Show 08 - Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning


In this episode, Rachel Kosoy moderates a presentation by Pat Pound of the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities on the topic of "Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning". The full-length webcast originally aired on April 27, 2005 and can be found at:

Saving Lives Webcast


Gordon Philpott:The Southwest ADA Center Podcast, Show number 8.


Hello, and welcome to the Southwest ADA Center Podcast. I'm your host, Gordon Philpott, sitting in for Beth Case.

In this podcast, we bring you highlights from the longer webcasts offered by the Southwest ADA Center.

Today's podcast is from a webcast entitled "Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning". In this webcast, Rachel Kosoy interviews Pat Pound, the Executive Director of the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities.

This webcast originally aired on April 27, 2005.


Pat Pound: So I guess what I might do is describe a little bit about some of the things that the NCD report covers and then maybe stop for some questions. The first part of the report talks about what have been the experiences of people with disabilities. In doing the research, we covered the period from September 2003 to December 2004, and we did a literature review and we interviewed a lot of people, including a lot of people with disabilities and we chronicled what we learned in that experience.

Then we also looked at what are the gaps? What are the barriers? What's happening, you know, given this experience? So we've chronicled those and then we look at how have we been able to improve access? What have been some of the positive things we've done? We looked at how can we more effectively incorporate community-based organizations in this whole area? And what are some of the promising practices?

And then we really looked at the aspect that as a nation we're just now beginning to build a stronger infrastructure on this subject and how could we incorporate people with disabilities into this infrastructure? And then we chronicled some of the recommendations that NCD is making in the report.

And it's an ongoing kind of effort. I know in work here in Texas, we have recently begun to increase work with some of our state partners and we have a greater interest in including real people with disabilities in drills. I think of anyone thing I can think of that will probably create the most change because you really get to experience what actually happens.

In disaster preparedness systems, often are designed for people who can walk, run, see, hear, drive, okay? Well, inherently, anyone who has difficulties doing these, whether it's because of a disability or for whatever reason, maybe because of a temporary illness or whatever, may not be well served by such systems. So any improvement that people with disabilities make will improve anyone that finds doing these activities challenging.

Access to public warning systems and materials related to emergencies, I know that people who are deaf and people who are blind have inherent challenges in getting information about emergencies in as full a fashion as people without these disabilities. I know that for many people who are deaf, television stations -- even if they do have captioning on the newscasts, frequently don't caption the entire amount of the information leaving people who are deaf without some of the information necessary. I know we had a situation in San Antonio, Texas where the drinking water was unfit to drink in a particular zip code. Well, the television station was captioning the newscast, so you would think, oh, good, that's great. Now we know deaf people got that information. No, that's not what happened. The station -- and this frequently happens -- captions what the news personnel are saying because they are using the script of the news personnel to do the captioning, therefore, if the information comes out of the mouth of someone they interviewed, it's not in the captions. So it's a tricky thing, and we are -- NCD is very happy that the FCC has recently levied some fines against broadcasters who inadequately caption emergency information. So I think once that's done and broadcasters start realizing there is a penalty to pay, that situation can be remedied because current law does require broadcasters to make that information accessible to people who are deaf.

Some of the recommendations of the NCD report -- one is that the Department of Homeland Security create an advisory body of individuals with disabilities. This would be different from the interagency coordinating council that President Bush set up last year. We are eager to see that council's report which is due in July of this year, but we think the Department of Homeland Security needs an ongoing body of its own to height en the visibility of this issue and to provide the needed advice to that department.

We also believe that the DHS should integrate information about people with disabilities into all the emergency management materials produced by the department. So that like I recently saw a piece done by the NOAA weather radio promoting some of the aspects that were new about the radio systems and the products and they were promoting it for everyone, but they also included how this radio can be useful to individuals who are deaf.

Well, you know, radio and deaf are not words that you usually use in the same sentence. So of course they had to explain and how they explained it was that frequently deaf people don't have their televisions on all the time like a lot of us do, and so they're not alerted to the fact -- with the beep beep beep, of course, that there is a tornado coming and so this radio can be set up to Flash a light or can be plugged in to other devices that would be a better warning system for individuals who are deaf and then of course they can't hear what the radio is saying, but at least that way they know to go turn on their T. V. It's really more of a prompt to go turn on your T. V. and hope that your broadcaster has adequately captioned the information or look at your E-mail and see what the E-mail alert system tells you is happening in your area and what you should do.

