Hurricane Katrina Panel – March 7, 2006

By Cheryl Heppner

Editor: NVRC’s Cheryl Heppner participated in the FCC’s panel discussion on communications during Hurricane Katrina, and filed this very interesting report.

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Representing DHHCAN On March 7, 2006, I gave remarks at the meeting of the Federal Communications Commission’s Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communication Networks at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS. I had received an invitation to speak as a representative of the national Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN), a coalition of, by, and for deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened and deaf-blind consumers.

I currently serve on DHHCAN as a representative of the Association of Late-Deafened Adults. Claude Stout of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is the coalition Chair, and I am the Vice Chair. DHHCAN and NVRC were partners in the national report “Emergency Preparedness and Emergency Communication Access: Lessons Learned Since 9/11 and Recommendations,” which was released in December 2004. I have been working on a follow-up report and recommendations related to Katrina.

My Remarks I was the first speaker on the second day, and Hilary Styron of the National Organization on Disability’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative was the second. Although Hilary and I did not have a chance to check with each other beforehand, by happy accident her testimony and mine complemented each other beautifully.

A few of the things I covered:

– Basic information about hearing loss (e.g. 31 million Americans, limitations of hearing aids and cochlear implants)
– Katrina took away our communication strategies and tools (moisture was the enemy of hearing aids and cochlear implants, we were unable to reach interpreters, transliterators, CART providers, SSPs due to power outages and loss of telecommunications)
– Television: visual information not provided (I used examples from Mississippi and Lafayette, LA)
– Radios: often the one source of communication, but may be useless to people who have more than mild/moderate hearing loss
– Telecommunications: devices wouldn’t work due to power outages, relay service numbers were inoperable in LA and MS, relay providers struggled to get permission to install equipment in shelters
– A story of Barbara White’s trip with evacuees from Houston to Austin
– Lessons from Katrina: The need for redundancy, devices that can work with off-the-shelf batteries, better equipped shelters and shelter training The need for integration of deaf and hard of hearing persons at all levels to be involved in emergency planning, equipment testing, disaster exercises, training, volunteer work The importance of community
-based organizations such as deaf ministries, schools for the deaf, agencies and organizations dedicated to serving deaf and hard of hearing people

Hilary Styron’s Remarks Some of the things Hilary mentioned:
– Areas hit hardest had nearly 25% disabled population; New Orleans had over 23,000 people with a sensory disability
– The National Organization on Disability’s SNAKE teams found over 80% of shelters didn’t have access to TTY communications; 60% did not have captioning displayed on TV screens
– 911 system, Emergency Alerting System (EAS) and radio/TV are three sources for emergency communications – some were not activated, some were destroyed, some were not implemented
– TV stations must get over the notion that helping most of the people is good enough when the law requires information to be available to all
– FCC regulations give discretion to determine what constitutes an emergency; perhaps if EAS were activated even TV broadcasters would have recognized Katrina’s importance
– A recommendation that after Presidential declaration of disaster, everything given verbally about an event must be accessible
– A recommendation that TV stations should contact captioning services before emergency coverage, post reminders on TV sets in their newsroom to contact captioning service (with a number to call), have a speed
-dial button on a phone with a connection to a captioning service.
– A recommendation that a station should distribute its emergency visual presentation policy to all employees every 6 months and incorporate it into annual news employee training.
– A recommendation that phone banks in federally funded shelters should not be permitted unless there is also access to TTY, video relay service.

C. Patrick Roberts, Florida Association of Broadcasters Mr. Roberts was the third presenter. He departed from his prepared presentation to talk about captioning in response to remarks made by me and Hilary. Among his comments:
– At the start of every hurricane season, Florida broadcasters add new messages in English, Spanish and captions.
– Broadcasters and disability groups need to sit down and work out an understanding about captioning.
– During hurricanes in 2004, an enormous amount of coverage was captioned and the FCC fined for Florida stations for a few minutes that were not captioned.
– The substantial fine was a loss for all.
– Most upsetting was the fine for not having captions about a bridge that was soon to be closed; the choice was to give the information without captions and be fined or not give the information.

Marie Antoon of Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPS) Ms. Antoon was another presenter on the panel. She represents 8 radio and 8 TV stations. During her remarks, she said:
– She learned from the remarks given by me and Hilary that they still have a lot of work to do, and she had learned a valuable lesson.
– Maryland Public Broadcasting FM transmitters cover over 95% of the state and have geo targeting.
– They gave bandwidth to Mississippi emergency responders for their use in emergencies and authorized them to use it.
– MPS is talking to a car company about the ability for people with disabilities to receive this information.
– Signals carring voice, text and video could be received in a moving car (e.g. on a laptop).
– WETA here in DC is working on a project with American public TV stations that could reach multiple devices with datacasting.
– Digital TV could possibly be used as a 2
-way medium; it has a footprint in 95% of the US and a network on demand could be created.

Responses to Questions from the Independent Panel
– Dave Vincent, representing the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters, said that after hearing our remarks, he realizes it is important they work with our national organizations. One station in Mississippi had a sign language interpreter on the news during Katrina, but she left to evacuate her family.

– Pat Roberts said that Florida broadcasters keep making the mistake of putting sign language interpreters in a box in the right corner, which is where the station logo also goes.

– One of the questions from the independent panel was directed to me. The question was whether there was one solution that would help all deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened and deaf-blind people. I responded that there is no “one size fits all” solution and that the spectrum of people with hearing loss is very diverse. I emphasized the importance of redundancy and the need for an accessible counterpart for each option a hearing person has to receive emergency information.


(c)2006 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.

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