“When the Wind Blows, My Bed Shakes!”

Helpful tools to prepare for emergencies if you are deaf or blind


As our state continues to face emergency situations, it’s important to prepare — and there are special tools that can help people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or blind. In this guest post, our partner Jim House from Washington State Independent Living Council shares tips for these life-saving devices.

In emergencies such as a tsunami or a fire, seconds do make a difference between life and death. It is critical to respond immediately after an alarm is activated. However, an audible alarm will not wake a sleeper who is deaf or hard of hearing, or someone who sleeps like a log.

If you do not awaken easily by alarm chirps or strobe lights, you need a device that can produce vibrations to roust you when danger looms.

There are two devices I want to cover here.

Tip One — A weather radio can shake you into action

The first device is a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), an excellent tool for notifying you about hazards outside your home.

NOAA is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the National Weather Service.

The NOAA Weather Radio device works with a nationwide network of radio stations that broadcast continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR also broadcasts weather warnings and watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, in all 50 states plus U.S. territories.

Importantly, for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or blind:

  • NWR offers nonverbal textual information embedded in its broadcasts to provide timely, critical warnings of life-threatening events to deaf and hard-of-hearing residents.
  • Some NWR receivers are equipped with special connections that activate external devices such as bed shakers, pillow vibrators, strobe lights and other systems.

If the alarm is activated, you may want to check other sources such as television news or your wireless device for specific advice on how to respond (evacuate or stay-in-place) to the hazard threat.

NWR, in partnership with the Emergency Alert System, also broadcasts warnings and post-event information for all types of hazards — including natural (earthquakes or avalanches), environmental (chemical releases or oil spills), and public safety (AMBER alerts or 911 service outages).

For more information and available products, go to NOAA Weather Radio and NWR Special Needs (weather.gov).

Image from National Weather Service showing a tornado warning on a map; alongside it are two men, one of whom is using American Sign Language to signal “WARNING”
In this image below from www.weather.gov, the bearded man on the left wearing a black shirt is signing “WARNING”

The second product is a common smoke/carbon monoxide detector that can wake you up. Every home should have a smoke detector, and certain homes with gas appliances — or maybe a garage attached to the dwelling — would also need a carbon monoxide detector.

Most of the time, a smoke detector may go off if the food is burning while you are cooking. You can open the windows and turn on the fan to air out the kitchen. But in the middle of the night, you need a device that can wake you up quickly. For people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind, a standard detector from the hardware store is not the full solution.

If you find it hard to wake up to a regular alarm, the American Red Cross has a program that distributes a bed shaker alarm, which is designed to actively listen for the sound of your standard smoke alarm.

Photo of a [bed shaker alarm]
A bed shaker alarm can help wake people who can’t hear a standard alarm.

When this bed shaker alarm detects that your smoke alarm or carbon-monoxide detector has been activated, it will immediately initiate several different signals to wake you up or otherwise alert you to the presence of smoke.

This device is available through the Red Cross at Alarm Help (redcross.org). You may also want to check with your local fire department to see if they are distributing free smoke alarm devices with strobe lights and/or bed shakers. For more information, go to Sound The Alarm — Pledge to Prepare | Red Cross.

Other helpful devices to alert you

Products that are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing are also beneficial for users in noisy environments like factories, or where noises are not encouraged, such as libraries. People who are not stimulated enough by sound or audible alerts may benefit from strobe lights or vibrations. You can find these devices online by searching for “deaf and hard-of-hearing alerting devices” on your favorite browser.

Finally, here’s a helpful overview of the different household technologies used by people who are deaf, hard of hearing and blind: “Making the World Accessible for Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing through Technology.

Guest Author. Written by Jim House, Washington State Independent Living Council

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