From Flooding to Business cards

Written by Talia Spooner-Stewart – PDA Vice President/ACT Director

In June 2001 I was a young and healthy 21-year-old living in Houston Texas when Tropical Storm Allison caught the city by surprise, causing deadly flooding and billions of dollars of damage to the city. 

I wasn’t diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) until 2018 and my symptoms back in 2001 were very minimal, so when this natural disaster hit, I was in the fortunate position to be physically able to get myself to safety, to help others around me and to save some of my personal items before so many of my belongings were swept away.

The house I lived in thankfully had insurance so, after some time, it was rebuilt, whilst I waited for what I had saved to dry out – thankfuI that I and those I was with were able to get to safety and move forward. Sadly I lost many prized and cherished possessions with it taking many years to replace some things, but I will forever be grateful that I escaped mostly unharmed.

Fast forward 23 years, I now live in Canberra. Although I do not predict any tropical storms like that experienced back in Houston, we do have bushfire scares here. However, the biggest difference is that my personal situation has changed a lot since this major chapter in my life.

I am now fully reliant on using a wheelchair. Requiring mobility transfer assistance, my mobility and access has changed and I depend on others for assistance tremendously.

I work full time (50% in the office, 50% at home) and live in my own home with my husband and our dog. I have some aid through the NDIS for help around the house and with some supports, but it is mostly my husband and myself at home – with me working days and my husband working nights. So, it is just me and the dog overnight.

The reason I am providing this additional information is that it just dawned on me lately… what if something like Tropical Storm Allison were to happen here in Canberra today?

OH goodness, I would be royally S.O.L. (shit outta luck).

This frightened me more than I would have expected and I realised that I needed to do something! I could not wait for something bad to happen and for it to be too late. I had to take some action! 

It is a fact that people with disability manage every day in environments that are often inaccessible. We regularly develop our own strategies using our strengths to manage and adapt to changing situations that often require planning and preparedness.

It got me thinking about emergency planning, and led me to reach out and attend a Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness (P-CEP) Workshop. There are many out there and I cannot recommend them highly enough. 

One of the first things this course had me look at was my living situation and my social connections. I have lived in my home here in Canberra for over 15 years, yet I do not know the people who live in my street. How bad is that? We wave but we do not know each other. What if my husband is working at night, the fire alarm in my house goes off, and I don’t know anyone in my street to call for help whilst the fire truck is on its way? Similarly at work, what if something were to happen to me there? My colleagues all know my husband’s name but, if something was to happen, would they know how to get a hold of him?

Emergency situations can be challenging at the best of times but no matter what, being prepared and having the right people and those you know or trust alongside you through it all can make a challenging situation just a little bit easier. So how could I ensure that this was available to me should an emergency happen?

For me the answer was simply business cards. On the front I have all my details (name, address, phone number & email address) and on the back I have my emergency contact details – including my husband’s and my parents’ phone numbers. These simple cards have now become my conversation starters.

My plan is to now go and introduce myself to the people on my street, to leave these business cards at work, with some support workers and friends. Sharing my situation, making people aware and feeling more confident that, should something happen, there will now be people around me in the know and able to help if needed.

Sharing information opens the door to enabling others to help should the need ever arise. People are always more willing to help if they know 😊.

This will hopefully provide me with more comfort that, should there be an emergency, I now know I will not be alone and that the connections I have made will bring much more. We can always use more connections. But if someone I know sees that I need help, they can reach out too!

Introduce yourself to your neighbours. I know I will be! 

You never know when you may just need each other.

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