Student With Mobile Disability Pushes School to Plan for Evacuation

Although I usually do not post content from vendors, I found this story quite compelling. This story was provided to me via email as a press release by: Jon Ryan Account Executive | Black Twig Communications.

Student With Mobile Disability Implements Sustainable Evacuation Plan at San Diego Area High School

Image via MedSled

Image via MedSled

SAN DIEGO (April 29, 2015) – Lilly Grossman spearheaded and facilitated a sustainable school evacuation plan at La Jolla High School in San Diego using Med Sled® evacuation sleds, requiring students and staff to take training classes as part of their physical education curriculum. Lilly, a high school senior, uses a wheelchair due to a rare genome mutation that went undiagnosed for most of her life, and earned the Girl Scout Gold Award for implementing this project and also published two fictional books about her experiences living with a disability.

“During my sophomore year of high school, I discovered that my school didn’t have a safety plan that incorporated physically disabled students, nor a way to get them off the second floor in an emergency,” said Lilly in a recent essay. “By making this issue my Girl Scout Gold Award project, I helped make my school safer for all its occupants.”

After learning about the administration’s lack of a thorough safety plan, Lilly initiated the process of updating the plan and providing a way to evacuate all students from the second floor during an emergency. To gain support for the project, Lilly worked with the San Diego School District’s accessibility office and the 504 Committee, which oversees accessibility rights for students. Due to Lilly’s efforts, the district chose to purchase Med Sled®evacuation sleds to help evacuate students from the second floor, but Lilly found that no students or faculty were trained to use the devices during an actual emergency. Her solution: provide training in gym classes for the Med Sleds® and ensure their use during every evacuation drill at the school.

Lilly also organized an event called “Day in a Chair” after being referred to the sponsoring organization by a friend. During the event, students at La Jolla High School volunteered to experience being in a wheelchair for an entire day. To be eligible to participate, students first had to be trained to use Med Sleds®. The student body responded positively to the event, and the administration is considering making “Day in a Chair” a yearly event.

“I support the program. The plan is to incorporate training on the use of the sleds into our program each school year and during safety meetings with the staff,” said Chuck Podhorsky, Principal of La Jolla High School. “We will have signage up to indicate the location of each sled, and the sleds will be incorporated into evacuation drills when necessary.”

About Lilly Grossman

Lilly Grossman is a published author and honors student who has struggled for most of her life with an undiagnosed illness causing muscle weakness, tremors and severe sleep deprivation. After undergoing a genome sequencing procedure, Lilly was found to have mutations in two specific genes, ADCY5 and DOCK3. Lilly is a passionate advocate for genome sequencing as well as universal accessibility standards for individuals with disabilities. Lilly has earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for implementing a sustainable evacuation plan at her high school and also published two fictional books about her experiences living with a disability. For more information, email

About ARC Products, LLC and Med Sled®

ARC Products, LLC, based in St. Louis, is the number one manufacturer of cost-effective evacuation solutions, including the Med Sled®.  Since 2004, ARC has been developing products to support disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation to ensure that non-ambulatory individuals are transported safely in emergency situations. The Med Sled® is a compact no-lift evacuation device that includes an innovative, high-performance stairwell breaking system that allows the sled to easily descend down several flights of stairs in a matter of minutes. Med Sled® provides lines of products that address the evacuation needs of your smallest NICU baby to your largest bariatric patient. There are more than 55,000 Med Sled® evacuation devices currently in use in over 3,200 facilities nationwide, including hospitals, nursing homes, fire and EMS, schools and universities, government facilities and the US military. The Med Sled® holds three US patents for its design and is approved by the GSA. For more information, visit

For more information contact: Jon Ryan Account Executive | Black Twig Communications

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Interpreter Debacle Proves Need for Planning

If ever there was a cautionary tale for emergency management, this is it. Are you wondering “how such a spectacular mistake could have been made“?

News about the #fakeinterpreter for Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service worsened daily: from grotesque incompetence to mental illness to a potential record of violent crime.


