Living in Florida, disaster preparedness is just part of our seasonal routine. While we live in the home of Hurricane Parties and laugh into the surf of a Category 3, most of us keep the essentials of a storm kit in our homes and cars for when disaster does strike. However, it doesn’t take a storm for disaster to happen. Something as simple as your car breaking down could become a major crisis for someone with a spinal cord injury. Here’s our recommendations of what wheelchair users should keep in their vehicle emergency preparedness kit.
First and foremost is storage. It’s not only important to keep all your supplies organized, but you also need to have a storage solution that is accessible and functional for your abilities. Many individuals with a spinal cord injury utilize a caregiver, but it’s important to choose systems that work for the wheelchair user as it could be their caregiver who’s the one in need.
In-car storage systems come in several designs: console sitters, trunk storage, over-the-seat, and visor pockets are the most basic. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a single storage system in which you store your supplies, but could be a variety of storage options that spread your supplies throughout the vehicle for the most convenient storage options and accessibility. These storage systems are available everywhere so consider a variety of stores when looking for the storage system for you. Consider checking out your local boating and camping stores, military surplus, and overstock stores like Ross and TjMaxx for solutions. And let’s not forget the all mighty shopping power of the internet–also known as Amazon–a world’s worth of shopping options and variety of prices at the touch of your fingers.
It’s hard to recommend a specific storage option, but things we look for when choosing are:
- Quality, cleanable materials that can be washed or wiped clean
- Sturdy construction (i.e. double edged stitching, solid walls, quality closures, etc.)
- Compartments for organized storage
- Pockets with flexible or elastic fronts, easy to get into
- Placement (i.e. is its storage system that can be easily accessible from where it’s located)
- Waterproof, when applicable
As a wheelchair user, floor options can be a little inconvenient or difficult to use. Over-the-seat storage options are quite handy and have options that fit over induvidual and bench seats. Floor storage options may be useful for trunk storage and are perfect for storing roadside and emergency kits in one convenient location. Console storage comes in a variety of options ranging from large bins to small cubbies that hook onto air vents. Think about what items you need to keep most handy as a driver or passenger and shop accordingly. A final option designed for parents on the go with little ones are storage systems that sit on the back seat and anchor down next to the child’s chair. They are multi-compartment, stacked, and offer the benefits of floor storage with the accessibility of being within hands reach.
Deciding what to pack begins with fulfilling some basics: important documents, roadside emergencies, and first aid. Purchasing a basic first aid and roadside emergency kit are a good start that requires little thinking on your part, and are made better by the extras you add to them. It takes away some of the stress in building a kit when you have the basics to build from. Still, invest in a decent kit. The American Red Cross has created a list for a basic first aid kit on their website.
Most cars come with a pocket, pouch, or folder containing the vehicle owner’s manual, maintenance manual, warranties, and dealership info. Add your vehicles insurance and registration information, along with a list of emergency and important phone number contacts for emergency personnel.
A quick online search of what to pack in a roadside emergency kit will bring up loads of great articles, like this one from Consumer Reports, and can be a little daunting when you start reading through the seemingly endless list. The trick is to take stock of what you need in simple categories: for the car, for my safety, and for everyone else. Items for your car include things like jumper cables, tire jack and stand, extra fuses and light bulbs, and can be as thorough as including bottles of oil, pre-mixed coolant, and brake fluid. Items for your safety include things like an emergency blanket, flashlight, rain poncho, electrical and/or duct tape, and reflective vest. Finally, the items for everyone else are things you use to notify passerby or emergency workers that you are in distress, such as roadside triangles, flares, and cones. Look for a good emergency roadside kit at your local hardware or auto store and build your kit from there.
Think about the things that can make a difference for you in the categories discussed when crisis strikes, and then try to to buy the most compact version available. Lastly, don’t be afraid to consult the expertise of a sales consultant at your local camping goods store for ideas on survival gear that you can add to your pack.
For a person with a spinal cord injury, packing for their medical needs in an emergency goes beyond the basics of even the best first aid kit. Begin with packing a three- to seven-day supply of all of your medicatios in a tightly sealed, waterproof container. Store this in a dry, dark compartment of whatever storage organizer you choose. Keep in mind that most medications have an optimal storage temperature and their chemical components can break down in extreme temperatures. Be sure to cycle out these stored medications on a regular basis to ensure their potency.
