Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access

Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access

Editor: 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. Cheryl is the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons. If you’d like to share this report, please credit NVRC. (See credit at the end of the article.)

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A national report, “Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access: Lessons Learned Since 9/11 and Recommendations,” was released in December 2004. The report was the work of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network coalition and the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons. To download the full report, in text or PDF: http://www.nvrc.org/content.aspx?page=5138&ion=5

Top Priority: Emergency Communication System

The report gave current emergency communication system for deaf and hard of hearing persons a failing grade, and listed the development of an effective and reliable emergency communication system as the top priority. Without it, we will not know when there is an emergency, how to protect ourselves, and how to access resources during recovery.

Right now, there are few effective options for communication in emergencies, and the options available to us have often proved to be unreliable.

Building an effective communication system will help everyone. In emergencies, many people with no hearing loss have difficulty hearing. The combination of stress and noise, such as high winds, explosions, shouting, and the roar of a fire, can make it impossible to hear well.

The report includes an extensive list of recommendations designed to:
– Increase the number and variety of communication options
– Ensure their reliability
– Build in redundancy

To achieve these recommendations, it is crucial to have widespread collaboration by consumers, government agencies, legislators, broadcasters, manufacturers, program and service providers, product developers, telecommunications and Internet providers, public safety officials, and others.

Second Priority: Involvement and Integration

We must be actively involved in community, regional, state, and federal emergency planning, such as:
– Equipment evaluation and testing
– Disaster exercises
– Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainings/Citizen Corps activities
– Training of public safety & security personnel

Building a National Network

Additional recommendations in the report aim to build a national network that will encourage the participation and collaboration to accomplish the top priorities and provide the tools to help ensure its success. The network will offer technical assistance, research, education, training, planning, advice and consultation, and the development of model programs and services. It will also create a knowledge bank of the nation’s best expertise to tackle a wide range of needs.

A Key Statement From the Report

Emergency planners are setting up systems across the U.S. that do not take our unique needs into account. History has repeatedly shown that redesigning and adapting equipment, programs and services because these needs were not take in account from the beginning is almost always more expensive and rarely as effective.

Emergency Preparedness Drives Advocacy

Since 9/11, emergency preparedness has repeatedly helped to drive our advocacy efforts to get the technology-related programs and services we need. NVRC has worked with organizations such as TDI, NAD, SHHH, ALDA, and AADB to educate the legislators, government officials and policymakers at the national level on the importance of getting our recommendations addressed.

Many agencies have recently been very helpful, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Federal Emergency Mgmt Agency (FEMA), which is now under DHS.

Part Two