Last week, I attended the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) first “Conference on Emergency Preparedness for Special Needs Populations” held in New York City. It was also my first ’special needs’ disaster conference. And from the start when the moderator Elizabeth Davis of EAD Associates made a point to carefully and clearly inform the audience about the way to exit the building, the conference underscored to me the obstacles that the disabled face in daily life let alone in an emergency situation.
When it comes to preparedness, special needs citizens obviously have many more things to think about and plan for than the so-called ‘able bodied’. The good news is that the disabled community has thoughtful, enthusiastic, and effective advocates in the preparedness area — such as Davis and Hilary Styron, head of the National Organization on Disability’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative. Since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, they have worked hard to ensure that the interests and requirements of special needs citizens are not forgotten and are integrated into new disaster legislation and regulations. Due to their efforts, the disabled are now among the most prepared Americans.
To me, the general public also needs that kind of an advocate and advocacy — an organization or individuals who can provide the same attention, focus and initiative to preparing all citizens that the Emergency Preparedness Initiative and others have done for the disabled.
This conference was organized by FEMA’s Region 2 (which includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) and whose administrator, Stephen Kempf, Jr. is himself disabled as a result of a major back injury he suffered as a firefighter. Interestingly, the conference was organized with the help of a group of federal government officials who are currently Fellows at the Council for Excellence in Government, including FEMA Region 2 official Sean Waters. The Council has been deeply involved in preparedness efforts for years and created the helpful and even fun “Readiness Quotient” quiz, ‘What’s Your RQ?’ in which you can (and should) use to test your level of personal preparedness.