Independence Care System (ICS) recently hosted the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) for a workshop focused on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
More than 25 participants attended the online workshop, where presenters discussed how to make a plan, obtain important supplies, follow the emergency evacuation checklist for residential buildings, and stay informed during emergencies in the city.
Creating an emergency plan
OEM Disability, Access and Functional Needs (DAFN) Adviser Kathryn Dyjak and Individual Preparedness Specialist Matthew Puvogel explained important steps that people with disabilities need to take in order to be prepared for emergencies such as severe storms, terrorist attacks or other disasters, including making a plan. Developing a support network of family, friends, building staff, neighbors and caregivers, having a transportation plan, communicating with others about a disability, knowing your evacuation zone and accessible evacuation centers and planning for power outages are key.
“If you have caregivers, you need to consider, what your backup plan is going to be if they are not able to help you?” Mr. Puvogel said. “In general, we recommend having two basic contacts but you should have more than that if possible.”
Be sure to know about emergency exits and audible or visible alarm systems ahead of time, and ask for a copy of the building’s Residential Guide/ Information Sheet that explains if the building is fireproof or not. If you rely on an elevator at a commercial building for any reason, let fire safety staff know they will need to provide assistance in an emergency.
Evacuation during an emergency
For hurricanes and coastal storms, know about your evacuation centers and shelters. During an emergency situation, current Access-A-Ride (AAR) customers can call AAR directly and request evacuation assistance. As a last resort, transportation can be set up through the Homebound Evacuation Operation (HEO) by calling 311.
Often storms and power outages are regional events so Ms. Jyjak suggests, “Have meeting places and contacts out of state when at all possible for dealing with coastal storms or power outage emergencies. You are more likely to be able to reach someone not affected by the storm or outage.”
OEM recommends having a list of important supplies to have prepared in case of an emergency. This might include a list of medications, extra batteries for flashlights, hearing aids, or other items, a backup cane, gloves and a whistle.
“You want to have cash in small bills,” Mr. Puvogel said, especially in the event of an emergency or natural disaster where banks or ATM machines are not accessible and one needs to buy items.“You’ll also want to have copies of ID cards—a non-driver’s ID, a copy of your social security card, birth certificate, or marriage license,” Mr. Puvogel said, especially in the event a coastal storm could destroy or damage a person’s home and belongings.
Questions surrounding emergency preparedness
Following the presentation, workshop participants asked about what COVID-19 precautions are in place at emergency shelters.
Ms. Dyjak said that OEM is working closely with the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to ensure that in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, shelters are ready and safe and comply with federal and state health guidelines.
“During COVID, shelters will have additional health screenings for people so if someone does come in with COVID-19 symptoms, they won’t be turned away, but they may be directed to another option where they can still get away from a storm, and have their COVID needs addressed,” Ms. Dyjak said.
Ms. Dyjak also noted that OEM architects have been working to establish social distancing guidelines at shelters, and to ensure for through cleanings in shelters, especially restrooms. Meals will not be communal, but rather grab and go. “This year’s strom season, we have to take every precaution we can.”
ICS member Manyon Lyons said that during Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, a friend in Far Rockaway, Queens, had an attendant from an agency that said they could offer her a shelter in the event of an emergency, but her friend was afraid of the option in case she needed to use a bathroom.
“She can’t stand or walk on her own,” Manyon said, who noted that eventually, her friend stayed with her. “What do you do in that situation, when someone has an attendant for hours, but aides have to go home during an emergency?”
“We do have special medical needs shelters,” said Ms. Dyjak. “There’s a coastal storm evaluation. She could have qualified for that where there’s more of a medical accommodation component. If she can’t ambulate on her own, she can call 311.” To view the entire presentation, click here.