Emergency Preparedness for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Tips for Coping with Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Emergencies happen. This month alone, the country has seen floods, tornados, wildfires, terrorist attacks, not to mention power outages, water-main breaks, and a host of other catastrophes. It was also the 15th anniversary of 9/11, which ushered in a new era of emergency awareness.images

The definition of “emergency” is “an unexpected and usually dangerous situation that calls for immediate action.” That means you need to be prepared.

For people with hearing loss, the preparations go beyond the usual.

Everyone should have an emergency plan. New York City Emergency Management suggests essential elements of an emergency plan on its website.

NYCEM also has a site for emergency planning for people with disabilities.

And everyone should have an emergency kit. The Red Cross suggests what you need in your emergency kit.

Last week the New York City Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America hosted a presentation on emergency planning for the deaf and hard of hearing. Two representatives of NYCEM offered information about basic emergency planning. Jeffry Adelman, who has Meniere’s disease with severe hearing loss, is a volunteer with NYCEM and he offered some specific thoughts for adults with hearing loss.

He began by stressing the usefulness of what he called “legacy technologies.” These include good old pen and paper for communicating with friends, family and emergency workers if you do not have access to your hearing aid or cochlear implant. Beethoven, who was profoundly deaf in his later years, left 150 notebooks full of his communications with people he couldn’t hear.

Another legacy technology is a landline telephone. Even when cell phones, internet, power and everything else goes, a landline, which relies on underground cables, may still work.

For those with hearing loss, emergency kits, like those specified above, also need to include extra batteries and chargers to keep your hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening systems safe and working. Hearing aid batteries are usually disposable, so make sure you have several packets of back up batteries.

Make sure you have a sealed waterproof container in your emergency kit, for your hearing aid or cochlear implant. The bag or container should be big enough for extra batteries, chargers, and assistive listening devices. Don’t forget to include your medications, written copies of your medical information, your prescriptions, and your driver’s license and passport.

Cochlear implants are more of a challenge. They work on rechargeable batteries, which generally last at most about eight hours. This is where a portable battery charger – or two, if you want to be extra careful – may be useful.  The chargers themselves need to be charged, however, so be sparing in how you use them.

Don’t forget your car as a power source. Even when all other power is out, your car (depending on model, and as long as you have gas) will have some power for charging things like a cochlear implant battery pack, your cell phone, and so on. These will be charged through the USB port, not a conventional wall plug.

Flashlights, a must in anyone’s emergency kit, are especially important for the hard of hearing. If it’s dark, you may need a flashlight to help in reading lips.

If cellular phone service is still working, you might want to use your smart phone to access Facebook’s Safety Check feature. Safety Check allows Facebook to notify you in the event of a disaster in your area and ask if you’re safe. You click the “I’m safe” button and the message will go to your Facebook network. Facebook can also give you a list of friends who might be affected by the disaster. Facebook is selective in the disasters it covers with Safety Check, and has been criticized for implementing it in some disasters and not others, but it’s still a good way for the deaf and hard of hearing to check on friends and relatives.

If you live in an area where tornados, hurricanes, floods, landslides or other natural disasters are not infrequent, you may want a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather-alert radio. These come in all price ranges and a variety can be found by Googling “weather alert radio.” If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can activate a warning light. Some weather alert radios have an LCD screen for alerts.

You can also sign on to alerts issued by your community. In New York, the city’s official emergency notification system: NotifyNYC, can be modified for the kinds of alerts you want to receive.

Finally, and this applies to anyone who lives alone, whether or not you have impaired hearing: Form a support network – ask two or three friends, neighbors, coworkers to be in your network. You don’t want to go through an emergency alone.

Your network partners should make a plan to stay in contact during an emergency. You might exchange house keys. Your network partners should know your medical conditions and needs, and where to find emergency and medical supplies.

As the Boy Scouts taught us, Be Prepared.

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Katherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You”. Both available on Amazon.com.

4 thoughts on “Emergency Preparedness for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Tips for Coping with Natural and Man-Made Disasters

  1. I appreciated receiving the helpful information you sent me to read. Also, I’ll pass it on to others for their reading benefit. Thank you very much.


  2. An excellent article which should be shared widely! The listed documents and money should
    be sealed in waterproof bags. Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)


  3. Thanks for this wonderful summary, loaded with very useful, easy to read, practical advice. When I think of emergency, it never occurs to me to think of the possibility of not having access to my hearing aids. That is a startling thought for me and certainly so important to take into account! Can’t agree more with Ruth that this needs to be shared widely!


  4. Thanks for the excellent article listing all the equipment and papers you need in your Emergency Kit. A personal assistive listening device with a headset is very helpful too. They only need two triple AAA batteries. A Pocketalker Ultra has a volume and tone control. When I travel I always bring one with me with extra batteries in case the hearing aids act up. Just hold up the microphone to person speaking to you or bring the extra cord with an attached microphone to listen to the TV without turning up the volume that may annoy hearing people. If you go on “Google” you can choose a reasonable priced Pocketalker or any other personal assistive listening device.


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