WASHINGTON – The elderly and people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable during disasters like hurricanes and fires or public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Senate panel on Thursday heard from disaster response experts on the urgent need to ensure they are prepared for emergencies and can recover after they occur.
Danielle Koerner is the Volunteer Management Coordinator for the Delaware County Emergency Services Department in Pennsylvania and knows disaster preparedness firsthand.
âOne size never fits everyone,â Koerner told the committee.
But it’s not just the job for Koerner – it’s personal too.
She told lawmakers she was caring for her late mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and her disabled young son.
âI made emergency care plans, kept oversized medical equipment in case something broke, and kept extra comfort items in strategic areas to allay fears and calm behaviors. erratic, âKoerner said.
Koerner shared his experience with the Senate panel to shed light on the critical need to ensure there are plans in place to care for the most vulnerable in the event of a disaster.
A big part of the challenge is ensuring that older people and people with disabilities have access to their daily health needs in the event of an emergency.
âDisruption and access to health care and necessary support is a critical need to be addressed in inclusive disaster management,â said Dr. Sue Anne Bell, associate professor at the University of Michigan.
A power or transportation failure can have serious or fatal consequences if no plan is in place.
âTreatment of chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes can often be delayed for periods of time, unfortunately leading to poor health outcomes,â said Dr. Wanda Spurlock, professor at the College of Nursing and Allied Health of Southern University and A&M College.
Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) Sponsored a bill titled “Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion Disaster Act (REAADI for Disasters Act).”
The bill establishes programs and requirements to help people with disabilities and the elderly prepare for disasters.
âThis bill will ensure that older people and people with disabilities have a voice at every stage of disaster management,â said Casey.
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) sponsored another bill to help vulnerable people during disasters called the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries Act (FEED Act).
The bill allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to approve government partnerships with restaurants and nonprofits to ensure people don’t go hungry during disasters.
“The FEED Act would increase the food security of older Americans and others during emergencies by paving the way for food producers, restaurants, and nonprofits to partner with their state and local governments to meet the needs on the ground, âScott said.
Witnesses who testified urged Congress to push for more coordination between public and private agencies to ensure that older people and people with disabilities are not left behind during disasters.
âThe reality is that if we are to be successful in disaster mitigation, work must also be done in areas that operate independently of emergency management,â Koerner said.
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