From AAPD (5.19.10):
A Report from the Inclusive Hurricane Preparedness Conference: Issues in Emergency Management Planning Involving our Disability CommunityBy Jenifer Simpson, AAPD Senior Director of Government Affairs
PHOTO: (Jenifer Simpson, AAPD and Marcie Roth, FEMA at IHPC Conference)
At the recent “Inclusive Hurricane Preparedness Conference (IHPC),” held in Biloxi, MS April 28-29, 2010, emergency managers, public safety officials and disability leaders discussed new ways to prepare communities for disaster readiness, with a focus on inclusion of people with disabilities in planning. Federal Emergency Management Agency staff spoke at this event, including a keynote speech by Administrator Craig Fugate, and remarks by Marcie Roth, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues at FEMA. AAPD’s Senior Director for Government Affairs, Jenifer Simpson, also spoke on an IHPC panel about using electronic social media to promote emergency readiness.
Administrator Fugate noted that the starting point for better involving people with disabilities were the attempts to follow the ADA after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. He said that conventional wisdom had been that ADA did not apply to emergency issues and that emergency managers, like others, “have a tendency to plan for what’s easy to do” and “lacked understanding about dealing with people with disabilities in planning and responding during emergencies.” He cited the sorry history of how “special needs populations” were “often just dumped in shelters” without their necessary assistive technology before ADA enactment. He said that the ADA compelled state & local governments to start looking at "medically dependent people” and people with disabilities in new ways. He affirmed to participants that “ADA is the law” when it comes to emergency planning and response and that “inclusiveness has to occur at the front end.” He also warned that the “US Department of Justice was paying attention to this issue.”
Fugate emphasized the message of inclusion to the over 75 IHIPC attendees. He said, “We shouldn't segregate populations that are easy and those that are hard when dealing with emergencies.” He added that “We need to plan for what’s real -- disability, kids, poverty, elderly etc.” He said that local teams responding to emergencies are more powerful when they have been built in the planning stages to include people with disabilities. He also talked about how disability inclusion will lead to different solutions. He used the example of supplying Meals-Ready to Eat (MREs), cots for shelters and reliance on text as examples of how we need to look beyond what is easy to supply and should be broader in approach. That is, MRE food may not be usable for some people, cots need to be universally designed for users with physical disabilities, and that FEMA needs to recognize that providing everything in text assumes English literacy but for many, he said “Sign Language is their first language, so interpreters are needed, as well as other language translators.”
In response to a pointed a question from a state Independent Living Center director, Fugate stated that he gives this same message of inclusion of people with disabilities at every Emergency Management conference he goes to, that is, not just those events where people with disabilities are present. He admitted that FEMA is working on disability etiquette issues involving emergency personnel. He said they want to stop using the term "victims" and replace it with "survivors" as “Changes in our vocabulary will help inclusion,” he said.” He added that one way to further disability inclusion is that FEMA will be looking at FEMA funds grant applicants to see in what ways they are already including people with disabilities in their planning. There was applause when he said that “FEMA wants to empower the teams locally and then get out of the way, not get in way of governors and other local officials.” Other topics he raised included making sure that families first have a disaster plan as “they should not assume government can do it all”. He said that FEMA, and emergency managers, “must stop seeing the public as a problem” since it is local people and neighbors who are often the ones who deal with immediate rescue issues.
FEMA's Senior Advisor on Disability Issues, Marcie Roth, reiterated that the agency is “moving from ‘special populations’ to "access & functional" as a way to address disability community concerns in regard to the language issues, a subject of great concern in our community. As one way to also expand FEMA’s reach, she said that “FEMA has also been involving the state technology act programs in building local emergency management teams.” Like Fugate, Roth emphasized that “People with disabilities must be at the table in planning for emergency response” and that this included table top exercises, drills, and local level resource development. She said that the agency will have Guidance coming out soon in regard to universal & inclusive planned shelters and this may be available at the National Council on Disabilities’ 20th Anniversary of ADA summit, which will also include emergency issues as a topic.
Echoing Administrator Fugate’s concerns about shelter cots, Roth noted how universally designed cots for shelters is part of inclusion, is more efficient for everyone and that the agency was actively seeking suppliers of these. She noted also that “By involving people with disabilities in disaster recovery, we free up acute care and other health care workers.” Another topic needing more exploration, said Roth, is “Our need to do more thinking about kids with disabilities in emergency planning.” In summary, FEMA disability advisor Marcie Roth said she wants “to bake in disability inclusion, not layer it in at FEMA"
AAPD’s Jenifer Simpson discussed how social networking can be an effective tool in disseminating information before, during and after emergencies. She talked about the successful use of social media like Twitter.com, Facebook and blog sites as a means for information dissemination and public interaction and suggested that emergency managers and planners could avail themselves of these free easily used, widely available tools. She provided an example of a situation where a failed web-based online broadcast with streaming captioning was supplemented by live tweeting which allowed deaf followers to get the essential messages of the online broadcast, securing some of the same information that others received, even when the captioning stream broke down. Jenifer’s co-panelists were Tina Robinette, Deputy State Fire Marshal, State of South Carolina and Carol Dunn, Disaster Education Specialist, Bellevue, WA Fire Department. Both these Emergency managers are active users of twitter.com and other social media and provided examples of how they used these tools for consumer education and awareness activities in regard to fire safety and emergency readiness. For instance, Tina included a photo of an electric plug point without its cover as an example of a potential fire hazard, when she disseminated information via Twitter recently. She said she got back a response from a college student who said they had an electric plug point like that and had no idea it was a fire hazard (and then fixed it). Neil McDevitt, the Community Emergency Preparedness information Network (CEPIN) manager, an organizer of the event, noted, for instance, that about 5,000 people currently are reached through CEPIN and its friends’ tweets, and this is just after a few months of using the tool. He believes also there is much potential for greater awareness and inclusion through these means. The consensus of the social media panelists was that these tools are supplementary ways to reach the general public, including people with disabilities, about the critical issues in emergency management. McDevitt said he “Hopes that the IHPC will become an annual event” so everyone could continue to grow and learn from each other.
Some recommendations overheard at the conference:
“Make sure people are not all evacuated at the same time, to avoid bottlenecks.”
“Help neighbors know neighbors as an effective way for spreading emergency info.”
“Schools with non-accessible bathrooms should be removed from sheltering lists!”
“Use Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services if interpreters not available.
SOME EMERGENCY PLANNING RESOURCES
FEMA: Emergency Preparedness checklists, at http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/emergency_planning.shtm
FEMA: Planning Ahead, at http://www.fema.gov/plan/index.shtm
How to Talk to Your Employees about Emergency Preparedness at http://bit.ly/cUQ499