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Meeting Special Needs in Disaster Preparation and Recovery

Since 56 million Americans are classified as having disabilities, this means that 20% of the United States’ population has special needs when it comes to disaster preparation and recovery. To strategize about ways and means to help this group, an advisory committee for the disabled met earlier this month at Fort Lee in New Jersey to discuss emergency preparedness for those members of the community with special needs.

On the heels of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the meeting was held as an outreach campaign to solicit input and ideas on how to encourage community participation and involvement in preparedness for emergencies at the local level, and how first responders can effectively assist those with disabilities.

With representatives they referred to as “Prepresentatives,” the group was made up of officials from fire, law enforcement, the medical community, as well as facilities’ and emergency management. The goal for the gathering was to provide guidance, tools, methods and strategies to integrate and coordinate emergency management in order to adequately plan and provide for individuals with access and functional needs, and those with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Many people with disabilities are identified as such because they are registered with various agencies or receive specialized services. Of those, approximately 15,000 people with disabilities in Virginia, alone do not have access to a phone or television. In an emergency situation, it would be difficult to reach these people let alone know where they are located or how to go about safely and swiftly evacuating them or providing them with life support systems.

To address these concerns and more, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in New Jersey has created Register Ready, which is a voluntary web-based registry program that allows residents with special needs and their families, friends and associates an easily-accessible avenue for providing information for emergency responders.

Registering is the first step in preparing for an emergency situation. Unfortunately, the New Jersey OEM reports that, thus far, only 82 residents have registered for the program.  This is unfortunate, as first responders need to be prepared to assist in all situations—especially during a severe weather event, such as Sandy, where people had to be evacuated from their apartments and homes. If first responders have critical information prior to being called to the scene, they can best deal with the situation.

Fort Lee Fire Chief Mark Sulcov explained that it is important for people with disabilities and their caregivers to “forward think” and plan ahead to prepare for emergencies and disasters before they happen. “If there is advance warning that severe weather is coming, a plan should be in place whereby those with disabilities self-evacuate to a safe location with family or friends if they can.”

New Jersey administrators are far from alone. In fact, FEMA and the American Red Cross encourage everyone to be prepared for three days in case of an emergency.  But officials agree that, in emergency situations, a municipality’s resources will likely be stretched—with those needing assistance often exceeding available resources. Also, in some situations, it is dangerous for emergency personnel to be on the streets. For example, during the height of Sandy, emergency services throughout the county were ordered off the road because weather conditions were so dangerous. So planning for these contingencies is extremely important.

To do our part, the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services features a special notification system so that disabled tenants in buildings serviced by our training system can privately register, so emergency personnel are alerted to their location and special needs before arriving on the scene. The notification system is just one of the many ways the Allied Universal Training System helps commercial buildings with compliance to fire life safety codes.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  Our interactive, building-specific e-learning training system motivates and rewards tenants instantly! It’s a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES!

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