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Hurricane Florence Reinforces Need for Emergency Planning Focused on Those With Disabilities

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Hurricane Florence, a catastrophic storm featuring heavy rainfall and high winds that resulted in mandatory evacuations in coastal counties in three U.S. states this month, has reinforced the need for emergency planning focused on individuals with disabilities.

“Inequities in access always increase during natural disasters and extreme weather events, which is why it’s so important to center people with disabilities in all disaster planning,” said Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

Hurricanes Even More Dangerous for Those With Disabilities

US Census 2012-2016 ACS American FactFinder Table

In particular, those with disabilities face discouraging odds during a hurricane; they are “between 2 and 4 times more likely to die in a hurricane than people without disabilities.” About 30% of those living in the area affected by Hurricane Florence’s dangerous flooding, high winds, and power outages have disabilities. See the US Census 2012-2016 ACS American FactFinder Table to see which areas have the highest concentration of people with disabilities.

Disabilities can involve reduced mobility, blindness, deafness, dementia, paraplegia, age-related infirmities, and other conditions. Those with disabilities may experience difficulty receiving updates regarding progression of the emergency or receiving safety instructions because of blindness or deafness; or, physical limitations may present increased difficulties when it comes to getting out of harm’s way.

Tina Paxton of North Carolina had to decide how to keep her mom Earline “Candy” Moore safe during the hurricane, Melissa Bailey writes for Time. Candy has dementia and did not want to leave her home and her pets behind. Tina feared that all the crowds and noise at the local emergency shelter would upset her mom. They went to a local church for shelter instead, but there were still lots of people, and the new environment made Candy confused and upset.

“People with dementia function best when they are in their usual environment and their usual routine,” said Ruth Drew, director of information and support services at the Alzheimer’s Association, which has posted guidelines for families dealing with disasters. “When there’s a lot of chaos and hubbub, where people are rushing around and tense, that can be very overstimulating and anxiety-provoking.”

Evaluating Disaster Plans

Here are a few initiatives to consider adding to or updating in your disaster plan:

  1. Make evacuation services and shelters accessible for people with disabilities.
  2. Use both visual and auditory emergency alerts to account for blindness and deafness.
  3. Create special evacuation plans for nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons.
  4. Provide funding to disability service providers to use as they see fit during a disaster.

The Administration for Community Living provides a list of resources for caregivers, families, communities, and emergency managers looking for ways to help those with disabilities prepare for disasters.

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