ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands – The Governor’s Office, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) led a Readiness and Resilience Workshop for People with Disabilities and the Access and Functional Needs Community in Christiansted.
VITEMA’s Public Information Officer Garry Green engaged the more than 40 participants through a presentation on remaining vigilant year round for a range of disasters and emergencies, including hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Green emphasized VITEMA’s commitment to inclusion with developing a year-round culture of disaster preparedness during the workshop.
“VITEMA continues to work toward a culture of preparedness in the Virgin Islands that is inclusive of all residents, including those with disabilities, and access and functional needs. Through Alert VI, the mass emergency notification system, messages are communicated and delivered to all residents via landline, text messages, emails and TTY (Text Telephone) devices in English and Spanish. We will continue to ensure information on our website and other media are Section 508 compliant.”
Territorial American With Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator Julien Henley Sr. and Green both urged the audience to subscribe to Alert VI and stressed the importance of engaging neighbors, maintaining awareness of shelter sites and safekeeping documents for emergencies.
FEMA American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters Yasmine Austria, Ben and Cindy Clark, and Alecia Cole interpreted for the presenters during the four-hour workshop. Austria was deployed to St. Croix after hurricanes Irma and Maria commented on the cultural nuances within the Virgin Islands ASL community.
“Just like how there are different accents and terms used within the U.S. for spoken languages, (like Southern versus East Coast) the deaf community within the USVI has its own way of incorporating American Sign Language along with their own island signs. ASL interpreters handled this by intentionally seeking out the deaf community on all islands here in the USVI. We had to understand the culture here on island and the deaf community first to better understand how to effectively communicate with them,” Austria said.
The workshop also included hands-on activities. The participants had an opportunity to scan their important documents onto a jump drive with the assistance of FEMA staff. The portable drives were provided by the Virgin Islands Developmental Disabilities Council (VIDDC). FEMA, Department of Health and Office of the Governor’s staff assisted the participants with the completion of their communication plan. The plan includes important phone numbers that will be shared with a trusted family member.
Roselin McFarlane, Community Services coordinator for the Center for Independent Living on St. Croix, brought 20 clients to the workshop. “After Maria FEMA Disability Integration assisted me with wellness checks for my clients and helped them register for FEMA assistance through 2017 and 2018,” McFarlane said. “My clients needed to come to this event to understand the importance of registries, preparedness and resilience.”
Each of the presenters echoed the same need for Virgin Islanders to take a year-round, whole community approach to preparedness for all-hazards, “Hurricane season is about six months. What can we do the rest of the year?” Henley asked. “Let’s stop having conversations about storing documents, and let’s find ways to be more resilient. Everything will not be perfect, but let’s overcome challenges for what comes next.”
Center for Independent Living client Thelma Lang described her motivation to help her neighbors following the workshop, “The greatest thing is action from today’s event. We could sit and learn, but we need to get active in the community in getting what we need done for people with disabilities in the USVI,” Lang said.
Follow us on social media at twitter.com/femaregion2 and www.facebook.com/FEMAUSVirginIslands. For emergency, weather related, public safety and service disruption alerts on the Virgin Islands, sign up for Alert VI or copy https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736729008#/login into your browser.