Catheterization is a fact of life for many with spinal cord injury. Keep a healthy supply, at least a three-days worth, of your chosen cathing regimens supplies. For optimal storage and emergency use, if possible choose a closed catheter complete system. We recommend Coloplast’s SpeediCath Compact Set. The system comes in both male and female versions; are a sleek compact design that contains everything you need for cathing in one slender tube; and is hydrophilic, eliminating the need to also pack a personal lubricant. If a closed catheter system isn’t one you are currently using but you would like to include in your emergency kit, there are a few ways you can get a small supply. The first is to simply buy a small supply yourself from your medical supply provider. This option is usually too costly for most people. Another option is to speak with your urologist to see if they have any samples that they could give you. A third option is to simply request a sample supply from your medical supply distributor or directly from the manufacturer. Coloplast has an easy to use request option on their website to try samples of their various products, and will respond quickly with a call from one of their representatives to talk with you about the product and process your order.
Now that you have the basics to your safety pack, it’s time to add those extras that take things to the next level. Begin with adding some MRE or nutritional meal replacement/power bars to your supply. Many medications require being taken with a meal. Should you get stuck out there, it’s important not only to be able to take your medication but to be able to do so properly.
A multitool will be your saving grace. Even if it’s not a tool you can personally use because of a medical condition such as quadriplegia or loss of hand dexterity, it’s important to be able to provide this tool if a good samaritan is able to help. We highly recommend the Leatherman OHT. This multitool contains a few critical components that other multitools lack: a strap cutter and an oxygen tank wrench. Being able to quickly vacate all the many straps a wheelchair user is bound in when in a car, from wheelchair leg, waist, and chest straps to the multiple wheelchair restraint and seat belts, a strap cutter provides precious seconds when a person must vacate their car or wheelchair quickly for safety. For oxygen users, having this easily accessible oxygen tank wrench is not only a good back up but could be a lifesaver if your regular tool is tossed about in the car in an accident. Though a little pricey, this tool and it’s quality are well worth the price. Leatherman also has an excellent 25-year guarantee on its products, and will repair or replace its tools if damaged before its time.
Though most roadside kits will come with some type of flashlight, we recommend including the Tasco 250 Lumen LED Flashlight. Currently you can purchase a 3pack of these flashlight at SAMS club but they are also available online from various retailers. The flashlight is compact, fitting in the palm of your hand, and has an easy to push button at the bottom of the flashlight that easy to push either with your fingers or by being pressed against another object, such as your chin. At 250 Lumens this long lasting LED flashlight is not only as bright as the sun, it also offers protection as a great tool to temporarily blind an assailant–and we do mean blind!
Lastly, if your pre-packaged roadside emergency kit doesn’t already come with these items you should consider adding them. The first is an emergency blanket. Emergency blankets are versatile, creating cooling shade in hot temperatures and conductive heat in cold ones. This is especially important for many persons with spinal cord injury who can’t control their body’s temperature if car trouble leaves you stranded in the elements.
The second are roadside triangle and flares. If vacating the vehicle is necessary, doing so on the side of the road may require taking into account additional space for transferring or a wheelchair ramp/lift. Warning other drivers to give your vehicle some extra space with the roadside triangles adds safety for the wheelchair user. Carrying flares provides another level of safety and can be used to warn other drivers and emergency personnel of your location, that you’re in distress, or to give your vehicle wide berth when driving by. Flares come in a variety of options so look for ones that you can use with your level of hand control, strengths and dexterity.
Preparing for the Apocalypse of Roadside Disasters
Florida natives often have two Hurricane preparedness kits, one for the home and one for the car. Having one of these kits prepared with your regions natural disaster in mind is just smart planning. It doesn’t have to be stored in your car all the time, but it’ll give you peace of mind to be able to simply pack and go when the time to evacuate comes. Contact your local American Red Cross for recommendations on what you should pack in your disaster kit and build the kit that works for you from there.
Pre-planning for an evacuation also gives you time to consider and test the best methods for providing you essential care when on the go. There are some great kits out there that create a portable potty using a five gallon bucket. Reliance Luggable Loo is a great version of this portable potty and comes equipped with a seat shaped lid. It’s not the comfort of your shower-commode wheelchair at home, but it will provide you with a place to go to the bathroom when emergency strikes and a bathroom isn’t available. Store your emergency evacuation supplies in the bucket and have it ready to go when you need it most.
That’s our list of products for vehicle safety. Tell us what you carry for safe travels near and far. Is there something you would add to our list? We’d love to hear it.