Evacuation - Communication
Communicating clearly is very important in an emergency. Some community members may have hearing, vision, speech, cognitive or intellectual limitations. Others may have limited proficiency in English. These people may not be able to take in or respond to information. In an emergency, they may not be able to hear verbal messages or see directional signs. In addition, they may not understand how to seek help. Planners must communicate with everyone in ways that are easy to access and understand. Planners must also use communication methods that reach everyone in the community.
Some members of the community will need extra time to prepare. Planners should teach the community about any plans before an event occurs. Education will allow these people to prepare themselves properly.
Notify the community of important information. People must receive accurate information so that they can make good decisions and take action. Planners should work with the community to develop warning methods for people with disabilities.
- Emergency alert systems should have messages that can be seen and heard. This will enable the alert to will reach a larger audience.
- Enhanced or Reverse 911 are good ways to reach people when television or radio reports do not work. Planners can also create a calling tree to reach people with disabilities. These systems can increase the chances that everyone in a community receives the information in an emergency.
- Use new methods of communication, like blast text messaging and others, to get the word out. With cellular phones becoming more available, mobile phone-based messaging may reach new audiences.
Educate and reach out to the community. It is important to make the community aware of what kind of information they might receive in an emergency. They should also learn what might happen when certain events occur. Giving information ahead of time will help those who need additional support more time to prepare. Planners should think about the following:
- Not everyone will know where to go if there is an emergency. Talk to the community before an emergency to give more time for people to understand and remember information. Use radio, TV, and internet to give information and describe services.
- Share information on how people with disabilities can prepare. Create and send out press releases and brochures written for people with disabilities. Use media that will reach people with disabilities. Work with advocacy organizations, community centers, and senior centers to reach their clients. Consider creative solutions like placing messages on buses or in the mail with monthly utility bills.
- The CDC has resources on emergency communications that are available in script, audio, video, ASL, and podcast formats. Access this material from http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/psa/.
Work together with the community. Communication is a two-way street. Planners should work with their community to make sure that people can communicate their needs to planners. Using many forms of communication will help make sure all people with disabilities understand. For example:
- For people who are deaf or hard of hearing: use sign language and qualified oral interpreters, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, open and closed captioning, and teletypewriters (TTYs).
- For people who are blind or with limited vision: provide qualified readers, audio taped information, Braille materials, audio recordings, or material on computer disk or CD.
- For people who have speech impairments: provide TTYs, computer stations, speech synthesizers and communication boards.
- Use the emergency calling tree and make a "reverse tree" so that persons with disabilities can alert emergency professionals to issues they see.
- For people who have limited English speaking skills: use interpreters, as appropriate.
Work together with disability groups. There are groups that serve people with disabilities on a daily basis. These groups usually know where to find those with disabilities and how to communicate with them. Many have specialized staff that may provide extra help with the particular needs, wants, and feelings of people with disabilities. By talking with these groups early on, planners can:
- Learn who may not be able to hear, see, or understand traditional forms of communication
- Talk to people in ways they can understand
- Increase the level of trust that disability groups have in emergency communications
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Strong communication is the key to safe and quick evacuation. Put out messages early in the event give accessible, repetitive messages. This will help ensure communications reach people with disabilities.
Let people with disabilities know as soon as possible. People with disabilities often need more time to properly respond and cope with an emergency. Planners should improve communications to people with disabilities.
- Design evacuation plans to give more time, consideration, and assistance to people with disabilities. They must be notified of evacuation plans before an event. Also, they must be able to bring special equipment and service animals with them. Equipment can include wheelchairs, dialysis machines, ventilators, and prescription medications.
- Consider the communication needs of a community when designing warnings. For example, people with visual and cognitive impairments may not understand written instructions. People in wheelchairs may not be able to see signs that are posted at standing-eye level. Be sure signs and directions are accessible.
- Offer extra aids and services to assist someone with a disability during an evacuation.
- Make sure that all alarms are working. If the visual or audio portion of the alarm is not working, its intended audience might not receive information. If the system breaks down, try to open multiple lines of communication so messages can reach everyone.
Work with different media sources. The media can be an important resource to help communicate with the public. Planners must work with TV, radio, print, and internet sources to make sure that information is accurate, consistent, and timely. This will limit panic and inspire trust and confidence, especially for those who may need additional assistance. When giving emergency information or evacuation instructions:
- Give clear and concise instructions. The more direct the order, the more likely people are to follow it.
- Use a variety of media and accessible formats such as Braille, large-type, audio, and other languages, to share information. Repeating information will increase the chances that people hear and understand the message.
- Internet sources and web-based news outlet websites have new alert capabilities. Consider replicating this model or partnering with these sources to send important information via email or text message.
- Choose a person to serve as a central point-of-contact to address questions from the public. Consistency will help get the message across more clearly.
Ask the community to provide support. Neighbors and informal support networks can serve as communications links. Planners should support these informal networks.
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- Encourage neighbors and employers to set up a "buddy system." Here, each person with a disability works in a team with another person. This person will have all of their buddy's information and can tell the authorities how to communicate, move, or assist the person who needs support.