Before the latest horrifying turn, sign language interpreters and members of the Deaf community were already beginning to emerge from the first waves of disappointment, anger, and humiliation. One man’s audacity, and what appears to be a laissez-faire attitude toward providing real communication access, drew the lightning bolt flash of long pent-up Deaf frustration. Cathy Heffernan, writing for The Guardian, presents the background:

“Bad interpretation is surprisingly common and something that deaf people who use interpreters face on a regular basis. Across public services and the courts unqualified people are asked to translate, even in situations where clear communication can make the difference between life or death.”

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf established a Task Force in 2009 to begin drafting an official position paper and process for integrating qualified sign language interpreters into all stages of the emergency management cycle: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Overtures to establish Emergency Management Interpreter Strike Teams have been made to responsible agencies and managers at many levels of government. Some jurisdictions have taken this seriously, most however have not. (See the Getting Real II Presentation for information on foundations laid in California, Georgia, and Florida.)


Commentary from Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, Director of Jewish Deaf Multimedia

Deaf people were frustrated two years ago by the hearing world’s exoticizing of Lydia Callis interpreting Hurricane Sandy public safety information for New York Governor Bloomberg. Rather than being understood as doing a competent job being the communication bridge between Hearing public officials and the Deaf public, she was glorified as a sign language star. Now we have Thamsanqa Jantjie at the opposite extreme.

“It is not just that Deaf people were left to decipher a mumble-jumble of random signs; it also serves as a message to the Deaf community that the world still does not understand us. For if the people responsible for hiring that interpreter would have had a better understanding of sign language and Deaf culture, they probably would have seen through his fraud.” ~ Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff

This travesty of failed communication heightens the responsibility of public officials to plan for and streamline the use of emergency management interpreters in all the settings where they may be needed. It also signals the growing presence of Deaf people in the mainstream.

An explanatory video from a Deaf South African, captioned (roughly) into English, describes how South Africans used Twitter to bring their complaint to the world’s attention. Messages spread on Facebook, as interpreters and Deaf community members in the UK tracked radio and television news reports. Now that the Deaf community has discovered Twitter, there are opportunities for Social Media and Emergency Management (#SMEM) to become more effective in communicating public warnings to the Deaf. A special hashtag was discussed a few years ago as a way to alert the Deaf to emergency situations. The proposed hashtag, #DEMX, stands for Deaf EMergency X. It hasn’t yet gotten traction but as the severity of seasonal storm cycles worsen, and the rate of unseasonal natural weather disasters increases, this may be an idea whose time has come.

Also see: The Deaf World is Watching. Will We Respond?

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The Health and Disability Program, MA Department of Public Health

ma_dept_public_health_seal At the Whole Community Preparedness Summit, planned for May 22, 2013 in Amherst, MA,  Bridget Landers, Rachel Tanenhaus and Ashley Martinez of the Health and Disability Program (HDP) will help attendees gain a better understanding of how to meet the needs everyone during a disaster event. Together with Alfred Fraunfelder of ESRI GIS Mapping Services they will be presenting a break out session that will focus on aspects such as how to use GIS and census data to map the demographics of a community; and how accessible information can be provided before, during and after a disaster to people with disabilities.

What is HDP?

The Health and Disability Program became a part of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s (MDPH) Office of Health Equity (OHE) less than a year ago, in July 2012. HDP is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant titled: Improving the Health of People with Disabilities through State-based Programs. Placing the disability initiative in the Office of Health Equity was done to assure optimal visibility and influence for the work, as well as to connect the initiative to the broader effort to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity statewide.

US-CDC-LogoThe Office of Health Equity supports the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate health care services and is working to elevate disability concerns as a key element of cultural competency. In 1989, the MDPH Health and Disability Program became a grantee of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disability, CDC. HDP continues to champion the public health needs of people with disabilities living in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and provides leadership in promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities across their lifespan through policy and systems changes.

Come see what they have to say!

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Therapy Dogs: Providing Comfort After Disaster Strikes

Two Golden Retrievers

Two Golden Retrievers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent bombing in Boston, as well as the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut brought attention to the psychological needs of people after disaster strikes. We all have a sense that the presence of dog might bring comfort, but why?   The National Geographic reported on the use of dogs for therapy in a piece titled After the Bombing, Comfort Dogs Come to Boston. The authors interviewed Brian Hare, director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, who provided some context:

The human-canine bond goes back thousands of years…Part of what makes dogs special is that they are one of the only species that does not generally exhibit xenophobia, meaning fear of strangers, says Hare.

