How FEMA struggles to help people with disabilities during disasters

By: Chloe Rogers: For More Info, Go Here…

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is insufficient in how it responds to and assists people with disabilities, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Children, individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and low-income individuals are disproportionately affected in disasters. In testimony July 23, witnesses urged Congress to ensure a more comprehensive integration of these underserved and vulnerable populations in emergency planning.

Witnesses told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery that vulnerable populations are more likely to die or be injured in disaster due to lack of planning, accessibility and accommodation. Many don’t have access to crucial resources such as transportation, medical equipment and care, and shelters during and after disasters.

After the 2017 hurricanes, FEMA significantly reduced the number of disability integration staff deployed to disasters and shifted the responsibility of directly assisting individuals with disabilities from disability integration staff to all FEMA staff. The agency went from sending an average of 55 disability integration advisers to help after a disaster to sending an average of five, as noted by subcommittee chairman Rep. Donald Payne, R-NJ.

“Instead of deploying staff specialists to provide assistance, all generalist staff deployed to help respond to and recover from a disaster are to receive training on disability issues and provide hands-on assistance where needed,” said witness Elizabeth Curda, a director at GAO. “However, FEMA has not yet provided comprehensive training to all deployable staff on how to people with disabilities.”

GAO recommended that FEMA develop a timeline and plan on how to create a training course. As of June 2019, FEMA said a comprehensive in-person course would be ready in August 2020.

According to GAO, FEMA previously offered a two-day disability-integration course to its nonfederal partners, but cancelled the course in September 2017. In 2018, FEMA required all staff to complete a “30-minute training on basic disability integration principles and offered targeted ‘just-in-time’ training to deployed staff.”

“When you talk about FEMA staff being trained in a wide variety of areas, as opposed to subject matter expertise in dealing with these vulnerable populations, you’re asking a lot of that person in a disaster,” said witness Major Louis V. Bucchere, a commanding officer of the New Jersey State Police.

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