Emergency Preparedness: Hot Topic For People with Disabilities

Emergency preparedness understandably has been a focus of our nation’s discourse in the last several years. Scant attention has been given, however, to how it pertains to individuals with disabilities and those agencies that serve them. As President Bush mandated through an Executive Order on July 26, 2004, there is a need to “strengthen emergency preparedness with respect to individuals with disabilities.” The Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD) responded to that need by hosting the Emergency Preparedness Conference: Focus on Disability on June 10, 2005 at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

MSCOD joined with local agencies including the American Red Cross, the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Board on Aging, and numerous others to create a dialogue about what has been done and what improvements need to be made with respect to emergency planning and response for persons with disabilities. Conference participants, ranging from emergency responders, community leaders, municipal, county and state emergency response planners, and individuals with disabilities, enriched the discussion with their expertise and insights.

The overwhelming response from those in attendance was that MSCOD succeeded in accomplishing its four objectives for the conference:

1) Identify disability issues in emergency situations;

2) Provide tools to develop emergency plans to meet the needs of the disability community;

3) Understand what questions to ask concerning emergency preparedness related to disability issues;

4) Identify resources to enhance emergency preparedness plans related to the disability community.

Numerous participants stated in their evaluations that the conference did an excellent job of increasing awareness on disability-related emergency issues. The smaller workshops also provided an opportunity for participants to hone in on areas of emergency preparedness most relevant to their interests such as mental health or disaster planning for persons with developmental disabilities.

Indeed, responders, planners and responsible public officials have worked together to make significant progress in the arena of emergency preparedness. Despite these efforts, emergency response planning often lacks critical provisions for people with disabilities. More work needs to be done to make certain the unique needs of individuals with disabilities are met during an emergency situation and in its aftermath. MSCOD echoes the position of conference participants in saying that the Emergency Preparedness Conference: Focus on Disability was an important step in beginning that work. MSCOD looks forward to continuing to partner with emergency responders, planners, public officials, and persons with disabilities to ensure that the state and national discourse on emergency preparedness focus on disability