By Norman Smith
Eighteen hours after the earthquake hit Haiti, Romel Joseph was pulled out the rubble of his music school. Joseph, who is a violinist and is blind, was in his apartment over his music school when everything collapsed around him killing his pregnant wife.
As has been learned in past California earthquakes, these type of disasters wreck havoc on an equal opportunity basis creating victim of people with and without disabilities. Surviving the quake is only the first challenge to be met.
Romel Joseph was rescued by friends and sent to a U.S. hospital for treatment as U.S. citizen, but what if he had not been injured and did not have dual citizenship? Could he have survived as a blind man in the chaotic aftermath of an earthquake?
The Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco in cooperation with June Isaacson Kailes, a disability and emergency preparedness consultant, developed “Earthquake Tips for People with Disabilities” to assist in planning to function in the chaotic aftermath.
The underlying message of this document is to plan for rescuers not to be ready for the disability aspect of your life.
“Plan for enough disability-related supplies for up to two weeks (medication syringes, colostomy, respiratory, catheter, padding, distilled water, etc.). If you have a respiratory, cardiac or multiple chemical sensitivities condition, store towels, masks, industrial respirators or other supplies you can use to filter your air supply. Do not expect shelters or first aid stations to meet your supply needs. In an emergency supplies will be limited,” said the Tips under the category of adding to regular disaster supply kit.
The first advice given to people with disabilities is to develop a personal support network of friends, family members, personal attendants, co-workers and/or neighbors.
“Some people rely on personal assistance services (attendants). This type of assistance may not be available after a major quake. Therefore it is vital that your personal support network consist of different people than those who are your personal attendants,” said Tips document.
Another suggestion made is for people with disabilities to conduct an “ability” self-assessment. Also known as a “functional” self-assessment, this requires the person to think through situations such as loss of power, loss of gas, or a debris strewed environment to determine what kind of assistance will be needed in those situations.
Earthquakes can occur in many place in the U.S. People with disabilities outside of California should not think that these Tips do not apply to them. Major earthquakes can occur in the Midwest and the Northeast, and preparing for them can help prepare for more likely disasters such as blizzards.
“Earthquake Tips for People with Disabilities” can be found at www.preparenow.org/eqtips.html. More preparedness information for people with disabilities can be found at www.jik.com/disaster.html
More preparedness information can be found at Ready.gov, FEMA.gov, AmericanRedCross.org