“We’ve done research on this, and what we’ve found is that not only are most dogs totally not xenophobic, they’re actually xenophilic-they love strangers!” Hare said. “That’s one way in which you could say dogs are ‘better’ than people. We’re not always that welcoming.”

People also benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human.

Courtesy: Bright Spot Therapy Dogs

Courtesy: Bright Spot Therapy Dogs

Where Can You Find “Comfort Dog” Services?

There are several volunteer organizations that provide comfort dogs in times of need. In Western Massachusetts Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc are very active in the community. Their tag line says it all “Bringing comfort to those who need it the most.” They are  “…dedicated to placing well trained certified therapy dog teams in meaningful programs that provide comfort and caring through the human-canine bond.”   In addition to responding to disaster events (including Newtown) they provide services on a more routine basis. They will visit organizations and facilities, such as:

  • hospitals
  • public and private day and residential schools
  • psychiatric facilities
  • hospice
  • nursing homes
  • rehabilitation facilities
  • senior centers
  • etc.

For more info see their Facebook page, or better yet, come see Director Cynthia Hinkley,  her team of volunteers, plus four canine therapist at the Whole Community Preparedness Summit, May 22 in Amherst.

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UMMS Shriver Center Emergency Preparedness and Response Initiative

shriverThe University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Shriver Center Emergency Preparedness and Response Initiative is a tremendous resource for Emergency Management Directors, healthcare providers, first responders and public health employees in Massachusetts. However, it should be noted that the Center’s Initiative strives to not only educate public employees but also the public. Specifically, they provide training to ensure EVERYONE in the community is prepared, and the needs of the whole community are considered in the emergency planning process. For example, in order to inform community members, they recently offered emergency preparedness training for parents of children with disabilities. Their website describes the event:

[This] in-person interactive parent/guardian training workshop…provided an opportunity for participants to review a Toolkit with resource information, tip sheets and useful planning tools. A Family Emergency Plan Template helped participants develop and personalilze emergency plans with a focus on sharing “need to know” information about their child’s unique needs.

In addition to the template and toolkit listed above, there are many resources available  for people interested in learning more about this topic. The UMASS site has two great aggregated lists:

English: Houston, TX., 9/3/2005 -- Volunteers ...

English: Houston, TX., 9/3/2005 — Volunteers help set up cots at the Reliant center that is to be used for a Red Cross shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. FEMA photo/Andrea Booher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to educate people responsible for providing life-sustaining support to individuals or families that are temporarily displaced or otherwise impacted by a disaster or emergency they developed the course titled:  Active Planning for Mass Care Sheltering and Evacuation of People with Disabilities. Why is this training important?

“While equal access to emergency shelters and services is mandated by law, many local emergency plans continue to overlook people with disabilities. Experts report a corresponding nationwide knowledge gap among emergency personnel and stress the importance of whole community inclusive and collaborative emergency planning.”

In addition to the Shriver Center programs, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has a Center of Excellence for Emergency Preparedness Education and Training (CEEPET). CEEPET offer courses on this subject titled simply: Individuals Requiring Additional Assistance. (See also CEEPET flyer for 2013 courses – as of 04-25-13.) I described their program last November–but to recap, they offer the following modules:

  • People with Special Medical Needs
  • People with Disabilities
  • Bariatric Populations
  • People with Psychiatric Illness
  • People who are Homeless
  • Pregnant Women and Children
  • People who Use Service Animals
  • People with Cultural and Language Barriers
  • Elderly Populations

Each of these free online courses “explore the needs of individual populations in an in-depth way.” Unlike the Shriver Center initiative, the CEEPET program’s target audience is the health care community: EMS personnel,  hospital employees, public health officials, etc. However, anyone can sign up and take advantage of the wealth of information. In addition to the course, they also offer a  Toolbox, or a list of a printable references from each lecture–and each of the references are hyperlinked, if available, for easy retrieval and can be accessed by anyone.

Representatives from both of these programs will be at the May 22, Whole Community Preparedness Summit in Amherst.
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Mass Relay and MassMatch: Enabling Independence

Photo of TTY. Taken by myself, released into p...

