U.S. Air National Guard photo by Daniel H. Farrell

September 8, 2017; Mashable

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies is enormously busy right now, making plans and coordinating responses for people with disabilities in the path of natural disasters. The Partnership is accessed by means of a toll-free hotline. It requires coordination with local, state, and federal groups, which can be complex. Is this effort simply redundant to what is being done by FEMA?

During Harvey, the Partnership received 650 urgent calls from disabled people—some already in shelters that could not accommodate their disabilities—and their family members and caregivers. They had to do with transportation, access to medication and medical treatment. Of those, 77 percent were resolved.

What makes this effort notable? It’s based on a community organizing and networking model they describe as follows:

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, a clearinghouse for information and a community organizing resource on the needs of people with disabilities within disaster planning, has been announced.

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies’ main purpose is to provide information on everything having to do with the Access and Functional Needs of the disability community in emergency management. This includes assessing the current state of disaster planning, and information on ways people with disabilities can be included in all aspects of emergency management and disaster cycle services. The Partnership will also provide information on how communities as a whole can advocate for accessible services and disaster preparedness education.

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies’ main goal is to strengthen the community’s capacity and effectiveness by formalizing its network. Efforts to reach this goal include:

  • Representing the disability community at all levels of governmental meetings, and events held by national associations for emergency managers, first responders and providers of emergency management training and education;
  • Recruit volunteers for the American Red Cross and other organizations from within the disability community, which will also improve the visibility of people with disabilities in disaster response;
  • Collaborating with the Centers for Independent Living and similar groups to improve their ability to respond directly to disaster survivors in their community.

Emergency managers at local, state and federal level, disability stakeholder organizations, and individuals active in emergency preparedness for people with disabilities, are currently eligible to sign up for a membership. Along with being able to share information with other members, a number of other perks are available, such as access to training materials and webinars, discounts to Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies-held conferences, and networking between the disability stakeholder community and emergency managers.

Executive Director Marcie Roth says people with disabilities are more likely to be killed or injured in natural disasters. “We are extremely resourceful,” she says. “We’re actually quite good at solving complex problems; however, when physical accessibility isn’t provided, and communication isn’t accessible, we have a much more difficult time accessing the same services and supports everyone else gets.”

“Each disaster has its own fingerprints,” says Roth. “There are just layers and layers of challenges.”

Roth was FEMA’s first and only director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination before she was asked to resign late last year because of a hiring snafu seven years previous. At that time, Paul Timmons, head of the disability disaster relief organization Portlight Inclusive Strategies, was quoted as saying, “Much of the work that Marcie did at FEMA over the last seven years to establish credibility for the agency has been undone. At the end of the day, Portlight and other stakeholders in disaster relief are going to do everything we can to ensure people with disabilities are well-served, but without somebody in FEMA with some roots in the community it’s going to be hard.”

The position Roth held at FEMA remains in the hands of an acting director with no experience in disability issues. The Partnership is one of the groups promised a donation by President Trump last week. No word yet on whether it has been received.—Ruth McCambridge