Well, the first thing I would say is you will always get more attention in trying to plan about things outside of the emergency than you get inside an emergency. Okay? So the best time to act is when there isn't an emergency, and I would ask -- I would call my city and my county and ask what their emergency plans are for people with disabilities. Can they send them to you? If they don't have them, then ask what group is responsible for their overall emergency management? Usually there is a city or county or state office that does that, and then work with them on disability issues.

I think sometimes people in government get very overwhelmed as they think about the issue, how do you do, for example, a drill evacuating a hospital? Well, you know, you would probably interrupt somebody's gallbladder surgery and they probably wouldn't be very appreciative of that. So it's the kind of thing where I think it quickly looks like it might be almost impossible to deal with, and also I think institutions get a lot of focus, nursing homes and group homes and things like that, which are very valid, but it's not the whole group of people with disabilities obviously.

So the first thing all of us can do is to figure out where we live, what our cities are doing and what our counties are doing and what our states are doing. And I can tell you that one of the other reasons I'm very excited about this report is my own experience in using it in the few short days that it's been out, is that people react very well to it. It's easy to read. It has footnotes as to where the data came from. It's all pulled together in one place. That coupled with the executive order where the president set up the interagency coordinating council and the letters that homeland security did out to the states saying they need to include people with disabilities in their efforts. Those two pieces will create an opportunity, at least that's what I've witnessed and so I think we need to use the timing of this report as something very important and we all need to get involved on whatever level we can to improve the local plans related to people with disabilities, as well as our own plans, which I think I talked about, and it's certainly something on my list.

I think the key here is that we finally have a tool where we said, okay, where are we? What's the state of the nation? What's the state of counties? What's the state of cities? What's the state of people with disabilities? And we pulled it altogether in a less than 100 page document. It's easy to follow and easy to read and it's received very well. I can tell you it's probably one of the easiest tools to use in terms of a report to create change and I've already done it. So I do have some experience in actually making use of it.

Of course just making recommendations doesn't make them happen. So, you know, it sort of depends on, you know, how agencies look at those kind of recommendations and I think also with governments and with really anything else, it depends a lot on the kind of relationships that were formed between the individuals in that group as to, down, how excited they get about this being an achievable kind of thing and how to do it and then what they're able to do as they go back to their agency in terms of elevating this as an important issue that their agency takes on.

Rachel Kosoy: I just got a new batch of questions in here.

Okay, one of them has to do with -- they've heard about recent complaints about children in schools being stuck on second floors during fire drills and the question is are public schools supposed to include children with disabilities during evacuation training?

Pat: Yes, I would think 504 would require that because obviously preparing for emergencies is a program of that school. If it's important for students, it's important for students with disabilities. I think too often people think that either the professionals are going to be responsible for you. Well, all the professionals are supposed to help be responsible for all the students, but that doesn't mean that students with disabilities have any less need for drill as any student. I know I recently saw -- heard of a drill in which they were having people simulate disabilities, but it was not necessarily as effective obviously as it could have been had they used actual people with disabilities because they didn't really have enough knowledge to know how to simulate.

Rachel: Right. Well, and also I think, you know, that there is such variations among people with disabilities that, you know, you definitely need practice with people who have different types of disabilities.

Pat: Right.

Rachel: Okay, can you talk a little bit about responsibilities of employers and having emergency plans. One of the questions is can an employer have an emergency plan for people with disabilities?

Pat: Well, an employer needs to have its emergency plan for all employees, and that includes any employees that have disabilities. So, yes, an employer not only can, but should have a plan, an overall plan, and that plan needs to adequately prepare for how a person with a disability is to evacuate. So, you know, in fact I've often -- I'm a dog guide user, so I've thought that I'll put in my plan that I'll offer guide services until we get all the batteries and all flashlights, I'll help people find all the stuff. So, yeah, everybody's needs need to be taken into account and I think one of the aspects of the NCD report is that it just talks about people who are activity challenged because you don't necessarily have to have a label as a disability to be challenged by a particular activity. There are people without disabilities who don't drive. There are people who for varying reasons don't run. They may or may not have disabilities. So whatever those things are that you need people to do, then you need to prepare for the fact that there will always be -- or almost always be some set of people who cannot do those particular things.

