Emergency Planning

Emergency Planning for People with Hearing Loss

There is a growing awareness that people with hearing loss are not adequately considered in systems of emergency planning. We have long been aware that emergency television captioning is often inadequate, but it now seems that the issue is much more pervasive than that!

December 2004 – DHHCAN has released a report which outlines some of the issues with providing emergency communication to people with hearing loss.

January 2005 – Do places of public accommodation have an obligation to include plans for people with disabilities in their emergency planning?

January 2005 – Oklahoma is giving visual smoke alarms to people with hearing loss. Here’s Cheryl Heppner’s report.

February 2005 – One of the best ways to ensure that emergency centers can communicate with people with hearing loss is to support communications using text messaging. Here’s an article about text access to emergency services in the UK.

March 2005 – Lawsuit declares that emergency planning for places of public accommodation must include provisions for the disabled.

April 2005 – The National Council on Disabilities identifies deficiencies in emergency planning for people with disabilities and recommends solutions.

May 2005 – Here’s our report on Randy Collins’ wonderful Emergency Planning workshop, as presented at the 2005 Western Symposium on Deafness.

June 2005 – Here’s a look at how the folks in Washington DC are handling emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.

September 2005 – National Council on Disability Calls for Federal Disability Recovery Plan in Response to Hurricane Katrina

September 2005 – TDI has some great fact sheets on a variety of emergency situations and resources at:

September 2005 – Here’s a report on a planned upgrade to the emergency warning system that includes notification to phones and pagers!

September 2005 – Boston’s WGBH has just announced a program to improve emergency information accessibility to people with hearing loss.

October 2005 – The National Organization on Disability post-Katrina report states that people with hearing loss were the most underserved of the disability community!

December 2005 – In response to the dismal treatment that people with disabilities experienced in our recent emergencies, Senator Tom Harkin is calling for emergency planners to do a better job of including planning for people with disabilities.

November 2005 – Interested in getting realtime emergency information directly to your computer? Here’s Dana Mulvany with her thoughts on how to do it.

December 2005 – What’s the best way for authorities to communicate with people with hearing loss in an emergency? It just might be captioned radio!

January 2006 – Last year’s hurricanes along the southeastern coast of the United States highlighted how fragile and woefully outdated the emergency communications system in this country has become. Now some experts who are building and maintaining 911 networks believe that upgrading emergency systems to Internet Protocol technology could make them hardier and more reliable. Full Story

January 2006 – How cool is this? Here are the presentations from the “Accessible Emergency Notification and Communication: State of the Science” Conference on the Internet. And they’re CAPTIONED! Here they are!

February 2006 – Emergency preparedness for people with disabilities is in the news, and rightfully so! Here’s a report on Cheryl Heppner’s presentation at the 2005 TDI Conference.

March 2006 – Here’s Cheryl Heppner’s report on an FCC panel discussion on communications issues during Hurricane Katrina.

April 2006 – Deaf couple worries: We can’t hear sirens

April 2006 – Waking Effectiveness of Various Alarms

April 2006 – Emergency Planning Conference Materials Available Online

June 2006 – Getting TV Information in Emergencies

July 2006 – System to Send Emergency Alerts to Wireless Devices

August 2006 – Access Board Information Meeting on Communication Access

August 2006 – Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later: Independent Panel Recommendations

August 2006 – Emergency Preparedness and You

September 2006 – Hard of Hearing Israelis in Wartime

November 2006 – DC TV Station Fined for Emergency Captioning Violation

January 2006 – The FCC has clarified the August 2006 public notice, which appeared to relax emergency captioning requirements.

May 2007 – A Night at the 9-1-1 Center

June 2007 – FCC Addresses Emergency Communication Concerns

August 2007 – Smoke Alarms and Adults who are Hard of Hearing

August 2007 – Current Smoke Alarms Unable to Wake Millions of Hard of Hearing People

August 2007 – Free Captioned Emergency Preparedness Videos Online

August 2007 – Do You Have A Hearing Loss? – Are You Prepared for Severe Weather?

