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The NCD and Effective Emergency Management and People with Disabilities

  • Published: 2009-09-14 (Revised/Updated 2010-02-27) : Disabled World.
  • Synopsis: An article about the National Council on Disability's Effective Emergency Management Report to President Obama

Main Document

An article about the National Council on Disability's Effective Emergency and Disaster Management Report to President Obama.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) has submitted a report concerning Effective Emergency Management and People with Disabilities to President Obama, suggesting improvements for communities and people with disabilities.

The NCD's stated purpose in doing so is to promote policies and practices that guarantee equal opportunity for all persons with disabilities, regardless of either the severity or nature of the disability the person experiences, as well as to empower people with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and integration into all aspects of American society. The National Council on Disability is under a federal mandate that charges it with the responsibility to gather information on the development and implementation of federal laws, policies, programs, and practices which affect persons with disabilities. The report they have submitted to the President is a result of the mandate.

One of the results of the work the NCD has done over time has been the 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations bill's Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act requiring FEMA to employ a National Disability Coordinator, as well as to interact, consult, and coordinate with NCD on a list of eight additional activities. The duties involve:

Interacting with stakeholders in regards to emergency planning requirements and relief efforts in the case of a disaster,
Revision and updating of guidelines for government disaster emergency preparedness,
Evaluation of a national training program to implement the national preparedness goal
Assessment of the nation's guidelines for communications and programs in shelters and recovery centers
Assisting all levels of government in the planning of evacuation facilities that house persons with disabilities

Congress gave $300,000 in 2007 to enable the NCD to fulfill these assigned duties under the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act; a minor budget, considering the amounts that have been tossed around in relation to the Stimulus Package. The funding allotted gave the NCD the ability to produce the report sent to President Obama.

The NCD, based upon their ongoing research and policy work in relation to homeland security, discovered a major gap in the government's knowledge base. The gap involves the availability and use of effective practices for community preparedness and response to the needs of persons with disabilities in all types of disasters. In the year 2008, the NCD started to review the variety of studies available and to define a set of best and promising practices for emergency management across the life cycle of disasters, such as preparedness, recovery, mitigation. They also studied these things in relation to geographic areas.

Situations that have been faced by people with disabilities have been made abundantly clear through events such as the terrorist attack on September 11th, when people with disabilities could not get out of buildings because they were unable to use the elevators, for example; or Hurricane Katrina, or the wildfires in Southern California. There have been some specific problems related to:

Warning transmission and receipt
Transportation
Evacuation
Shelter
Long-term recovery

That have been documented through research studies. These issues have been noted in Government Accountability Office reports. These same issues have been noted by the United States Congress, as well as by the White House, and the National Council on Disability. Efforts towards preparedness that include education and training, planning, designing warning systems, as well as evacuation protocols, are areas where work has been conducted. Yet many emergency managers and people with disabilities are still unprepared for a disaster. This is partially due to the extra burden placed on minimal staff, or the already difficult circumstances that many people with disabilities experience. Despite mandates to do so - most disaster planning is happening without the consultation or participation of people with disabilities or disability organizations, a very plain, clear, and unacceptable bias.

Response to this is problematic, partially because of a clear lack of research validating best practices; how can you produce clear results unless you include the people with disabilities who are involved? This is troublesome for search and rescue of people with disabilities. When people with disabilities are remembered, such as with warnings, we are often grouped together in one homogeneous population and given instructions that are not appropriately communicated, or that are impossible to follow. Considerations for:

Special needs of residents in nursing homes
Transportation for those who lack personal vehicles
Search and rescue procedures that aid people with disabilities
General population and functional needs shelters that can accommodate disabilities

Are all issues that need to continue being addressed with the disability community and then put into practice by emergency management professionals.

Recovery is one area where there is a minimum of research available, particularly in the areas of disability and disasters. The reports, testimony and additional evidence that is available plainly suggests that recovery is both drawn-out and problematic for people with disabilities. There are problems with:

Securing accessible temporary housing
Failure of insurance companies to cover disability-specific needs
Gaps in federal assistance
Loss of access to health care
Disruption to caregiver networks

All of which undermine the abilities of people with disabilities to return home. The current administration in office has an agenda that provides a number of compatible areas through which change has the potential to happen. There are initiatives to launch changes in relation to disaster preparedness and people with disabilities on federal, state, local, as well as individual levels. How much of this, 'change,' will actually occur with the involvement of people with disabilities ourselves remains to be seen. Talk is dirt cheap, and as we have seen, thousand-page bills appear overnight.



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