My post is in reference to an article in Emergency Management Magazine (found here:http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Emergency-Planning-Disabled-Uphill-Battle.html). The author’s article brings up several pertinent points around preparedness planning for persons with disabilities. This, like darn near everything in emergency management, requires a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach. We also need to be very certain to not lump all persons with disabilities into one category. There are various levels of function that people may have. Many people live with disabilities every day and are highly functioning, requiring little or no help. Others may require daily or constant assistance from family, friends, or other care takers, including medical professionals. Some folks are dependent upon medications or medical equipment (insulin dependant diabetics, those requiring dialysis, or home oxygen), while some have mobility impairments. Some may have cognitive disabilities such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, or a traumatic brain injury. Some persons may have several disabilities which need to be considered. A community’s planning efforts must incorporate the full spectrum of needs.
Following our emergency planning steps, we can easily pull together the people and information we need. First, form a planning group. Emergency management, local health department, and local organizations that advocate for persons with disabilities, such as the Arc, associations for the blind and hearing impaired, diabetes association, MDA, UCP, etc. These are all important stakeholders as they serve and advocate for our disabled populations on a daily basis. You should probably know your community’s hazards, but we should analyze how they can impact persons with disabilities. We have to define what needs exist that we need to address. We can even consider mitigation measures, such as obtaining strobe light alerting for those with hearing impairments.
Help your community keep its finger on the pulse of the needs of persons with disabilities by forming a special needs registry. Those utilized now are web-based and help first responders and emergency management identify, plan for, and address the changing needs in the community. Having current information such as names, addresses, and type and severity of disability are extremely important. Planning for notification, evacuation, transportation, and sheltering are often times the most challenging. Expand your planning group when these challenges come up. Include utility companies (who will prioritize power restoration to those who are dependent for medical reasons), local and regional transportation authorities, and those agencies and resources who will staff special needs shelters.
Remember, most persons with disabilities are not an idol portion of our population. They are highly functioning and can help, needing only the right accommodations to do so. Also, be sure to promote special needs preparedness. FEMA, the American Red Cross, and others have excellent resources for this. Your local association for the blind and visually impaired can help you obtain materials in large print or braille. The National Organization on Disability is also a great resource (nod.org). Don’t leave anyone behind!