- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As an emergency responder and advocate for the disabled, I was pleased to see The Washington Times highlight the critical importance of including the needs of those with disabilities in emergency preparedness planning (“Disaster plans leave disabled behind,” Page 1, Wednesday).

Working with the Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI) of the National Organization on Disability, I have seen firsthand the enormous gaps in planning — by both emergency managers and the disabled. EPI’s Special Needs Assessment for Katrina Evacuees (SNAKE) was the first-ever special needs assessment team deployed into an active disaster area. As the article noted, our SNAKE report revealed minimal communication between emergency planners and the disabled before the storm — a lack of coordination that had terrible consequences.

Since Hurricane Katrina, EPI has continued its work on the ground with all levels of government to develop policies and procedures designed to avoid the kinds of planning gaps that led to so much tragedy in New Orleans. However, as the National Council on Disability’s recent report emphasizes, we have a long way to go to make sure those tragedies are not repeated. Too many state and local jurisdictions, including nearly all major metropolitan areas, do not adequately address the needs of people with disabilities in their comprehensive emergency plans.

As Katrina taught us, this failure to plan leads to serious consequences. Only by collaborating with a diverse set of representatives from the disabled community will we be able to prepare adequately for emergencies. And by working every day to include the needs of our most vulnerable populations when preparing for the unthinkable, we are sure to see outcomes that will benefit all of us.

HILARY STYRON

National director

Emergency Preparedness Initiative

National Organization on Disability

Washington

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