NCOD Calls for Emergency Planning Changes

NCOD Calls for Emergency Planning Changes

Editor: Have you noticed that sometimes an important issue seems to be ignored for a long time before it suddenly breaks into the limelight? That seems to be happening with the issue of including the needs of people with disabilities in our emergency planning. It’s clearly been a problem to members of the affected communities for years, but seems to have been ignored by everyone else!

Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity on this important topic. It’s great to see, and I hope it continues. This press release from the National Council on Disability spells it out pretty clearly. But before we get there, here are a few recent reports that demonstrate growing awareness:

– TDI wins $1.5 million dollar grant to ensure that the needs of people with hearing loss are included in emergency planning:
http://www.tdi-online.org/tdi/emergencypreparedness/pr-1.htm

– AP News article entitled “Emergency Plans Often Overlook Disabled”:
http://news.corporate.findlaw.com/ap/o/632/04-15-2005/
f15f001f2b917201.html

– FOX News story entitled “Disabled Seek More Thoughtful Emergency Plans”:
http://www.foxnews.com.edgesuite.net/story/0,2933,153697,00.html

– News 14 TV Carolina Story entitled “Warning the deaf in an emergency”:
http://www.news14charlotte.com/shared/print/default.asp?ArID=91590

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National Council on Disability Calls for Immediate Changes in Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

Contact: Mark S. Quigley of the National Council on Disability, 202- 272-2004 or 202-272-2074 TTY; http://www.ncd.gov

WASHINGTON, April 15 /U.S. Newswire/ — The National Council on Disability (NCD) today released a report recommending immediate federal changes in emergency planning for people with disabilities — http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/2005/publications.htm

According to NCD chairperson Lex Frieden, “Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning, provides an overview of steps the Federal Government should take to build a solid and resilient infrastructure that will enable the government to include the diverse populations of people with disabilities in emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and homeland security programs. This infrastructure would incorporate access to technology, physical plants, programs, and communications. It also would include procurement and emergency programs and services.

“NCD commends the Administration and those in leadership positions for the issuance of the July 22, 2004, Executive Order on people with disabilities and emergency preparedness. In addition, NCD acknowledges the work of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in their efforts to ensure that Americans with disabilities are included in the developing infrastructure.

“All too often in emergency situations the legitimate concerns of people with disabilities are overlooked or swept aside. In areas ranging from the accessibility of emergency information to the evacuation plans for high-rise buildings, great urgency surrounds the need for responding to the concerns of people with disabilities in all planning, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. The homeland security terrorist event of September 11, 2001, as well as the recent energy blackouts in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and, more recently, the natural disaster hurricane events in Florida and the tsunami event of December 26, 2004, underscore the need to pay attention to the concerns raised in this report,” Frieden concluded.

The decisions the Federal Government makes, the priority it accords to civil rights, and the methods it adopts to ensure uniformity in the ways agencies handle their disability-related responsibilities are likely to be established in the early days of an emergency situation and be difficult to change if not set on the right course at the outset. By way of this report, NCD offers advice to assist the Federal Government in establishing policies and practices in these areas. This report provides examples of community efforts with respect to people with disabilities, but by no means does it provide a comprehensive treatment of the emergency preparedness, disaster relief, or homeland security program efforts by state and local governments.

Key Findings

— Disaster management activities appear to have many access mistakes in common. People with disabilities frequently encounter barriers to physical plants, communications, and programs in shelters and recovery centers and in other facilities or devices used in connection with disaster operations such as first aid stations, mass feeding areas, portable payphone stations, portable toilets, and temporary housing.

— Many of these barriers are not new. Information and lessons learned are not shared across agency lines, and thus experience does not enlighten the development of new practices. Many accessibility lessons learned during previous disasters are not incorporated in subsequent planning, preparedness, response, and recovery activities. This should not be perceived as a post-9/11 problem. Segments of the disability community have reported problems in helping to develop and benefiting from emergency services over many decades.

— People with disabilities are left out of preparedness and planning activities. These activities include analyzing and documenting the possibility of an emergency or disaster and the potential consequences or impacts on life, property, and the environment.

Key Recommendations

— DHS should establish a Disability Access Advisory Group, in addition to the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness, made up of qualified people with disabilities and others with disability-specific disaster experience who meet regularly with senior officials to discuss issues and challenges.

— The DHS Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response should integrate information on people with disabilities into general preparedness materials. It also should inform readers and information users on how to get access to more customized materials.

— The DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties should regularly issue guidance for state and local emergency planning departments to reinforce their legal obligation to comply with ADA and Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in planning for, operating, and managing programs and services such as Citizen Corps, shelters, and other disaster services.

— The FCC should develop stronger enforcement mechanisms to ensure that video programming distributors, including broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite television services, comply with their obligation to make emergency information accessible to people with hearing and vision disabilities, that it acts immediately on violations, and that it is proactive on Section 255 hearing aid compatibility.

For more information, contact Mark Quigley or Martin Gould at 202-272- 2004.

Notes:

1. The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress to enhance the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities and their families. In 1986, NCD first proposed and then drafted the original Americans with Disabilities Act.