• November 18th, 2018

How to Prepare and Respond When Natural Disasters Strike

By Susan Prokop, Senior Associate Advocacy Director of PVA

As powerful Hurricane Florence barrels toward the east coast of the US, and as much of the west coast deals with devastating forest fires, this is an opportune time to remind people with disabilities of the available resources and contacts available in their communities during emergencies like these.

Seek help from your local/state disability coalition

Reach out to your local Center for Independent Living (CIL) or Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC). A directory for local CILs and SILCs can be found at www.ilru.org. You can also contact your state Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system. Ask your SILC or P&A if there is a disability emergency preparedness and response coalition in your state so that you can find our pertinent information that you may need to know in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

Contact your state and territorial level resources

Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website for the contact information of emergency management agencies and offices. Officials at these agencies should be able to connect you with the individuals responsible for addressing the needs of people with disabilities in an emergency.

Find out if there is a Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) or Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) in your state, city or county.  Some nonprofits are part of VOADs or COADs, which are responsible for meeting the unmet needs of disaster survivors.  A state VOAD works pre-and post-disaster, and often serves as advocate and liaison between member agencies and state government agencies. COADs are coalitions of organizations based within a community or geographic area, and composed of representatives from public, private, and not-for-profit agencies.

Reach out to the FEMA Regional Disability Integration Specialist

Each regional office for FEMA is supposed to have a Regional Disability Integration Specialist (RDIS) who ensures people with disabilities are included in preparation, response and recovery plans.

Federal resources

Visit www.dhs.gov/civil-rights-emergencies-and-disasters for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that contains resources for ensuring nondiscrimination in disaster preparation, response and recovery.

Additional select state level resources

Some states and major cities have incorporated disability personnel into their emergency planning.  Reach out to your state or local government emergency management agency for that information.

While most emergency preparation and response efforts are handled at the state and local levels, there is a certain degree of responsibility that falls on individuals when natural disasters occur. A wealth of information about emergency preparation, response and recovery can be found at www.ready.gov.

If you are a Paralyzed Veterans of America member, and you have been affected by a natural disaster, you may be eligible for assistance through the Paralyzed Veterans of America Disaster Relief Fund. PVA members should contact their respective chapter or national service office for further information.

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