And so in order to organize -- I know we had a discussion in our building because we have quite a few people in the public to come into our bidding -- people with disabilities, how do you know where they are and what they are doing and how to accommodate them and I know we looked at the Access Board's evacuation plans as a model plan because they have a number people with disabilities and because they are a premier agency of the federal government, and we found that they tended to focus more on the employees and then have whoever the employee that that person is visiting be responsible for assisting the person that was a visitor because obviously you're not going to be able to train each visitor as they sign in as to which exit they go out depending on what room they are in in the next two hours. So you can't plan for every instance, but people here usually are here to see somebody, you know, they're not just here in a break room. They're here in connection with some other staff person. And so if we think back through it, rather than trying to figure out exactly where they are and keep track of all that, just making the person they're visiting responsible in case of an emergency and using the emergency they have because they have better knowledge of the building, et cetera, in trying to assist that person. And that seems to be a more rationale approach, but I know as we worked on our plan here, we looked through the Internet and we used the Department of Justice technical assistance, we've used and frequently refer people to EEOC's fact sheet for employers and we also look at -- looked at the Access Board's plan.

You know, I have found that I am much more willing to take the time and ask hotel staff to take the time now to orient me to emergency exits and actually the person that gets credit for my change of mind about that is the manager at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City because he actually oriented me to my room which is the first time I've ever had a manager orient me to my room.

Rachel: They have very good service there.

Pat: Which is a trip in itself. A place to stay, five star, but he was the one that brought it up and obviously there is more that blind people have nowadays to get oriented to in your rooms besides your A. C. You have your remote control and your computer hook ups and it's just more tech neck al and more buttons. I said, wow, that's the first time I've ever really known where the emergency exit is. He said you should never, never ever stay in a hotel without knowing and you should expect that of hotel staff. I thought, okay. I think I will.

But you know, we clearly aren't doing as well as we could. I know in the hurricanes in Florida, they didn't have a good way to notify individuals who were deaf. And so they knew where particular folks lived and so police officers would go and just motion for them to come with them. Well, you know, they don't know if they were being arrested or what the deal was. So that's certainly not the best approach.

I think one of the key things is to sit down with the people with disabilities and talk about it. And talk about the different scenarios that could happen and ask them what they need to be able to evacuate, because as you have mentioned, Rachel, different people need different things and I know what I need, but sometimes people have assumed -- I know it always cracks me up on airplanes. They say, ma'am, if there is an emergency, you wait right here and we'll come back to get you. I'm going, right, I'm going with the first arm I see moving in the direction that I think is going the way I need to go. I doubt that I would be waiting, but I don't argue about it.

Rachel: Now, once everyone streams in one direction, I don't think someone is going to come running back.

Pat: I'm not going to wait until the tail end of that line if I know where it's going, I'm going to be in it.

Rachel:Pat, are there other things you want to really stress to people?

Pat: I guess, you know, as part of a city's work and ADA compliance, they need to address these questions. So, again, everybody has the opportunity to go and talk with their city and ask them what they're doing, ask them how they can get involved. Make sure that your employer has a plan and what that plan is. Again, I have work to do. I'm going to get more informed about the exits and the procedures in some of the facilities I frequent and the systems I use. You know, you think you're prepared, but you rarely are for an emergency because they come in all different kinds and forms and I don't think anybody that I know is adequately prepared. So I just think -- you know, as we began our survey, we actually did a tip sheet also that we sent, sort of like if you read the tip sheet well enough, you could change a lot of your stuff and have really good answers to questions. So that was, you know, the smart way to do it. But all that information is available and so if people want to improve in this area, there are some things that can be done that don't cost much and can be done by individuals that will improve all of our outcomes for people with disabilities.

So if we can all start with the notion that in an emergency everyone should survive, then more of us will as we prepare adequately.


Gordon: This has been a sampling of what you can hear from listening to the full-length webcast. Until next time, this is Gordon Philpott with the Southwest ADA Center Podcast.