I’ve blogged before about the strides the emergency management team is taking to include every member of the community in their plans before a disaster strikes. And I’ve even talked about the steps FEMA took before, during and after Hurricane Irene to meet the needs of the whole community.
This past week, FEMA hosted leaders from emergency management, the disability community, voluntary and faith-based organizations, and the private sector at our “Getting Real Conference” to continue building on that positive momentum, sharing best practices and mapping out a way forward towards disability inclusive disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
While there were many great take-a-ways and some great feedback gathered from our listening sessions, I wanted to emphasize three things that really resonated with me:
- Inclusion is crucial – the disability community cannot provide critical resources and solutions in this time of “doing more with less” if they are not at the table, involved in the planning process from the start. (A reminder that the venue/method of these planning processes needs to be physically, programmatically and communications accessible.)
- Leverage the capabilities and expertise of the public – Administrator Fugate often makes this point, and it’s definitely relevant here as well. All those across the emergency management team should trust the public to help spread their message, acting as force multipliers. This is especially true of utilizing young people, as well as people with developmental and intellectual disabilities as trainers, so they can share the importance of preparedness with their peers. Even in some inclusive programs, youth and people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are often overlooked as powerful trainers.
- Technology is great, but it’s not a cure-all – We shouldn’t use technology to simply say we’re using the “latest and greatest” gadget or website. Those in emergency management or disaster response should focus on using technology that helps us accomplish our objectives, with a renewed focus on those new tools being useful for and accessible to the entire community.
This year’s Getting Real Conference was a valuable place to strengthen relationships and raise awareness for key issues – but as Administrator Fugate told the attendees, “this is the end of the beginning”. The discussion of including the whole community in disaster preparedness, response and recovery has been elevated to the national level, and that’s where it will stay as long as we can keep our focus on involving the whole community to support every survivor who may be affected by disasters.
We in the emergency management field still have a long way to go to be as inclusive as possible, but I’m excited about the progress so far and look forward to tackling the challenges ahead. The better job we do at preparing all of us for a disaster, the more resources we can devote to people who were unable to prepare and those who are injured during the disaster.
I invite you to keep the conversation going in your family or community. And leave us a comment below and share your thoughts on how emergency management can better include the whole community into our planning process.