Emergencies Present Higher Risks for People with Disabilities: More Planning Is Urgently Needed

photo of 2 people on bench in a floodFollowing the 7.7 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sandspit BC the official message to people in low-lying communities was to evacuate to higher ground because of a potential tsunami. For people with disabilities and seniors with reduced or no mobility, anxiety issues and other health conditions, evacuation during emergencies is challenging unless preplanning has occurred. Evacuation is particularly difficult for individuals with disabilities and seniors who rely on accessible or custom transit in their communities. As well, people with disabilities and seniors who live on low-incomes and are less likely to be able to afford to pay for emergency preparedness kits.

Superstorm Sandy hit Southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes and tens of thousands of people are without power. Power outages can be life threatening to people with disabilities who rely on medical equipment that requires electricity, such as ventilators and power wheelchairs.

“Emergency preparedness for individuals and communities that includes the needs of people with disabilities is critical, “ said Karen Martin of the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD). The BCCPD has been working on this issue for years to help ensure that community organizations, businesses and people with disabilities are prepared for all types of emergency events. “Social media is emerging as a very important tool in emergency response communications and is an area the BCCPD is promoting as well as the legal duty to accommodate,” said Karen.

The BCCPD is concerned that many communities in BC are not adequately prepared for ensuring that people with disabilities and seniors are safe in emergency events. When there are emergency events in other areas there is a relatively brief spurt of interest which declines fairly quickly. “The BCCPD urges people with disabilities, community organizations and businesses to plan ahead,” said Martin.

For more information contact Karen Martin, Emergency Preparedness Project Coordinator: BCCPD: 604 875-0188; karen@bccpd.bc.ca.

BCCPD’s Strategic Inclusive Training for Emergencies (SITE) program trains businesses and government on how to plan for people with disabilities and seniors in emergencies.