- Designate a central, out-of-town contact for reporting evacuation activities. Instruct people with disabilities to provide their location, destination, and contact information to this source. This contact can then assist authorities with tracking.
People will be eager to return to their normal activities after an emergency. Planners need to share recovery information to make the return to normal easier.
Provide communication support. A disaster may cause psychological trauma to a community. People with disabilities may require additional supports to cope with new or changed surroundings and to minimize confusion. Some may need help telling their needs to emergency management and financial recovery services. When planning for an event, planners should find mental health professionals or organizations that can offer this support.
Minimize financial cost. Many people with disabilities require financial support to pay for their specialized care. It is important that people can communicate in ways that are not costly.
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- Planners can plan to communicate using inexpensive methods. This might include calling trees or working with the media to share accessible messages.
After an event, planners should draft an after action report to note observations. The report should record the events and response that occurred. The report should include information on what services or communication equipment people needed. The report should assess if needs were met during the disaster. The report should also include lessons learned to revise and improve plans. If the response did not support communication needs, planners should work to improve the plan.Back to Top
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- Assisting People with Disabilities in A Disaster, FEMA
This website provides general tips for neighbors of and people working with people with disabilities on how to help people with disabilities or special needs. These groups include people with visual impairments, people with hearing impairments, people with mobility impairments, single working parents, non-English speakers, people without vehicles, people with special dietary needs, people with medical conditions, people with mental retardation, and people with dementia.
Access this document at http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/specialplans.shtm
- Conference on Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities, National Capital Region, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the National Organization on Disability
The National Capital Region, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Organization on Disability, held a Conference on Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia on September 22-24, 2004. The National Capital Region's goal in hosting the Conference on Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities is to facilitate the exchange of information and dialogue between emergency response agencies regarding emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. By providing an opportunity for exchange of experiences and effective practices, regional leaders intend to enhance emergency preparedness programs with respect to people with disabilities and empower them to take active roles in preparedness, response, and recovery initiatives.
Access this document at http://www.nod.org/epiconference2004/index.html
- Disaster Mitigation and Persons with Disabilities, Independent Living Resource Utilization
This web cast emphasizes the need for people with disabilities to keep enough supplies to maintain independence for up to 72 hours, if evacuation is necessary. Also, people should learn about support resources in neighboring communities.
Access this document at http://www.ilru.org/html/training/webcasts/handouts/2003/08-27-PB/Transcript.tx
- Disaster Mitigation for Persons with Disabilities: Fostering a New Dialogue, Peter David Blanck: The Annenberg Washington Program
This report recommends training for responders in using medical support equipment. It also suggests that the emergency response community should reach out to volunteer organizations to provide similar training.
Access this document at http://www.annenberg.northwestern.edu/pubs/disada/
- Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities or Special Health Care Needs, Iowa's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program (EPSDT)
This article in Iowa's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program (EPSDT) Care for Kids Newsletter lists tips for preparing for a disaster. Tips include creating a disaster plan, setting up a support network, and educating members of the network about the disaster plan.
Access this document at http://www.iowaepsdt.org/EPSDTNews/2002/win02/disaster.htm
- Disaster Preparedness--Reasoning WHY Physical, Emotional and Financial Preparation for Disabled Citizens, How Eliminating Limited Perceptions Unifies Us (HELPU Fire and Life Safety)
This online booklet discusses the reasoning for disaster preparedness by people with disabilities. It includes self-assessments and information on physical, emotional, and financial preparations.
Access this document at http://www.helpusafety.org/3PREPSDI.pdf (PDF - 1,000 KB)
- Earthquake Tips for People with Disabilities, June Isaacson Kailes
Recommendations include: establishing a personal support network; conducting an "Ability Self-Assessment"; collecting supplies to keep at all times; collecting disability-related supplies for emergency kits; maintaining a seven-day supply of essential medications; keeping important equipment and assistive devices in consistent, convenient and secured places; and practicing assertiveness skills.
Access this document at http://www.preparenow.org/eqtips.html
- Emergency Information for People with Visual Impairments: Evaluation of Five Accessible Formats, William F. Crandall, et. al.
This document is a study performed by the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute which analyzes five different formats for providing people with disabilities information about what is going on in an emergency.
Access this document at http://www.ski.org/Rehab/WCrandall/EgressIIIWeb/egressintro.html
- Emergency Planning for People with Hearing Loss, Help for Hearing Loss
This collection of articles provided by Help for Hearing Loss includes topics such as emergency preparedness for people with hearing loss, as well as people with various disabilities.
Access this document at http://www.hearinglossweb.com/Issues/EmergPlan/emerg_plan.htm#ok
- Emergency Preparation and Evacuation for Employees with Disabilities: Identifying Potential Interventions and Methods for Testing Them, Glen W. White
This PowerPoint presentation overviews the relation of vulnerabilities to environment and associated level of risk. Specifically, it discusses ways employers and planners can address the impact of emergencies on people with disabilities. Suggestions include creating a buddy system, purchasing assistive equipment and accessible communications devices, and designing inclusive evacuation plans.
