New York City to Improve Disaster Preparations for Disabled Residents

disability evacuationNew York City has agreed to improve the way that it accommodates people with disabilities in its emergency preparedness plans.

A class-action lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of New York’s estimated 900,000 disabled residents after Tropical Storm Irene revealed that the city had inadequate plans to shelter, transport, and evacuate residents with disabilities. The problems were even more serious after Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread flooding and lengthy power outages and left many residents stranded in high-rise buildings.

A judge ruled last November that the city was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it did not have adequate plans to help disabled residents in emergency situations. He said the shortcomings were not the result of intentional discrimination, but rather “benign neglect.” He directed the parties involved to work together to come up with solutions.

The mayor’s office, lawyers, and representatives of first responders were able to reach a settlement with the two firms representing the plaintiffs. City officials hope the changes will make New York a leader in emergency preparedness and provide people with disabilities with access to essential services during emergencies.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, which requires the judge’s approval, within three years New York will make at least 60 shelters accessible and able to shelter approximately 120,000 residents with disabilities. The city intended to make eight to 14 of the shelters accessible by mid-October and able to accommodate 10,000 to 17,000 people. That is more space than was required after either Irene or Sandy.

The city agreed to conduct rapid canvassing operations following disasters that significantly affect more than 5,000 households in 48 hours. City personnel and volunteers will conduct door-to-door surveys to identify critical needs, such as food, water, power, medical care, and evacuation.

The city will also create a task force that will include Fire Department representatives to address how to evacuate disabled residents from high-rise buildings if elevators cannot function due to power outages.

At the 2013 Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, we were privileged to speak with the head of disaster planning for the disabled in Los Angeles. That city had already designated one of the halls of the convention center as reserved for disabled evacuees. He also described the issues they were still wrestling with in their evacuation planning. So it appears that large cities have unique issues relative to disaster plans for the disabled. HDS MEDALLION salutes these efforts.

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