June 2008 – New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act

Aug 2008 – TTY Users Need Not Pre-Register for Reverse 911

Oct 2008 – Access Board Advisory Committee Presents Report on Vessel Alarm Systems

December 2009 – Improved Emergency Warning System Promises Texting Improvements

May 2010 – Hurricanes and Hearing Loss: Surviving the Storm

March 2011 – FCC Reminds Internet-Based Telecommunications Relay Service Providers of Emergency Calling Requirements

April 2011 – Survey on Emergency Communications and People with Disabilities

May 2011 – FCC to launch disaster alert system for cell phones

Coming Soon – Expanded Emergency Alert Capability

September 2005

The recent hurricane emergencies have put the spotlight on all sorts of emergency planning and preparation issues, including how to notify people that an emergency is imminent. Such notification has traditionally been done by television and radio; “Broadcasting & Cable” is reporting that the Feds are designing an expanded system (called IPAWS – Integrated Public Alert Warning System) that can transmit emergency alerts to cell phones, PDAs, and computers.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government offices plan to have the system backbone in place by fall of 2006, but are unwilling to predict when the system would be fully operational.

The FCC is currently studying whether changes to existing telecommunications rules will be required before the system is implemented. They are also debating the extent to which participation in IPAWS should be mandatory.

NOD Katrina Report Identifies People with Hearing Loss as Most Underserved

On October 5, 2005 Congress reported on findings of the four Special Needs Assessment for Katrina Evacuees (SNAKE) teams sent to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Houston, Texas after hurricane Katrina. The National Organization on Disability attended the briefing and produced a report that documents the availability of services to people with disabilities in the aftermath of Katrina. It’s probably no surprise to those familiar with the hearing loss community that its members were provided the LEAST access.

The NOD report states on pages 8 – 9:

“The most underserved group were those who are deaf or heard of hearing.  Less than 30% of shelters had access to American Sign Language interpreters, 80% did not have TTY’s, and 60% did not have TVs with open caption capability.  Only 56% of shelters had areas where oral announcements were posted so people who are deaf, hard of hearing or out of hearing range could go to a specified area to get or read the content of announcements.  This meant that the deaf or hard of hearing had no access to the vital flow of information.”

Here’s the full NOD report.

Deaf couple worries: We can’t hear sirens

April 2006

“What if I’m sleeping?” Andrea DeBold wondered last week. “What if I’m taking a nap? I wouldn’t know anything was happening” if the Indian Point nuclear power plant blew its top. For the audibly engaged in the lower Hudson Valley, news of nuclear disaster would first come by way of siren. There’s one not far from the DeBolds’ Harriman home, near the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets on Route 17. But for hundreds of hard-of-hearing residents like the DeBolds, a radiological release at Indian Point would fall on deaf ears. 

Waking Effectiveness of Various Alarms

April 2006

Do you feel safe sleeping in a hotel room with only a standard audible smoke alarm? Would you feel better if the room had a low frequency alarm? How about a strobe light? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, please read this great paper on the effectiveness of various types of alarms for people with hearing loss! Thanks to bhNEWS for the lead on this article! 

Emergency Preparedness and You

August 2006

Here’s an outstanding and comprehensive document that covers pretty much everything you need to know about emergency planning as a person with hearing loss. It was written by Lise Hamlin and originally appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine.

Current Smoke Alarms Unable to Wake Millions of Hard of Hearing People

August 2007

According to the July 2007 study, “Waking Effectiveness of Alarms for Adults who are Hard of Hearing,” the typical audible signal used by smoke alarms failed to wake up 43% of tested subjects with mild to moderately severe hearing loss despite the fact that all were able to hear the 3,100 Hz tone when awake. Strobe lights woke up only 27% of the hard of hearing subjects. In contrast, a specific audible multiple frequency signal consisting of a 520 Hz square wave successfully alerted 92% of the subjects at the benchmark level of 75 dBA and alerted 100% at 95 dBA. The study, authored by Dorothy Bruck and Ian Thomas of Victoria University, Australia, estimated at least 34.5 million people in the United States have partial hearing loss and projected that this number would increase due to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. 

