USA: In natural disasters, a disability can be a death sentence

Source(s)
Huffington Post Inc.

By Jenavieve Hatch

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Surviving a disaster is a complicated process for disabled people, with barriers every step of the way. For visually and hearing impaired people, even being alerted to an emergency isn’t as simple as it is for everyone else. For physically disabled and low-mobility individuals, a quick evacuation is extremely difficult, if not impossible ― especially in a natural disaster like the Camp fire, which raged at the rate of destroying the equivalent of one football field per second.

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The Americans With Disabilities Act devotes chapters to emergency planning and recovery. However, states institute their own policies and codes for evacuation and emergency planning, and those policies aren’t always enforced, said Hector M. Ramirez, a Ventura County, California-based disabled man and board member of Disability Rights California.

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Some federal institutions, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have created online resources about emergency preparedness and response. But disabled people are both frequently left out developing emergency preparation plans and not made aware of the ones that are put in place, [Hector M. Ramirez, a Ventura County, California-based disabled man and board member of Disability Rights California] said.

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In 2007, the city of Oakland implemented a Functional Needs Annex to its Mass Care and Shelter plan, ensuring that disabled community members weren’t left out in an emergency. The annex is updated every few years to stay relevant to the community, and initial reports show the program helped identify more accessible shelters and more accessible alert notification systems. Kentucky has updated its disaster alerts systems by incorporating community training and committing to notifying disabled people in-person at the onset of a disaster. Arizona’s state health department purchased equipment to meet the needs of 1,000 disabled people in an emergency.

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Systemic change certainly needs to happen, but advocates like Ramirez and [Evan LeVang, director of Butte County’s Disability Action Center] also want to encourage able-bodied people to show up for their disabled friends, family, neighbors and loved ones whenever there’s an emergency.

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