UPSA 1500 Term Paper
The Forgotten: How the Disabled are Left out of Disaster Preparedness
Dr. Donald R. Stewart
Introduction to Disaster
The catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesia Tsunami are prime examples of events that have focused our attention on the increased necessity for the analysis of risk, disaster preparedness, and hazard mitigation. These catastrophes, occurring inside the space of one year, are exceptional in not only their level of destruction but also in their level of media attention. Supplementary disasters, such as the Kobe earthquake in 1995, can exceed the death toll of a whole year in a solitary quick event. Cities like Tokyo are at an increased risk for different types of destructive events ranging from earthquakes to a synthetic disaster such as the nuclear power plant at Fukishima. Such a colossal scale catastrophe could potentially alter massive areas; nevertheless, it is clear that the smaller communities are more vulnerable than larger cities. This paper will discuss failures of emergency preparedness and opportunities for improvement.
It is vital for people at risk from disasters or terrorist attacks to consider what they should do if they were challenged by an event. Preparedness necessities will vary from locale to locale. One must consider the probability of a drastic event, geographic location, and paths of escape or evacuation. In certain locations where more than one kind of catastrophe is probable, cross training and advance notice systems are necessary to alert the populace to the disaster at hand. The population should have some situational awareness of the demand for preparedness in addition to repeated trainings and rehearsals in evacuation procedures. This should be supervised by governmental representatives at all levels. The possibility of advance warning notification has a high probability of lessening the number of casualties arising from natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Why the disabled are considered ‘vulnerable’
There are approximately 600 million people (12% of our world population) classified as having a disability, with roughly 80% of those are residing in poverty stricken and/or developing countries (WHO, 2005). Interestingly enough, the United States disability statistics exceed 15% of the population. With time, it may be expected that the WHO’s estimate of the worldwide disabled population will grow with situational awareness and better identification of disabilities. In a detailed analysis of 9/11 survivors, a list of people with vulnerabilities included: acute illness, trauma or recent major surgery, obesity, cardiovascular disease, pregnancy, and respiratory problems (NIST, 2005). Current events have illustrated instances in which people who are disabled fall victim to disaster. Whether these people are stranded in a high-rise construction due to a terrorist attack or fire, crushed in a collapsed building from a tsunami, swept away in flood, dying from normally treatable chronic illnesses in shelters or drowned in a hurricane fueled storm surge, people with disabilities face trials in physical mobility, mental anguish, and receipt of critical, lifesaving care. When 9/11 occurred, rescue and safety personnel risked their lives to save people with disabilities. (NIST, 2005) People who stayed at the side of the disabled workers to await rescue were broadcast across numerous news network for years. (Zelmanowitz 2002). In two cases during 9/11, guide dogs assisted victims, with one descending 71 floors of the World Trade Center (Hu, 2001).
As a Sergeant in the United States Army after Hurricane Katrina, I watched people confined to wheel chairs awaiting evacuation. At the Super Dome, the hearing disabled were quarantined to a section labeled as “Deaf Area”. There was no adequate communication for their personal needs; their isolation was