Free Captioned Emergency Preparedness Videos Online

Editor: I haven’t seen these, but it sounds like a great idea. If you check them out, please let me know what you think of them. Thanks to NVRC for this information!

Some new goodies have arrived just in time for September and National Preparedness Month! The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with The Advertising Council, has made four instructional videos on emergency preparedness available on the Internet. They are:

Older Americans Video (5 minutes)
Ready Pets Video (5 minutes)
Americans with Disabilities Video (5 minutes)
Ready America’s Instructional Videos (3 minutes)

The videos are in English and Spanish, and they are all captioned. Click on the box beneath the video, on the right side, to start the captions. You may have to download the latest Adobe Flash player software to view the captions.

You can also download a transcript to print and read or share with others.

Find the videos at:

Do You Have A Hearing Loss? – Are You Prepared for Severe Weather?

August 2007

Unfortunately, all of these warning systems rely on sound cues to alert listeners of the impending danger, leaving residents who are hard of hearing without access to alerts – and without that all important, critical time to react appropriately to the warnings. The fact is that hearing impaired citizens are more likely to make unfortunate decisions in emergency situations due to a lack of information concerning the nature and extent of the danger. What makes this situation even worse is that the technology exists to make sure that people who are hard of hearing receive warnings, know about emergencies and know how to respond to the danger. The problem is, many broadcasters and emergency management officials ignore these technological advances due to factors of cost, implementation or the lack of awareness that these warning techniques exist. 

Hurricanes and Hearing Loss: Surviving the Storm

May 2010

Lois Johnson was fast asleep in the early morning hours of September 13, 2008, when her children woke her, shining a flashlight on her face. It wasn’t just any night, it was the night Hurricane Ike hit Houston, Texas. [snip] What you may not remember is that Hurricane Ike was the third costliest hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States at an estimated property damage of $7.3 billion. It’s true that it’s difficult to remember all the details about all those hurricanes we’ve heard about. Unless, of course, you find yourself in the middle of one. Lois Johnson knew that a hurricane was on the way. Living in Texas, there is no getting around the fact that hurricanes do make landfall. Just three years prior to Hurricane Ike, many residents remembered the preparations for Hurricane Rita when chaotic attempts at evacuation turned highways into parking lots, with many running out of gas and abandoning their cars in 90 degree plus weather. 

Survey on Emergency Communications and People with Disabilities

April 2011

The evolution of wireless telecommunication is fundamentally changing how we communicate in emergencies. We no longer rely only on weather sirens, radio, and televised alerts.  Emergency assistance is no longer only as close as the nearest landline phone – we carry it with us in mobile wireless devices. Both the federal government and the wireless industry are exploring this evolution as they develop plans for the next-generation of emergency alerting and 9-1-1 communications systems. Critical to this exploration is consideration of equitable access for Americans with disabilities. 

FCC to launch disaster alert system for cell phones

May 2011

The Federal Communications Commission is expanding its familiar emergency alert system notifications sent over TV and radio to now include mobile phones. Dubbing the new service PLAN (Personal Localized Alerting Network), the government would target the alerts in the form of text messages sent to cell phones of people who need or want to be notified in the event of an emergency. Developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), PLAN would allow customers of any participating wireless carrier to turn their phones into personal alert systems. The service will initially launch in New York City by the end of this year but is expected to roll out nationwide in 2012 through support from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. To receive the alerts, a mobile phone must be outfitted with a certain hardware chip, typically found in higher-end phones like the newer iPhone, according to The New York Times. A software upgrade is also required. 

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