SCSILC Position Statement: Emergency Preparedness and Disability Inclusion
A natural disaster or other emergency is not a valid excuse to not meet the needs of the disability community. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires public entities to communicate effectively with and inclusively shelter people with disabilities. The South Carolina Statewide Independent Living Council (SCSILC) affirms the following trends surrounding emergency response and disability:
- People with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to die or become seriously injured during a disaster than the general public. This is frequently due to difficulty with independent evacuation, to reliance on electricity to power medical equipment and assistive technology, and to finding accurate and actionable information in accessible formats.1
- Rescues that follow inaccessible evacuation processes endanger the lives of the individual and of first responders.
- People with disabilities are often placed on higher levels of care than are necessary to ensure safety. These more restrictive settings (Medical Needs Shelters and Hospital Emergency Departments) make returning to independent living following a disaster more difficult and may come with lingering medical bills. The least restrictive environment is often the least expensive so improper referral costs the State unnecessary resources.
- Little to no federal guidance has been provided to inform internal policies around fire readiness and evacuation of businesses and governmental buildings. While these events are much smaller scale, they are far more common.
Despite the trends listed above, South Carolina has proven its resolve in improving emergency planning, response, and recovery service delivery with marked improvement since the ice storm of February of 2014. These marked improvements are still filtering their way to each county’s Emergency Management Agency at varied paces and has not yet been fully realized.
The South Carolina Statewide Independent Living Council’s (SCSILC) Position
For the above-mentioned reasons, the SILC fully affirms the stance that state and public agencies have an ethical and legal responsibility, in compliance with the ADA, to craft every plan serving members of the public to include the specifics of how the needs of the disability community will be met. Further, the SCSILC affirms that Our State must continue to advance accessibility of emergency services through taking the following actions:
- Provide information that is accessible to all regarding evacuations, appropriate local shelters, and other vital communications during disasters.
- Increase accessibility support in General Population and Medical Needs Shelters to reduce rates of hospitalization and institutionalization.
- Assign qualified ADA Coordinators to further inclusion within each county.
- Ensure full accessibility in emergency evacuation transportation including hands-on support for anchoring, communicating, and orienting.
The SCSILC contends that the above actions can save and safeguard the lives of individuals with disabilities across South Carolina while also reducing risks to emergency responders and costs to taxpayers.