[StBernard] Disaster planning for disabled faulted

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Aug 13 19:51:48 EDT 2009

Disaster planning for disabled faulted
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Thursday August 13, 2009, 5:30 AM

WASHINGTON -- Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, the federal
government still has a long way to go in ensuring that disabled Americans
are protected during major disasters, according to a report released
Wednesday by the National Council on Disability.

One thing that would help, the council said, would be for emergency agencies
to talk to disabled people and their representatives for guidance in
formulating disaster response plans.

"People with disabilities are often left out of planning activities such as
analyzing and documenting the possibility of an emergency or disaster and
the potential consequences or impacts on life, property and the environment,
" the report says. "These activities include assessing the hazards, risks,
mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery needs."

FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said the agency has been working to integrate
the needs of disabled Americans into its emergency response framework.

"The agency is ensuring that we better serve the disabled community during
disasters, " he said. FEMA recently added a senior adviser on disability

During Katrina, hundreds of disabled people couldn't make it out of the New
Orleans area because they lacked transportation. Some nursing homes decided
not to evacuate, with disastrous consequences. Thirty-five patients died
after St. Rita's nursing home in St. Bernard Parish flooded. Its owners were
acquitted of negligent homicide charges.

Some improvements have been made, according to the disability council, a
small federal agency. But progress has been slow. The council said the
Federal Emergency Management Agency still hasn't assigned disability
coordinators in each of its regional offices.

"Although some improvement in this area is evident, catastrophic events,
such as Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires, exposed the gaps
that still exist in many emergency plans and preparedness efforts, " the
report said.

National Council on Disability Vice Chairwoman Pat Pound said the council in
2008 made available a set of "best-promising practices" for emergency
management agencies to help the disabled.

"With this new knowledge, it is time to act, " Pound said. "The lives of
people with disabilities hang in the balance."

Despite its length of more than 500 pages, the report offers very few
specific recommendations. And despite releasing what the council billed as a
major report Wednesday, no one answered the phone at the agency's Washington
office, even in the press office, on calls seeking comment.

Recommendations in the report included calls for the Federal Communications
Commission to enforce its policies that emergency announcements reach
disabled people, including the deaf, and getting FEMA to appoint regional
disaster coordinators.

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