Photo of TTY. Taken by myself, released into public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this post we’d like to provide information on two services available in Massachusetts: Mass Relay and Mass Match.

Since the late 1960s TTY, or tele-typewriter, has been connecting people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to other telephone users via text communication rather than voice. These sytems are also called  TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). Before this technology people had to drive to friends’ homes to talk to them or had to ask hearing people for help making phone calls.

A basic TTY consists of a keyboard, a display screen, and a modem, which operates over standard telephone lines. If a deaf individual is communicating with another TTY user, both users send and receive text. If a deaf individual is communicating with a hearing individual who doesn’t have a TTY, they will use the Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS).  In Massachusetts, the service is called MassRelay. It is  free, confidential and available 24/7.

Mass RElay Logo

How does it work? A Relay Operator (OPR) completes the call, dialing the person the caller wish to contact and then staying on the line to relay messages electronically via a TTY or verbally to people who can hear. OPRs provide exact transcriptions of what they hear and speak what is typed to them, unless the caller directs them to do otherwise.

In some areas, services have gradually expanded to include almost any real-time text capable technology such as a personal computer, laptop, mobile phone, PDA, and many other devices.  It will be interesting to ask a representative of Mass Relay at the Whole Community Preparedness Summit what technology changes they see on the horizon.

massMatch logo

Where can people get access to assistive technologies, such as TTY? 

Although MassMATCH, is not a relay service (or a dating site), they do connect people. The “MATCH” part of their name stands for “Maximizing Assistive Technology in Consumer’s Hands.” This Assistive Technology (AT) initiative is one of 56 state-level AT projects in the United States.  Their stated goal is “to improve access to assistive technology so that people with disabilities can live, work, study, play, and participate independently in all aspects of their communities.”

What is AT?

Assistive technology can be a “device” or a “service.” A device is any item, piece of equipment or system that increases, maintains or improves the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Assistive technology devices help people with disabilities do what they are able to do better and longer.

Interestingly, AT includes both high and low tech solutions. You can find more about this organization on their community blog–they also have a Facebook page.

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Get Answers and Get Connected with Mass 2-1-1

MA211 logoContinuing our series of blog posts about organizations that will be featured at the Massachusetts Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council’s (WRHSAC) Whole Community Preparedness Summit on May 22nd, 2013, today’s spotlight is on Mass 2-1-1.

According to their website, 2-1-1 is the national abbreviated dialing code for citizens to find information about health and human services programs. Within the Commonwealth there are literally thousands of phone numbers for these programs run by government offices, community organizations, volunteer referral centers, donation clearinghouses, educational systems and neighborhood groups. Mass 2-1-1 makes that critical connection between individuals and families seeking services or volunteer opportunities and the appropriate community-based organization and/or government agency. One of the best features of Mass 2-1-1 is the fact that it is accessible. There is a TTY (Text Telephone) number for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing at 508-370-4890, and multilingual operators are available.

After a disaster has occurred, this number (which operates 24/7)  cannot only be used by citizens seeking to navigate the maze of social services, but could also be a fantastic resource for emergency services personnel who need to quickly find assistance for members of their community who have access or functional needs. Interestingly, the new Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) Standard Operating Guide (SOG) developed by the WRHSAC, specifically notes that officials could turn to either the Mass 2-1-1 website, or call if they can’t easily find the service they looking for. The multilingual operators, for instance, could be a huge asset alone.

The Mass 2-1-1 site has many resources including an Emergency/Disaster Preparedness section, compiled in partnership with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, that offers great tips  for families to keep safe in a dangerous situation, including, for example:

Find out more about the Mass 2-1-1 program and how it relates to disaster planning and response by attending the Whole Community Preparedness Summit, where Debra Cheney, Assistant Emergency Manager, will be speaking in Break Out Session 2: Strengthening What Works on a Daily Basis.

Register here.

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Summit Participant: Massachusetts Commission for the Blind

Massachusetts Commission for the Blind Logo

The Massachusetts  Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Whole Community Preparedness Summit will be held at the UMass Amherst Conference Center on May 22nd, 2013. This event is going to feature a whole host of organizations and agencies from both the MA State and local level that provide services and resources to members of our communities who have disabilities or who might require additional assistance during a disaster event.  In a series of blog posts we will provide some basic background information about these organizations, discuss their overarching missions and highlight how they will be contributing at the summit.

