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Houston Leads The Way In Emergency Planning For The Disabled

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(credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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The Houston Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Initiative (RCPI) and the Houston Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) hosted a planning seminar with the focus of incorporating the unique requirements of individuals with functional and access needs in all areas of emergency planning.

Bringing leaders together from emergency management and disability communities, this event focused on building partnerships, increasing resilience, and identifying Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) best practices. The group also reviewed the Texas FNSS tool kit, a document designed to assist emergency planners in understanding the requirements related to sheltering and serving those who have access and functional needs. Attendees and speakers included local advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, and local and state emergency officials.

“It is of great importance that communities recognize that a large portion of the population have disabilities. These include mobility impairments that make it difficult for them when disaster strikes, hearing impairments that provide challenges to getting information, and cognitive impairments which make it difficult to understand the message that is generated and the extent of the danger,” said Lex Frieden, director of the Independent Research Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital, “Houston has been a leader in reaching out to this population. The efforts underway now will continue to improve outreach to people with disabilities.”

In addition to Lex Frieden, presenters included leaders from:
• American Red Cross
• The Houston District Office of the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
• City of Houston Office of Emergency Management
• City of Houston Department of Health and Human Services
• Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management
• Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County
• Newman & Newman, Inc.
• Texas A&M University Department of Educational Psychology, Center on Disability and Development
• Texas Children’s Hospital
• Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services

“Incorporating the needs of residents with functional and access needs continues to be a challenge in the way Houston plans for emergencies,” said Sharon Nalls, the Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Houston, “Seminars like this are important, bringing these various groups to the table, helping us prepare to serve all residents, regardless of their individual needs.”

Planning to respond to the requirements of the entire community during a disaster, including those individuals with functional and access needs continues to be a top regional priority. Seminar attendees were left with a challenge that was wholeheartedly embraced by attendees – to continue the conversation both locally and nationwide about incorporating all segments of our population in emergency planning, and to continue strengthening relationships between the disability community and emergency managers.

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