Preparing the ‘Whole Community’ for disasters means ensuring everyone has a seat at the table
KANSAS CITY, Mo. –The expression, “a hero’s work is never done” can be said for both fictional tales and real-life complexities; challenges like preparing the whole community for emergencies. Disasters impact real people who have diverse needs. The challenges that arise in meeting these needs in the aftermath of a disaster can be formidable for everyone involved, but maintaining independence and support systems is a challenge for people with disabilities and access or functional needs (AFN).
A hero knows effective disaster preparedness requires more than a "one size fits all" emergency plan. Developing a disaster plan to fit the requirements of individuals with disabilities goes beyond understanding the immediate needs or impacts a disaster would cause, but also includes creating sustainable and practical solutions for returning to a safe and reasonable condition of living once the disaster has occurred. Helping individuals with disabilities or AFN doesn’t necessarily mean coming to the preparedness table with all the answers, but ensuring everyone with a need - from paralysis to deafness - has a seat and an active voice in the disaster planning discussions.
“Individuals with disabilities may have disaster-related needs in the areas of communication, transportation, supervision, medical care or maintaining independence” said FEMA Region VII Regional Administrator Beth Freeman.
“With a robust network of resources and supporting partners in the disability community, these individuals can not only increase their chances of surviving a disaster, but they can also cling to a strong sense of safety and comfort when disaster strikes, knowing they don’t have to face the unexpected alone.”
Following the enactment of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, FEMA created a team of disability integration specialists/advisors, who ensure recovery assistance is accessible and inclusive. FEMA also provides information, outreach and access to disaster assistance specifically designed for people with access and functional needs as well as for those with limited English proficiency.
Who are the people with access or functional needs? Examples include:
- Those who are deaf or hard of hearing and need to make arrangements to receive emergency warnings
- People without vehicles who may need to make arrangements for transportation
- Those with physical limitations, both temporary injuries such as a broken leg and more permanent restrictions, that may affect their ability to care for themselves in an emergency
Preparing someone with access or functional needs for the unexpected
The most important step a family or individual with access or functional needs should take is to plan ahead. Consider what you or a family member may need to maintain health, safety and independence during and immediately after a disaster. Extensive resources are available online to assist with developing plan that will provide the protection individuals need should a disaster occur.
Information can be accessed on the web at www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs. The site includes a downloadable brochure titled, “Prepare for Emergencies Now, Information for People with Disabilities,” which is available in both English and Spanish.
If you or someone you care for has a disability, access or functional needs, your disaster kit may require more than the standard items of food, water and supplies. Items to consider including are:
- Medications for at least a week. It's also a good idea to have copies of prescriptions and dosage information.
- Medical supplies and equipment such as eye glasses, hearing aids and batteries, wheelchair and batteries, or oxygen. Be sure to include pertinent operating instructions.
- Medical insurance information and cards.
- Medical records and other important documents.
- Names and contact information for medical providers and personal support assistants.
If you have a service animal, be sure to include food, water, identification tags and supplies. And if you have a communication disability, make sure your emergency information indicates the best way to communicate with you. It also is important to have cash or travelers checks in your kit in case you need to purchase supplies.
Taking Care of Myself: Personal Support Network
A disaster plan for someone with a disability, access or functional needs begins with a personal support network. Make a list of family, friends and others who assist you on a daily basis. Talk with them and decide who will help you in an emergency.
If you undergo routine treatments by a clinic, hospital or home health worker, talk to them about your emergency plans. With their help, identify backup service providers within your area and where you may evacuate. If you use medical equipment that requires electricity to operate, talk with your health care provider about preparing for a power outage.
Consider your transportation needs and every aspect of your daily routine then come up with a written plan. Share your plan with everyone in your support network. Be sure to include a friend or relative in another area who would not be affected by the same emergency.
Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the emergency, one of the first important decisions is whether you stay or go. If you are specifically told to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately. Otherwise monitor news bulletins and make your decision accordingly. In some cases it may be safer to shelter in place. If you must evacuate to a public shelter, only service animals will be allowed inside. You will need to make other arrangements for your pets.
Contact your local emergency management agency as you draw up your emergency plan.
Preparedness for Everyone Means Staying Informed
Learn more about the potential emergencies where you live and the appropriate way to respond to them. According to www.ready.gov, the states of FEMA Region VII (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska) are prone to natural disasters such as Floods, Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, and Winter Storms and Extreme Cold. For Americans, preparedness also must account for man-made disasters including bio-hazards, chemical spills or terrorist attacks.
For more information and tools related to emergency preparedness for people with disabilities, visit the FEMA Office of Disability, Integration and Coordination online at www.fema.gov/office-disability-integration-coordination.
Follow FEMA online at www.twitter.com/fema, www.facebook.com/fema, and www.youtube.com/fema. Find regional updates from FEMA Region VII at www.twitter.com/femaregion7. The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.