Today, we are pleased to turn our spotlight toward the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). MCB was established in 1906, and was originally comprised of 3 men and 2 women, including Ms. Helen Keller. More than a century later, the MCB is now one of fifteen agencies in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).

MCB provides a wide range of rehabilitation and social services to blind individuals of all ages in order to help them lead independent lives and fully participate in their communities. MCB accomplishes this critical mission by working in partnership with legally blind individuals, families, community agencies, health care providers, and employers. There are currently more than 35,000 legally blind persons registered with the Commission. The services they provide include: 

  • Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), including diagnostic studies, counseling and guidance, individual plans for employment (IPE), restorative and training services, rehabilitation and mobility instruction, assistive technology, adaptive housing, job placement, and post-employment services
  • Assistive technology
  • Independent living social services, including homemaking assistance, assistive devices, mobility instruction, and peer support groups
  • Specialized services for blind seniors (BRIDGE program)
  • Specialized services for blind children, including referrals for early intervention, public benefits, respite care, and socialization and recreation programs
  • Specialized services for blind/deaf individuals and others with multiple disabilities
  • Rehabilitation instruction, including Braille and typing, use of low-vision devices, labeling and recordkeeping, food preparation, home safety, and self-care techniques
  • Orientation and mobility instruction, including guide dogs
  • MassHealth services for financially eligible people who are legally blind, including long-term care services, hospital services, personal care attendants, private duty nursing, and transportation services
  • Consumer assistance and advocacy for issues related to blindness such as housing and job discrimination, guide dog issues, or transportation problems.

You can find out more about the Commission’s work and how it relates to disaster planning and response at the summit. The “Disaster shelter guidelines for an emergency” is a great resource developed by the Commission. You can view it by clicking the hyperlink. Meg Robertson, the Director of the Orientation & Mobility Department at MCB will be speaking in Break Out Session 2: Strengthening What Works on a Daily Basis. Register here.

For more info: Massachusetts Commission for the Blind Website

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FEMA Presentation: Disability Inclusive Emergency Management

Post by: Kim Stephens

femachairI would like to call your attention to a presentation published by FEMA last month titled: “Disability Inclusive Emergency Management: Understanding the preparedness, response and recovery needs of the whole community.”

The 54 page powerpoint includes definitions of access and functional needs, the language that should be used, Federal laws that prohibit discrimination, key principles, and examples of how to implement those key principles including, for instance, programmatic and communications access. It also addresses sheltering, housing and even how to exercise your plan.

Why is this so important? As noted in the presentation:

My experience tells me if we wait and plan for people with disabilities after we write the basic plan, we fail.” Craig Fugate

Has your agency integrated the access and functional needs community into all phases of your community-wide emergency management plan? Do you see anything they missed? Let me know what you think.

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Disaster Planning for People Experiencing Homelessness

Post by: Kim Stephens

Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska

Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have heard the argument that disaster planning is geared toward middle class Americans and that not enough attention is paid to those who do not fit the stereotypical definition of the “norm.” A paper, titled Disaster Planning for People Experiencing Homelessness, which was published in March of 2009 by Sabrina Edgington, reminds us that planning is required for the entire community. The paper was written for the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and can be found here.

One of the key points in the paper is that coordination and relationship building between the emergency management community and the various homeless service providers is critical. This isn’t surprising since this type of collaboration is considered important with any group of individuals that require additional assistance during a disaster.   I do like, however,  how the author encourages these service providers to get to know their emergency managers and get involved with the planning process, versus simply indicting the EM community for not included them.

The author states in the executive summary:

This publication provides an overview of important issues to consider when planning for the needs of homeless people during disasters. Practical guidance is offered to local officials, emergency planners, homeless service providers and others who are involved in their community’s emergency planning process. The final part of this publication encourages Health Care for the Homeless providers and others involved in homeless service provision to participate in disaster planning efforts in their communities.

The following issues are addressed in this publication and described briefly below:

  • defining special needs populations
  • personal preparedness
  • communication
  • transportation and evacuation
  • sheltering
  • health status
  • transition to housing

If you have homeless people in your community it is worth a read. Thanks to @NLM_DIMRC for Tweeting about this paper.

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