Emergency preparedness important to the disabled

March 25, 2012 7:18:36 AM PDT
The most important thing in an emergency is knowing what to do, and preparedness is very important for those with disabilities.

"I definitely think people should prepare in advance, think about what type of disasters are likely to happen in your area and how you would respond to them," said Jessica Mitchel, FEMA's Region V disability integration specialist. "Think about how you would know if a disaster is going on."

Mitchel said her role is to make sure people disabilities know what do during an emergency and how state and local emergency managers can make their programs more accessible.

For many years, FEMA has had information on emergency plans for people with disabilities.

"We're really been updating our information to take into account new technologies that people with disabilities use and really try to make more of a concerted effort to get the information out to people with disabilities," Mitchel said. "We do offer training for emergency managers and local planners. We have the functional needs, support services and general population shelters where we teach people who plan out how emergency shelters will work, the different things they can do to make sure it's accessible with all types of disabilities, from mobility disabilities, to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, to people who are blind or have low vision or have cognitive or intellectual disabilities."

Emphasis is placed on state and local agencies. Karen Tamley, commissioner of the City of Chicago's Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, have implemented several plans.

The office launched a voluntary emergency registry, which individuals with disabilities can access online and link to the Office of Emergency Management and Communication to identify needs they would have in the event of an emergency.

"For example, if there is a fire in your apartment building and you use a wheelchair and you live on the third floor, a first responder would have that information before they come to respond," Tamley said.

"We just announced a project we're been working on with the Chicago Fire Department and FEMA to distribute 200 accessible smoke alarms for people who are deaf and hard of hearing," Tamley said.

Tamley also said her office will host an informational session on emergency preparedness.

"Both individual preparedness, but also on a city-wide level," she said. "What you can do to make sure that as a person with a disability that you know you're needs are addressed."

"There are a lot of people with not only disabilities but with other needs that may qualify as a disability," Mitchel said. "Everyone in the population is going to have some type of need after a disaster and we just want to make sure that we're including everyone and preparing for the needs of everyone."

The following are important links on emergency preparedness: