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What Role Special Needs Populations Play or Should Play in Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts

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Establishment of registries was one of the earliest preparedness efforts by the emergency management community to improve response to the specific needs of persons with disabilities in disasters. Registries vary in form, but in theory they all attempt to collect in one place the names, locations and contact information of people in a given area or jurisdiction who are likely to need assistance in evacuation, sheltering and care during major emergencies or disasters.

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Local and state authorities conduct and serve as the decision makers for evacuation operations. This primer, Evacuating Populations with Special Needs, provides local and state emergency managers, government officials, transportation agencies, and other organizations involved in disaster response with best practices and tools to accommodate people with special needs in an evacuation. Specifically, this document should aid in developing an evacuation plan that includes the coordination of transportation resources to meet the requirements of people with special needs. The uS Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Federal highway Administration (FhWA) has developed the Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series to address various aspects of emergency transportation and evacuation

This primer focuses on special needs populations who require assistance during a local or multi-jurisdictional emergency evacuation. The primer series, as a whole, captures and catalogues transportation management and operations advancements that can improve evacuation planning and operations.

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The absence of disability subject matter expertise is often apparent in drills and exercises as it is also in planning, response, and recovery. It is strongly recommended that special needs issues be fully incorporated into the planning and response phases of the any drill program, whether it is a chemical release, a school shooting, hurricane scenario, or fire (Byrnes, Michael & Davis, Elizabeth (2005)). This includes incorporating all the various human service issues that will specifically affect people with special needs including but not limited to: mental health; accessibility to family assistance centers; links to disability organizations; and long-term, post-disaster issues unique to people with special needs. Accessibility issues are concerns for ALL observers, as well exercise personnel, and the public (American Red Cross)

All facilities chosen for purposes of conducting an exercise should be accessible to ensure that players, observers, staff, and the public will be able to fully participate and receive any necessary services. If facilities are not accessible, special needs issues cannot be incorporated into planning, response or recovery – whether a drill or real life response.

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As can be seen, to date, the limited peer-reviewed literature on vulnerable populations in preparedness has focused primarily on groups such as ethnic minority populations, people with chronic diseases, or families with infants

The Association of Schools of Public Health, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, convened a national network of Centers to join a Collaboration Group, Preparedness Education for Vulnerable Populations, whose work produced two documents designed to enhance the ability of public health and emergency management practitioners to define, locate, and reach vulnerable populations effectively and protect them in the event of an emergency.

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American Red Cross, Frequently Asked Questions, retrieved January 17, 2005

Byrnes, Michael & Davis, Elizabeth (2005). Preparedness for All: Why Including People with Disabilities in Drills is a Learning Tool: Interagency Chemical Exercise (I.C.E). International Association of Emergency Managers Bulletin, April vol. 22 (4) 7-8.

California State Independent Living Council, 2004, retrieved on May 25, 2005. The Impact of 2003 Wildfires on People with Disabilities, April 1, 2004.

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