The first response when natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires strike is for everyone to evacuate the area. But that’s not always possible for more than 60 million disabled Americans.
Now, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is introducing legislation to better equip first responders and others to save lives.
Casey’s proposal, called the READI (Readying Elders and Americans with Disabilities Inclusively) for Disasters Act would address several key problems. First, establish training and technical assistance disaster centers, places where first responders, public health and social agencies can get the tools and resources needed to save more lives. The top goal, according to the bill, is to reduce “deaths, injuries and losses from disasters.”
The education would also establish more uniform and expanded evacuation notifications and orders throughAmerican Sign Language, captions, and plain language on websites, instructional materials, and television and radio announcements, according to language in the bill.
“READI” will also establish the National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters to determine the biggest problems disabled Americans face in these situations, and how to solve them.
Casey’s plan would provide up to $50 million nationwide each fiscal year through 2024 for training and assistance, mostly in grant funding.
The “READI” Act is meant to help older Americans during disasters, as well. For example, 70 percent of the deaths stemming from Hurricane Maria in 2017 were Americans age 70 or older, according to the bill.
This would cover everything from major, catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires in recent months, to the localized snowstorms and flooding we’ve seen over the last two years, Casey said.
“When we’re planning for disaster response, when we’re actually responding a disaster and then dealing with the aftermath, in all three circumstances folks with disabilities and seniors and their needs are not considered,” he added.
So far, “READI” has support from six fellow Senate Democrats. But with time running out to get this through Congress before the end of the year, Casey will have re-introduce it in January, he said.