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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

An update from the NCIL Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee: Memorandum of Understanding between the American Red Cross and NCIL

America for All 2012 signBy Christy Dunaway, Co-Chair of the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee

The lack of services to individuals with disabilities during and after a disaster has become increasingly obvious in recent years. CILs and those they work with in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida had terrible experiences in 2005 in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The lack of appropriate and accessible services and the violation of civil rights in shelters, disaster recovery centers, and post disaster offerings such as emergency funding and housing, was deplorable. Since that time, the issue has been discussed frequently at local, state and national levels. With the impacts of Hurricane Ivan on the Gulf Coast and Super Storm Sandy on the northeast coast this past year, we realize that there has been minimal, and in some areas, no improvement.

An area of particular concern was the lack of services in American Red Cross operated shelters. Some shelters have actually refused CIL staff entry into the shelter when they tried to offer assistance to individuals with disabilities post-disaster. Most shelters are not fully accessible. Some are not accessible at all. Accessibility is offered in the form of a “kit” on a pallet are not on site, but will be ordered “if needed.” According to some shelter operators, they cannot be held accountable for poor accessibility for at least 72 hours post disaster. 

For these reasons, and many others, NCIL staff began a dialogue with the American Red Cross. A Memorandum of Understanding has been developed between the two entities. The American Red Cross developed the original MOU and sent it to NCIL for review. NCIL asked its Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee to review it and offer suggestions and guidance. The EP Subcommittee has made some fairly significant changes and additions to the MOU and has now sent it back for negotiation. A few highlights of the MOU between the Red Cross and NCIL are:

  • The American Red Cross will hire a National Disability Liaison who will have authority to make decisions regarding the ADA and barrier removal and will be a single point of contact, serving as principal coordinator for access and functional needs.
  • Both entities are encouraged to collaborate with one another regarding emergency planning and preparedness.
  • CIL staff will have access to all public areas of American Red Cross operated shelters and the right to interview staff and evacuees.
  • There will be definitive steps to take to resolve ADA issues.
  • There will be post-disaster follow up and surveys to identify areas that need changing.

Perhaps not perfect, but this is a start. Stay tuned for developments and hopefully a signing ceremony in the early summer, which happens to coincide with the beginning of Hurricane Season. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with those of you who have been recently impacted by disasters and who are continuing to deal with those post-disaster issues.


  1. I am glad that the American Red Cross is willing to work with NCIL on removing barriers for shelters. Something else to think about is helping all CILs prepare their staff to help provide long-term disaster recovery to their consumers. Three of my co-workers and I have completed “Disaster Case Management in Long Term Recovery” training through a local county Long-Term Recovery Committee (LTRC). Please contact your local Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) for more information. Thank you.

  2. I’m with a CIL in western KY and we were hit by a huge ice storm several years ago that left us without power, cell service, land lines and shelter that lasted for up to eight weeks in some areas. I gained valuable insight as to what a natural disaster is like in the middle of January for people with disabilities! Most folks think of a natural disaster as involving flooding, fire or earthquake but we quickly discovered it didn’t matter how much milk or bread we bought, we were not prepared for an ice storm of this magnitude and sadly, neither were our Red Cross shelters.

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