Access this document at www2.ku.edu/~rrtcpbs/powerpoint/EPEED.ppt
- Emergency Preparation and People with Disabilities, National Service Inclusion Project
This report, produced by the National Council on Disability (NCD), provides recommendations to the Federal Government regarding the inclusion of people with disabilities in emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and homeland security programs.
Access this document at http://www.serviceandinclusion.org/index.php?page=emergency
- Emergency Tipsheets for People with Various Disabilities, Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco
The 10 sheets offer tips for people with: cognitive disabilities, communication disabilities, disabilities and medical concerns, environmental or chemical sensitivities, hearing impairments, life-support systems, mobility concerns, psychiatric disabilities, visual disabilities, and service animals or pets. The sheets lists information by category on what people can do before, during and after disasters. The document also includes a checklist for people to use to prepare themselves.
Access this document at http://www.prepare.org/disabilities/disabilities.htm
- Employers' Guide to Including Employees with Disabilities in Emergency Evacuation Plans, Job Accommodations Network (JAN)
Interest in emergency evacuation planning has increased since the September 11 terrorist attacks. JAN started receiving more calls from employers requesting information about their legal obligation to develop emergency evacuation plans and how to include employees with disabilities in such plans. This publication addresses these issues.
Access this document at http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/emergency.html
- High-Risk Populations, Home Fire Safety, Public Fire Education, Fire Prevention & Planning/Code Enforcement
This document summarizes FEMA's findings from a symposium that examined their Fire Safety response for those who may not be able to take life-saving action in a timely manner in a fire emergency. FEMA's provides a step-by-step listing of recommendations and cites other studies in which these findings were made.
Access this document at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/beyondsolutions2000.pdf (PDF - 630 KB)
- Incorporating Special Needs Populations into Emergency Planning and Exercises, Elizabeth Davis and Jennifer Mincin
This study provides case studies of exercises in New York City and the Pentagon. Through exercises, cities learned that existing plans did not address decontamination of supportive equipment and guide animals. The study also provides a series of questions to ensure greater inclusion of people with disabilities in emergency plans.
Access this document at http://www.nobodyleftbehind2.org/findings/davis_mincin.shtm
- National Council on Disability on Hurricane Katrina Affected Areas September 7, 2005, Information on Disability, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Support (IDEAS)
This letter calls for service and procedural changes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly with regards to obtaining durable medical equipment from non-traditional sources.
Access this document at http://katrinadisability.info/NCD.html
- Orientation Manual for First Responders on the Evacuation of Persons with Disabilities, FEMA
This manual provides information on identifying and locating those in a community with disabilities/special needs, how responders can assist various categories of disabilities, esp. carrying techniques for categories of disabilities.
Access this document at http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/FA-235-508.pdf (PDF - 910 KB)
- Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs, FEMA
This booklet is designed to help those with disabilities and their family/friends/caretakers prepare for various emergencies. The booklet includes check-lists of items, strategies, potential problem areas, and solutions to consider.
Access this document at http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/pfd_all.pdf (PDF - 937 KB)
- Report on SNAKE Project, National Organization on Disability (NOD)
During emergency evacuation, the conditions of those with disabilities may get worse due to either an over-emphasis of medicinal intervention or an under-utilization of specialized and trained caregivers. By giving disability populations proper care and equipment, expensive segregated areas (such as hospitals and nursing facilities) are often not necessary both during and after an evacuation. Therefore, disaster workers should be trained to correctly identify evacuee limitations and to prevent deterioration through appropriate supervision and evacuee placement.
Access this document at http://www.nod.org/Resources/PDFs/katrina_snake_report.pdf (PDF - 125 KB)
- Special Needs Planning Considerations for Services and Support Providers, FEMA
All individuals, advocacy groups, organizations, and institutions within the special needs service and support system are encouraged to be proactive and develop emergency plans. The purpose of this course is to provide representatives of the special needs service and support system with the basic information and tools to develop their own emergency plans. This course is designed for people who work with the elderly and people with disabilities. It will teach them how to collaborate with local Emergency Management and better prepare for all phases of an emergency.
Access this document at http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS197SP.asp
- The Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI) Guide for Emergency Managers, Planners & Responders, National Organization on Disability
This Guide highlights key disability concerns to officials and experts responsible for emergency planning in their communities, and seeks to assist them in developing plans that will take into account the needs and insights of people with disabilities before, during and after emergencies. It is also designed to help emergency managers, planners, and responders make the best use of resources in the emergency preparedness planning process.
Access this document at http://www.nod.org/resources/PDFs/epiguide2005.pdf (PDF - 166 KB)
- Working Conference on Emergency Management and Individuals with Disabilities and the Elderly
Financial concerns are great for many with special needs, and extra expenses associated with communication devices could hinder their use among certain segments of the special needs population. Whenever necessary, free or low-cost alternatives (such as call-down lists, phone trees, neighborhood watch groups, and the like) should be provided as possible replacements. Partnerships between planners and Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and TTY Networks could facilitate their implementation and emergency response actions, in general.
Access this document at http://www.add-em-conf.com/presentations.htm