Emergency Management

Overview
Getting Started
Current Disasters
Four Phases of Emergency Preparedness
Resources

Overview

Disasters – large scale events that have an extreme impact on life and property – disproportionately affect people with disabilities. They are more likely to have difficulty evacuating without assistance, are more likely to be segregated in shelters, and have more difficulty recovering in the disaster’s aftermath. Individuals with disabilities who are independent in their day-to-day lives may lose access to their caregivers (paid/volunteer staff or family members), transportation, accessible living or working environments and assistive technologies.   

People with disabilities are significantly less prepared than the general population (Smith & Notaro, 2015) and are more likely to be severely impacted by the disaster. Under “blue skies” conditions assistive technology (AT) is critical to the independence and well-being of people with disabilities; in an emergency or disaster, access to AT may mean survival and/or the difference in recovery from the event. Thus, involvement of state AT programs in emergency management efforts is a natural fit.

Getting Started
Current Disasters
Four Phases of Emergency Preparedness

Getting Started

One of the first steps to engaging in statewide emergency management (EM) efforts is to become familiar with the structures, terminology, and acronyms/abbreviations used in these efforts on the national, regional and local levels. For example, the term “access and functional needs” is the current terminology used by emergency managers to refer to people with disabilities (although this term also includes people with special needs due to permanent or temporary medical conditions as well as individuals who do not speak English). Conversely, state AT programs seeking engagement with emergency management personnel may need to share the language and acronyms relating to disability. For a good example on this topic, visit the Special Education and Disability Acronyms website page.

Current Disasters

Many people with disabilities in North Carolina and South Carolina have been affected by Hurricane Florence (2018), losing their AT/DME or having new AT/DME needs as a result of the storm and subsequent flooding.  State AT programs can sign up in the Portlight/Pass It On Center Disaster Relief Portal https://documents.portlight.org/disaster-relief/index.php to list and respond to requests for DME.  For needs related specifically to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC, low tech or speech-generating devices and services), sign up at the portal maintained by the US Society to AAC (USSAAC) at https://aacdisasterrelief.recovers.org/

Four Phases of Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness is typically conceptualized as having four phases: Preparedness; Response; Recovery; and Mitigation.

Personal preparedness

Emergency preparedness is based on the notion that there are certain predictable factors that will occur in an emergency or disaster, and the effects of these factors can be reduced or eliminated by taking steps in advance of the occurrence. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the respective state emergency management agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as state public health agencies have online resources to promote personal preparedness for people with disabilities.

  • People who use AT should develop a plan, a “go kit” in the case of evacuation as well as supplies that will facilitate their ability to “shelter in place”.  Several state AT programs have developed preparedness resources with a focus on people who use AT. These resources are in the process of being added to this webpage. For immediate assistance, you can contact Amy.Goldman@ataporg.org

Emergency response

First responders include personnel such as police, fire, and other emergency workers who may be involved in assisting people with disabilities in safely evacuating their premises (whether at work or home) and in some cases transporting them to emergency shelters. It is helpful for first responders to understand the nature of various disabilities (including issues related to communication) and the importance of AT, and to have training on these topics. Agencies responsible for operating shelters may need assistance in developing, acquiring and deploying assistive technology resources that will enable people with disabilities to be safely housed in an accessible “general population” shelter when appropriate, rather than segregated in a restrictive medical needs shelter. State AT programs have developed resources to help train first responders as well as shelter personnel; suggested lists of AT for shelters (including not limited to AT for mobility and communication); and strategies to identify AT needs of survivors in the shelter.

Recovery

Recovery from emergencies and disasters may take a long time, depending upon the extent of the event and the robustness of the infrastructure prior to the event. For example, months after Puerto Rico was devastated by the 2017 hurricanes, the island was still without reliable power or telephone service. Many individuals with disabilities has lost their AT; others had new and unmet needs for AT devices and services as a result. While federally-declared disasters may provide some support for the replacement of AT, available funds may not cover the loss or it may take a long time. Reused AT may be a valuable resource to provide individuals with device loans to bridge the time between loss and replacement. The Pass It On Center has additional resources on deploying AT when helping survivors of emergencies and disasters.

Mitigation

The mitigation phase of emergency management refers to efforts related to reduce the (future) impact of emergencies. This may include additional steps in planning, training, and community preparation.  For example, state AT programs may be develop Memoranda of Understanding with community partners and EM officials that outline the ways in which the state program may be called upon in the event of a disaster declaration.

Resources

Emergency Management and AT Programs Webinar

More information on this topic will be added soon. If you need immediate assistance, contact the AT3 Center.