National Council on Disability Makes Recommendations to Improve Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans for People with Disabilities in 2006 Hurricane Season
August 3, 2006
WASHINGTON—The National Council on Disability (NCD) today released The Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on People with Disabilities: A Look Back and Remaining Challenges, a guide for the President, Congress, and other emergency planners to develop inclusive emergency preparedness and response plans.
According to NCD chairperson Lex Frieden, “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the lives of many people who lived in the Gulf Coast region. Fortunately, millions of Americans opened their homes and their hearts to hurricane survivors while local, state, and federal government employees worked around the clock to evacuate and rescue people. With almost a year since the Hurricanes made landfall and wreaked havoc on the lives of many, we now have a clearer understanding of what went right, as well as what went wrong, with the response and recovery efforts.”
“People with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the Hurricanes because their needs were often overlooked or completely disregarded. Their evacuation, shelter, and recovery experiences differed vastly from the experiences of people without disabilities. People with disabilities were often unable to evacuate because transportation was inaccessible. For example, most evacuation busses did not have wheelchair lifts. Moreover, people with visual and hearing disabilities were unable to obtain necessary information pertinent to their safety because said communication did not comply with federal law. To ensure that people with disabilities do not experience similar injustices during future catastrophes, emergency plans must acknowledge and address the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities discussed within this paper, as well as include people with disabilities in rebuilding effort,” Frieden concluded.
NCD offers findings and recommendations on the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on people with disabilities to guide the President, Congress, and other emergency planners to develop inclusive emergency preparedness and response plans.
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should strengthen the Medicare and Medicaid accreditation requirement that nursing homes maintain comprehensive evacuation and emergency response plans, and HHS should strengthen its post-accreditation reviews of evacuation plan compliance.
• Congress should adopt the principles embodied in Livable Communities to guide the provision of reconstruction funds, promoting a Gulf Coast that includes:
- Affordable, appropriate, accessible housing
- Accessible, affordable, reliable, safe transportation
- Physical environments adjusted for inclusiveness and accessibility
- Work, volunteer, and education opportunities
- Access to key health and support services
- Access to civic, cultural, social, and recreational activities
• Community and city governments should include people with disabilities in emergency planning at all levels.
• The American Red Cross should ensure that shelters and other emergency services are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Based in part on its eerily prophetic 2005 report Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning (/newsroom/publications/2005/saving_lives.htm) that preceded the disaster, and on data emerging in the storms’ aftermath, NCD believes there is ample basis for believing that suffering was proportionally greater for people with disabilities than it need have been.
NCD hopes that this paper will receive the attention it deserves and that history will not repeat itself in this and future hurricane seasons.