Fire and Flood: Helping People with Hearing Loss

The devastating destruction of Hurricane Harvey has caused massive people displacement in the southern US. In my home province of British Columbia, historic wildfires continue to rage, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

Most of us watch these real-life dramas on our TVs, perhaps while eating dinner and drinking our water-wine-soda-beers. We’re safe and comfortable – not soaking wet from the floods or dripping with sweat from the heat and smoke of nearby fires. We think, OMG! What a nightmare – they’re losing their homes, their family pictures, their wedding gifts, their grandma’s dining room table!

But my people, the ones with hearing loss, wonder about something else: “Did they have time to grab their hearing aids, their sound processors? What about extra batteries?? How are they going to keep their hearing aids and CIs dry? Can they hear emergency instructions? Can they understand what people are saying to them?”

I know what it’s like to be helpless and hard of hearing during a disaster. At age 20, the year before I got my first hearing aid, I was living in Darwin, Australia which, on Christmas Day, was leveled by a ferocious, howling Cyclone Tracy. As I said in my blog The Sounds of a Christmas Cyclone (December 18, 2012):

Merry Christmas, Darwin!

Over the next week, Australia and the world came to our rescue. The radio was our lifeline, and my friends made sure I understood what I could not hear from the incessant broadcasts.  And, in the dark of the long evenings without electricity and just a few precious candles, they took turns sitting and sleeping next to me so that I would feel safe and connected. 

 On the 29th of December, I sobbed as my friends piled into a van to go ‘down the track’ to Alice Springs and home to other parts of Australia.  I had chosen to be airlifted out of Darwin, one of 26,000 people evacuated over five days.   Throughout the night at the high school evacuation center, people’s names were called over a PA system, notifying them to board a bus for the airport. In the chaos, I could not hear and I waited, exhausted. Finally I approached a member of the armed forces guarding the school – “Please, I’m hard of hearing and I don’t know what’s going on. Help me.”  The next morning, I was on a plane to Adelaide and two weeks later, I arrived home to my frantic family in Canada.

Just as they did in Hurricane Katrina, the hearing loss community has jumped into action to help the hard of hearing victims of Hurricane Harvey. Those who have been evacuated to Dallas and other places have been supported with hearing assistance and technology. In one instance – a scenario that I’m sure is being played out in many areas – a couple lost everything in the flood and my fabulous, caring friend Esther Kelly, a Hearing Loss Resource Specialist at Deaf Action Center, Dallas TX, was able to help:

Esther Kelly (center) and Friends

These two wonderful people from Houston lost everything they own[ed] in the flood. He had lost his hearing aids and could not hear. I was able to connect with them thru the shelter in Dallas. Thanks to the generosity of ReSound Hearing aids and Family Audiology he was provided with wonderful new hearing aids today. They related a harrowing story of how they were rescued with kayaks and then drove to Dallas for a place to stay. (via Facebook, September 1) 

Even if you aren’t expecting floods, cyclones, fires or locusts to descend on your home anytime soon, it’s a good idea to always have backup listening technology readily available. I can honestly say that if I were awakened in the middle of the night for an emergency such as fire, the first thing I would reach for (also to help me understand what the Hearing Husband or, heaven forbid, the first responders were telling me) would be my dry aid containing my hearing aid and CI sound processor and, time permitting, my passport and laptop.

All of us here at send thoughts of encouragement to those affected by the hurricanes and fires, and we  thank those who reach out to support disaster victims who also have hearing loss.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a sought-after speaker for her humorous and insightful performances about hearing loss. Unheard Voices and EarRage! are ground-breaking solo shows that illuminate the profound impact of hearing loss on a person’s life and relationships, and which Gael has presented to appreciative audiences around Canada, the United States and New Zealand. A DVD/video version of Unheard Voices is now available. She has received awards for her work, including the Consumer Advocacy Award from the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Gael lives with her husband and son in Toronto.

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Thanks Gael. I will be sharing this today at our CI Resource Group meeting. It will be a starting point for our discussion on emergency preparedness! We are more likely to be hit with winter storms and power outages but preparing for emergencies requires a good plan no matter what the emergency is.
You always seem to come to my rescue when I am searching for discussion topics for our group!
Merci, Thank You

Laurie Meyer

Thanks, Gael. This is so important, and, as always, you related very well your personal experience. That always resonates.


Gael Hannan

Thanks, Laurie.


Timely, Gael. Just had this discussion with my aunt yesterday as we prep for Hurricane Irma. My hearing aids will go in a camping dry bag if my roof flies off. No joking matter. This is serious stuff. P.S. Quite an adventure you had Down Under.

Gael Hannan

Thanks, Dee. Please share this post on your FB and Twitter accounts. I’m having trouble posting it properly. Stay safe!!