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

We Need You In Emergency Management! An Update from the NCIL Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee

NCIL’s Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee has been busy! The fact of the matter is: as long as there are disasters happening, we have work to do and we need your help!

Advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities affected by disaster is a relatively new path for many. Fortunately, disability inclusion in emergency management is an issue that has caught the attention of a small but powerful group of advocates, most of whom, we are proud to say, serve on this Subcommittee. The need for more involvement is growing as threats and disasters increase in this country and worldwide.

In recent months, the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, with the NCIL Board’s approval, has written several letters to various entities addressing injustice in emergency management and suggesting more appropriate means of disability inclusion. The New York City Emergency Management Office produced a training video for shelter staff and volunteers regarding interaction with and services to individuals with disabilities residing in a shelter. The video does not address several key issues faced by individuals with disabilities when they have evacuated their home for safety in a shelter. The video was a required result of the Notice of Settlement of Class Action Lawsuit: Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled v. City of New York. And yet, New York refused to take any of the plaintiff’s suggestions and recommendations before completing production. The EP Subcommittee drafted a letter to Commissioner Esposito that the NCIL Board has approved and sent.

A second letter drafted by the EP Subcommittee was addressed to the Independent Living Administration (ILA) and pointed out the ways in which many CILs and SILCs assist our community before, during, and after disasters. This letter was written to request support for the CILs and SILCs that choose to provide much-needed services to individuals with disabilities affected by disaster, and included recommendations on ways ILA can support these activities. These recommendations are to fully support and encourage Centers and SILCs in their efforts to provide the core IL services (not hinder those efforts), and to consider establishing an emergency fund specifically to augment, complement, and supplement IL organizations that provide disaster-related services to people with disabilities in their area. 

We’ve also been working on several new initiatives, including building new relationships with emergency management through the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, a coalition of national and local stakeholder organizations including NCIL, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), the National Council on Disability (NCD), the International Emergency Managers Association, and many others. Additionally, the Subcommittee is working closely with Co-Chair Shari Myers, also the National Red Cross Disability Integration Coordinator, to vet the organization’s revised shelter survey tool. Subcommittee member Cheryl Simpson, Operations Manager for Endependence, Inc. in Norfolk, VA, has been piloting the survey in assessing shelter facilities for the City of Norfolk, and contributed significantly to the updating of the form.

Last, but certainly not least, our group is reinforcing its push to NCIL members and others in our community to get involved in ALL aspects of emergency management by volunteering for exercises and disaster response operations. We have noted a tendency among preparedness exercises to use individuals without disabilities as “actors” portraying us. This is just wrong! We stand against this practice when we know that there are hundreds of individuals, CILs, and SILCs that would be happy to participate in emergency preparedness exercises in order to make sure that local emergency managers have a TRUE and REAL experience in evacuating, sheltering, and providing emergency management services to our community. We also encourage those of you with an interest to consider job opportunities with local emergency management entities or FEMA. You can view current job postings on the FEMA website or your local state and county personnel board sites. Volunteer positions are also available with disaster response organizations such as American Red Cross. You can contact Shari Myers for more information on how to become a division or region Disability Integration Advisor for Red Cross in your area.

Our point is this: GET INVOLVED now in these efforts! Your life may depend on it one day.