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NCD Letter to House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness Regarding IPAWS Bill

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19, 2013

The Honorable Susan Brooks                       
Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications
Homeland Security Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Ford House Office Building, H2-176
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Donald Payne, Jr.
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications 
Homeland Security Committee         
U.S. House of Representatives
Ford House Office Building, H2-117
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairwoman Brooks and Ranking Member Payne:

The National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to Congress and the President on disability policy, writes to provide our support of H.R. 3283, the “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Modernization Act of 2013,” and Congresswoman Brooks’ Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute (ANS) to the bill. We also write to thank the Subcommittee’s staff for seeking NCD’s input in the development of the bill language. 

Congresswoman Brooks’ ANS to H.R. 3283 represents an encouraging and positive step forward in considering and integrating the needs of people with disabilities into emergency communications proactively, rather than approaching disability access as a freestanding framework outside of the general population’s needs. Being well-prepared for an emergency requires addressing the whole community’s diverse needs in a single, integrated, and unified approach, and we believe the ANS to H.R. 3283 signals an affirmative step in that direction. We specifically appreciate the pointed requirements regarding disability accessibility in the system and implementation requirements, as well as the incorporation of an evaluation of the IPAWS’s accomplishments and deficiencies regarding its accessibility for people with disabilities in the list of areas that the IPAWS Advisory Committee must consider, with attendant recommendations for improvement. NCD commends the bill’s provision requiring the Advisory Committee’s membership to include representatives of national organizations representing people with disabilities but encourages the bill to go even further and require the inclusion of people with disabilities to serve as those representatives to provide lived experience to better inform the policies developed.

In early 2014, NCD will release a comprehensive report intended to provide cross-disability perspectives and recommendations for communication improvements within emergency management practices, which we believe will be a helpful resource for the Subcommittee’s ongoing work in this area. In fact, several of the forthcoming report’s recommendations are in line with the progress seen in ANS to H.R. 3283. The report, which will be titled Effective Communications for People with Disabilities: Before, During, and After Emergencies, collected information on the experiences of people with disabilities as they relate to emergency-related communication; highlights best and promising practices; examines current disability laws and regulations pertaining to effective emergency communications and its enforcement; and offers recommendations for how emergency communication accessibility for people with disabilities can be improved.

NCD has had a proud history of leadership in the emergency management policy arena, beginning in April 2005 with the pre-Katrina report, Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning, and two reports in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. NCD’s leadership in highlighting the importance of involving people with disabilities in emergency response and preparedness had a direct impact on the provisions of the 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations bill’s Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). Among other things, PKEMRA required FEMA to create and hire a National Disability Coordinator and to interact, consult, and coordinate with NCD on a list of activities. Within PKEMRA, NCD was given responsibilities regarding emergency management and Congress provided $300,000 in the FY 2007 appropriations bill to enable NCD to fulfill our assigned duties under PKEMRA. That funding has enabled NCD to undertake and complete our 2009 report, Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities as well as our forthcoming report, Effective Communications for People with Disabilities: Before, During, and After Emergencies.

NCD’s reports on emergency management have helped to create awareness of the breadth of concerns facing people with disabilities during all phases of a disaster; however, awareness-building alone is not enough. Shifts in policy and relationships with emergency managers on the ground are needed to create the practical changes so sorely needed. As NCD’s former Chairman Jonathan Young noted in testimony before this Subcommittee in 2010, “We should never find ourselves exchanging business cards for the first time at the moment of a disaster. When that happens, people become statistics instead of stories of successfully saved lives.”

We applaud the work of this Subcommittee in addressing many of the concerns NCD has flagged in its previous reports and we look forward to continuing to work with the Subcommittee as a federal partner and resource to address other critical areas also in need of address in the days to come. 



Jeff Rosen

An official website of the National Council on Disability