Preparing for Violent Intruders, Natural Disasters, and Other Emergencies

By: April D. Meredith

Picture this. It is 4 A.M. and you are half-way through your night shift. Suddenly, you hear shouting in the distance. Everyone starts looking around in confusion. Then the packaging center at which you work gets placed on lockdown. You are not sure what is going on, who is involved, where to go, nor what to do. All you know is you are in sensory overload. You do your best to remain calm, but all you can think to do is try and call your parents, even though they are probably asleep at this time in the morning. You desperately want to go home, but if and when is uncertain. You think to yourself as panic ensues, “Is somebody getting hurt? Am I safe? I don’t want to worry my family, but I need to get out of here. Should I leave a voicemail? Should I hide? Should I see if I can sneak out of the building? Can anyone help me…and what…in the world…is happening?!”

Can you imagine going through a situation like this, especially as a transitional-age youth on the Autism spectrum? That is exactly what Amanda experienced earlier this month. Fortunately, no one was injured physically, but it is not difficult to understand how this can affect Amanda’s perspective about employment and her feelings of safety in general. This crisis reminds us of the importance of preparing for emergencies. Nothing can completely prevent a person, with or without disabilities, from having some adverse reactions to trauma. However, careful planning for the “What if…” scenarios can minimize an individual’s sense of panic and empower them with knowledge and resources to best handle times of crisis. Every household, work environment, place of worship, public entity, municipality, and business should have a plan for each potential emergency it could encounter. Furthermore, these plans must be readily available and communicated clearly to all involved. It is good that Amanda’s employer had an emergency procedure for the violent intruder situation; but, if the employees had been informed of the plan, then Amanda would have been better prepared and less confused.

September is National Preparedness Month. Therefore, now is a good time for you to create, or revisit, your plans for handling crisis situations. I understand how challenging it may be to think about these. Nobody enjoys picturing their family members, loved ones, colleagues, or fellow citizens in distress. I am a spouse, parent, sibling, daughter, friend, and employee who is actively involved in her community. I also have multiple disabilities. I do not want to imagine anyone in my life being hurt, including myself. However, it is exactly for this reason, and because I have some specific considerations which would need to be addressed during a time of emergency, that preparedness is essential. Therefore, whether you are planning for a violent intruder scenario similar to the one Amanda actually went through, a natural disaster, or other emergencies, it’s vital to acknowledge the importance of preparedness. This September, familiarize yourself with the emergency procedures that already exist in your circles, and adjust or make plans as needed. Below are some resources useful to help get you started.

  • The Department of Homeland Security provides products, tools, and resources to help you prepare for and respond to an active shooter/violent intruder incident.
  • You can create a safety profile through Smart 911 so you may be helped faster in an emergency.
  • You can use the templates and steps on Ready.gov to make your individualized emergency plans.
  • The ADA National Network offers a selection of emergency preparedness and responses resources, including ones for persons with disabilities.
  • Visit ADA.gov to learn what technical assistance and resources have been developed for state and local governments that help ensure their emergency preparedness, response, and management programs are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • The American Red Cross helps those affected by disaster, and has an emergency supplies store.
  • Alert systems for missing loved ones include the Amber Alert, the new Care Alert in TN, the Silver Alert, and other color-coded programs.