The focus of yesterday’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Practitioner Webinar was “Reaching the Whole Community: Accessible Alerts and Warnings for Everyone”. Marcie Roth, Director of FEMA’s Office of Integration and Disability Coordination (ODIC), presented on ODIC’s efforts to assist local, state, and Federal governments in developing emergency programs in accordance with Federal civil rights laws and regulations. Federal law requires emergency programs to provide people with disabilities equal access to the same programs and services as the general population; physical access to locations where emergency programs and services are provided; and access to the same information provided to the general population using equally effective and timely methods. Here is a recap of the webinar and a few key points we came away with.
ODIC meets its mission by providing guidance, tools, methods, and strategies to integrate and coordinate emergency management for the “whole whole community”. ODIC’s diverse stakeholder base includes individuals with physical and sensory disabilities, such as those who are deaf, blind or paralyzed, as well as members of the public who emergency officials may not immediately think of when preparing their communities for emergencies, including but not limited to the following:
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions or pharmacological needs, for example those dependent on asthma inhalers or insulin
- Non-English speakers and individuals with speech and language impairments
- Children with and without disabilities and their parents
- Women who are pregnant
- Economically or transportation-disadvantaged individuals
Director Roth noted that approximately 56.4 million, or 20% of the U.S. population, is disabled. Director Roth remarked that this is a qualified figure, noting that some counties across the U.S. have higher concentrations of disabled individuals with populations in the 30% range, and many million more Americans have partial disabilities, such as low vision or hearing, and health maintenance needs.
ODIC encourages emergency officials to leverage the knowledge and expertise of ODIC’s diverse stakeholder base, ensuring that disabled members of the community actively participate in the development and execution of emergency programs. This approach results in universal access to emergency services and increases a community’s overall resiliency and capacity for effectively responding to disaster events.
Director Roth also addressed several alerting programs that seek to provide universal access to emergency information, including IPAWS and its Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) component (also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA), which is designed to disseminate text alert messages to mobile devices, and display these messages with a distinctive tone and vibration cadence that enhances CMAS’s ability to alert individuals with physical or sensory disabilities. Representatives from the IPAWS Program Office encouraged mobile device owners who have received CMAS alerts that didn’t display with the distinctive tone and vibration cadence to actively work with their service and device providers to obtain instructions for activating these features on their specific mobile device models.
ODIC also partners with the IPAWS Working Group on a semiannual basis to conduct a round table and working group discussion focused on learning about new technologies that support the needs of the disabled and determine ways to leverage and incorporate these tools into IPAWS.
Director Roth also addressed several current and upcoming resources emergency officials can consult in planning for universal access to emergency services, including:
- Pointing Webinar participants to a Webcast/Satellite Broadcast program developed by the St. Petersburg College’s National Terrorism Preparedness Institute (NTPI) on FEMA’s “Planning for the Whole Community” initiative. The program can be accessed through the ODIC website.
- Noting that participants should look forward to an upcoming study by the National Council on Disability and Georgia Tech Research Corporation on “Effective Communication for People with Disabilities Before, During, and After Emergencies“, which is expected to document effective practices and related recommendations. The report is expected to be released by early 2013.
- Encouraging local and state emergency officials seeking FEMA grants for emergency planning activities to work within their own state’s guidelines for approval and review of grant applications, as states work with their particular FEMA Regional Office to allocate grant funds. Disabled individuals seeking funding for the purchase of personal emergency preparedness equipment may be able to access a range of public and private grants and programs. Further detail can be found on the ODIC website.
More information about ODIC, its activities, and resources can be found on the ODIC website. AWARE will also post Director Roth’s presentation once it becomes available.
AWARE readers interested in participating in future IPAWS Practitioner Webinars should visit the IPAWS website for details about upcoming events, and stay turned to AWARE for future Webinar recaps.