Center for Safe and Secure Schools offers guidance to keep children with special needs safe in emergencies


September 9, 2021 by HCDE Communications

Are children safe? This question is carefully considered for all children, but it requires a deeper analysis for parents and educators of students with special needs.

Additional preparation may be needed while planning for an emergency or disaster situation for children and youth with disabilities. For instance, children with disabilities may have a hard time moving from one location to another, have difficulty communicating, or have trouble adjusting to different situations. Emergency plans must cover the physical and emotional challenges required to make special needs children feel safe.

Academic and Behavioral School West teacher walks beside student in a wheelchair.

The key in an emergency for any family, especially those with special needs children, is to plan and prepare ahead of time. It is important to talk to them about what can happen and what is happening during emergencies.   

Prepare a kit:

Keeping a routine in an emergency can help a child stay calm. Putting together a good kit is the first step. Be sure to include your children in the process. Let them pick things that make them feel secure, such as a favorite book or food—even if it is not healthy.

Basic Items:

  • Flashlight
  • Radio (hand-crank or battery-powered with extra batteries)
  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Snacks
  • Child’s unique needs
    • Medications
    • A small identification (ID) card or bracelet with information on key medications and emergency contacts to always keep with them.
    • Special foods or formulas
  • Equipment or supplies, such as
    • Extra diapers
    • Extra batteries for small devices like hearing aids or assistive communication devices are helpful to have in a kit
    • Alternate power source/generator. Parents of children who require power for medical or other assistive devices should consider how they will maintain the use of these devices if there are power outages. Consider obtaining a generator for home use (and be sure to learn how to use it safely). Sometimes medical insurance programs will provide resources for generators, particularly if a child has a constant need for breathing (respiratory) support. Keep a charger with you and when away from home, especially when loss of power may risk health or safety.

Make a plan:

Knowing what to do in an emergency is just as important as having a kit. While it is important for you to be ready, several steps can help keep the entire family safe.

  • Make sure you have a way to reunite your family if separated at the time of the emergency.
  • Teach your child important names, phone numbers, and addresses. Make sure he or she always has important contact information on them.
  • Practice what to do in case of an emergency. For some children, using a picture or a written story may be helpful.
  • Have both an electronic and written copy of their medical or other special needs history, daily care plan, important contacts, and other key information, such as the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
  • Have a copy of special legal documents (e.g., custody or guardianship) handy in case of evacuation, particularly if over the age of 18.
  • Teach children about calling 911.
  • And again, practice the plan!

Involve others:

Involving others helps protect the student and family.

  • If phone lines get busy, pick an out-of-town family member or close friend to be a contact for everyone to call or text.
  • Call your local police, fire department, and hospital to register your child’s special needs.
  • If someone else cares for your child during part of the day, make sure they know what to do and who to contact in an emergency, too. This includes people who care for your child at school.
  • Be Informed. It’s important to know what’s happening with each family member and have a plan for when you are separated during the day.

Include the school:

  • Make sure the school has a copy of the family’s emergency plan.
  • Create and maintain an open dialogue between your family and your child’s school personnel since an emergency could occur while in the school’s care.
  • Review your child’s IEP and/or BIP with the school.
  • Keep your child’s emergency contact information up to date.
  • Have a close family friend as an extra person who could pick up your child if you cannot do so.
  • Teach children to go only with someone who knows a secret “password” or “code word.” This word can be anything, like a favorite color or food.

For questions regarding best practices to keep your student safe in an emergency, contact the Center for Safe and Secure Schools’ Safety and Security Specialist, Janice Owolabi, at

Reference Sites:

Emergency Preparedness Response


Emergency Kit Checklist

Ready Wrigley Checklists

One thought on “Center for Safe and Secure Schools offers guidance to keep children with special needs safe in emergencies

  1. Cynthia W Adams says:

    This is a great article.

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