People Before Process
By Marcie Roth, Director, FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination
In the days immediately after Hurricane Sandy, in New York, we began holding daily conference calls with members of the disability community, people who work with individuals with access and functional needs, representatives from New York State, New York City, the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and the American Red Cross. The calls also included people dealing with mental health situations, and others who experience hearing or vision loss.
We wanted to learn what was happening on the ground and work with the community to solve problems. The calls were not a government agency issuing instructions; rather they were dialogues and conversations where members of the community described what was happening in their neighborhoods and reported problems. This allowed FEMA, the State, and the City to work with the community to resolve issues collaboratively and inform survivors about response and recovery programs.
Although FEMA initiated the calls, disability community leaders were encouraged to set the agenda and lead the conversation. One of the problems Sandy survivors faced was the difficulty of replacing storm damaged power wheelchairs. Typically, insurance companies will only replace wheelchairs every 5 years.
Edith Prentiss, from Disabled in Action was on the phone with us from the beginning. She worked with Centers for Independent Living throughout New York, with Americare, and with local officials to set up a network to supply replacement chairs to survivors. Many of the people who received replacement chairs would not have been able to maintain their independence if this network had not been established.
This is a great example how local, state, and Federal entities, and local disability groups came together in a unified effort to come up with a solution. In my role at FEMA, I served as an advisor to FEMA staff, state and local government, and the local organizations which ultimately used their expertise and resources to solve the problem.