all life-threatening emergencies. Consider purchasing, or know where to source, a back-up generator if the equipment you rely on requires electricity. Examples of equipment that requires power to operate or recharge:

  • CPAP machine
  • Renal dialysis
  • Mechanical respirator
  • Electric wheelchair


In most cases, trained assistance dogs will be allowed to stay in emergency shelters with their owners. Those that are accepted may require proper identification and proof of vaccination. Check with your local council for more information.

Know the location of your nearest hospital. Always have a phone available that doesn't rely on mains power, remembering cordless phones don't work during power outages. Be fully prepared to leave your home if an extended power outage occurs. Oxygen cylinders rely on gas pressure to operate, but you'll need to store enough cylinders for a 72-hour period to be self-reliant.

Mental Health

In Australia, our understanding of mental health has improved considerably during the past decade. A 2007 study found that almost half the Australian population ages 16-85 years experienced mental disorders during the previous 12 months. Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent mental disorders. Around one million Australian adults and 100,000 young people live with depression.

If you have a mental condition and you're worried about how you might cope during an emergency, talk to your doctor about counselling to improve your coping skills. If a family member or neighbour has a mental illness, ask them about how they think they might cope, and whether they could need additional help. In particular people with agoraphobia, personality disorder, social anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder could require special consideration if they need to leave their home.

Natural disasters can cause severe psychological stress before, during, and after an event. Keep a close eye on your household to assess how everyone's coping. Fatigue can exaggerate stress, so make sure you get enough sleep even though you might be scared or a foreign place. You're ability to respond quickly, make good decisions, and keep everyone calm will depend on you being alert.