Types of Disasters and Their Consequences

American Public Health Association 

In This Article

Cold Weather and the Disabled

Individuals who are particularly vulnerable to exposure from freezing temperatures, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, should organize activities outside of their home so that they go out in the warmest part of the day (usually noon to 2 pm). Those paralyzed from the chest or waist down and individuals who have difficulty sensing and maintaining heat in their extremities are at risk for severe frostbite and need to protect their feet, pelvic areas, and hands because of circulation problems. It is important to dress for the weather by wearing several layers of clothes, keeping one's head, neck, and chest covered with scarves, and wearing two pairs of thick socks under lined boots. Those in a wheelchair should wrap a blanket over their pelvic region and limit their amount of time outside.

To enable the full functioning of driving adaptation equipment in motor vehicles, these vehicles have to warm up before the person gets in them. Service animals should wear a coat or cape underneath their regular harness and should sit or lay on a blanket in the vehicle. Dog's paws should be protected with boots.

Pneumatic tires provide better traction for wheelchairs on icy surfaces. Tires for dirt bikes (sold through bicycle shops) can be used as an alternative on icy surfaces. Ramps should be cleared of ice by using standard table salt or cat litter, as rock salt is poisonous to service dogs. Rock salt can also be slippery for certain types of mobility aides. Freezing rain will stick to canes, walkers, fore arm cuffs, and wheelchairs making the metal parts slippery and cold to touch. Driving gloves which grip can be helpful. When returning wheelchairs to vehicles, it is important to first remove the tires and shake the debris and ice off of them. The tire rims, and other metal parts that may have any salt or other de-icing chemicals on them need to be wiped off to avoid rust on the metal parts.

Educating communities about preventive steps that they can be taken both in advance of winter and once a storm has begun will help reduce the impact. Winter storm preparation activities should include:

  • Home winterization activities (insulating pipes, installing storm windows).

  • Collect winter clothing and supplies such as extra blankets, warm coats and clothes, water-resistant boots, hats and mittens.

  • Assemble a disaster supplies kit containing a first aid kit, battery powered weather radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.

  • Stock canned food, non-electric can opener, and bottled water.

  • Winterize vehicles, keep gas tank full, and assemble a disaster supplies car kit.

  • In heavy snow, stay away from downed power lines.


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