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National Council on Disability Recommends Sweeping Emergency Management Changes for People with Disabilities

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aug. 12, 2009

WASHINGTON—The National Council on Disability (NCD) today released its report Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities, calling on federal, state, and local authorities to make sweeping changes in emergency management practices for people with disabilities.

According to NCD Chairperson John R. Vaughn, “NCD’s first evaluation of government work in this area was published in a 2005 report Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning. That report laid out a scenario of a major hurricane striking the Gulf Coast and outlined steps that the federal government should take to include people with disabilities in emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and homeland security. Hurricane Katrina struck four months later.”

As a result of NCD’s work, the 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations bill’s Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (H.R. 5441) required Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to employ a National Disability Coordinator and to interact, consult, and coordinate with NCD on a list of eight other activities.

According to NCD Vice Chairperson Pat Pound, “NCD identified a major gap in the government’s homeland security knowledge base, which involves the availability and use of effective practices for community preparedness and response to the needs of people with disabilities in all types of disasters. In 2008, NCD began reviewing the spectrum of available studies and defined a set of best/promising practices for emergency management across the life cycle of disasters and geographic areas. With this new knowledge, it is time to act. The lives of people with disabilities hang in the balance.”

Scientists report a worldwide increase in the number of natural disasters over the past 25 years. In 1980, only about 100 such disasters were reported per year, but that number has risen to more than 300 a year since 2000. The increase is expected to continue, and storm-related disasters are predicted to increase in intensity.

According to NCD Vice Chairperson Chad Colley, “NCD’s report offers information and advice to assist all levels of government in their work to establish evidence-based policies, programs, and practices across the life cycle of disasters.”

Some of the recommendations and interventions include:
Federal Recommendations

* Continue strengthening efforts to enforce compliance with Federal Communications Commission policies regarding emergency broadcasting to reach people with disabilities.

* Complete the FEMA Comprehensive Planning Guide (CPG) series—including 301 Special Needs and 302, which includes service animals—in sync with other CPG series guides.

* Hire disability coordinators at the FEMA regional offices.

State-Level Interventions

* Task a state official with disability and disaster issues.

* Involve disability community organizations and state offices or agencies in all state efforts regarding natural hazards, terrorism, technological or hazardous materials concerns, and pandemic planning.

Local-Level Interventions

* Local jurisdictions should create working groups to review and revise emergency operations plans, mitigation plans, and recovery plans to address the issues of people with disabilities.

* Cross-training on disability and disaster issues should be conducted among emergency managers, first responders, voluntary agencies, and disability agencies.

Individual-Level Interventions

* Accept personal responsibility for preparedness in a disaster context; where that is challenging, involve caregivers in such efforts.

* Create contingency plans for evacuation and other protective action, shelter life, medical care, and service animals.

An official website of the National Council on Disability