Posted by: Marcie Roth, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination
Disasters can strike anywhere, anytime and can impact anyone, so everyone must be involved in emergency planning, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. This is a message that FEMA’s senior leadership brings to the table at every opportunity.
Deputy FEMA Administrator Richard Serino drove this point home during the Think Tank conference call in Atlanta at the Georgia Institute of Technology, March 22, 2012. Introducing the topic to an audience of over 30 community leaders in the room and more than 500 callers nationwide, he stressed the benefits of the call.
“Talking with teachers, leaders in the access and functional needs community, non-profit and community organizers – all of which are the epitome of whole community – gives me, and everyone, a better understanding of the reality – on the ground,” Serino said.
Atlanta, Ga., March 22, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino opens the Think Tank conference call at the Georgia Tech Centergy Building in downtown Atlanta. Also pictured (L) Marcie Roth, FEMA Director of Disability Integration and Andy Altizer (c), Georgia Tech Director of Emergency Preparedness. The Think Tank forum is designed to engage our partners, promote innovation and facilitate discussion in the field of emergency management.
Topics discussed during the call included a focus on the importance of having access to electrical power and alternatives during disasters, especially for individuals with disabilities and other types of access and functional needs. Carolyn Phillips, program director at Georgia’s Pass It On Center, Tools for Life, the state’s Assistive Living Technology Program, noted that as smartphones have many different types of alternating current electrical power adapters, medical and assistive devices also have the same variability.
To demonstrate this point, Liz Persaud, Phillips’s colleague from Tools for Life, brought the chargers she’d need to keep her equipment fully functional. It required a suitcase to carry all of the items and weighed over 30 pounds.
Atlanta, Ga., March 22, 2012 -- At the Think Tank conference call at the Georgia Tech Centergy Building in downtown Atlanta, FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino discusses powering durable medical equipment following disasters with Carolyn Phillips, Director of The Pass it On Center. The Think Tank forum is designed to engage our partners, promote innovation and facilitate discussion in the field of emergency management.
Other speakers noted that individuals need to proactively plan for major power losses by including alternate sources of power such as solar power or generators.
“We need to think more creatively about power and how we convert power for people with access and functional needs,” said Phillips. She also stressed the need for including power access issues in drills and assessing those outcomes in after-action reports.
Deputy Administrator Serino then introduced Dr. Helena Mitchell, project director of the Wireless Emergency Communications project at Georgia Institute of Technology, to discuss the next Think Tank topic. Serino reminded participants that “FEMA needs to use the best technology available to communicate with disaster survivors and those with disabilities and access and functional needs.”
He also noted that the Emergency Alert System test held in November of 2011 revealed several areas of improvement necessary for modernizing our national alerting systems, including problems with speed of the content and message accessibility. As FEMA develops the next-generation system, lessons from the test will be applied to ensure a more accessible experience for everyone.
In her remarks, Dr. Mitchell noted that the explosion of devices and software platforms in the market gives wireless manufacturers and developers “a perfect opportunity for [them] to involve end users in creating new devices that will have accessible features at the front end.”
Dr. Mitchell also noted with the explosion of social media, 65% of all Americans and 63% of those with disabilities use platforms like Facebook and Twitter, emergency managers have begun looking at those systems for enhancing the delivery of emergency alerts.
As I mentioned during the conversation, when people have access to emergency alerts, they can actively participate in preparedness efforts. This, in turn, optimizes emergency response resources for individuals who truly need assistance.
During the event, folks on Twitter joined the conversation with over 100 tweets using the hashtag #FEMAThinkTank:
- Everyone should have access to emergency alerts – @mkelly007
He also encouraged people to continue participating in the Think Tank, sharing and discussing the ideas posted. A full transcript of the event will be posted at www.fema.gov/thinktank shortly.