September is National Preparedness Month, and ready.gov has many resources to help you, your family, and your community prepare for those events which can upend our lives – from individual housefires or traffic accidents to large scale weather events or earthquakes. Inclusive disaster preparation considers that people in a community have a wide range of needs and abilities which must be addressed in planning for emergencies. For example: a shelter should be able to accommodate people with different mobility needs, information in emergency alerts should be available in multiple formats and languages. Inclusive disaster preparedness also means that the planning process itself should include representatives from all parts of the community, including people with disabilities.
Early NIDILRR-funded Research in Emergency Management
We turned to the NIDILRR Program Database to find some of the earliest research and development projects focusing on inclusive preparedness, most of which targeted alert and evacuation. These projects included:
- Waking and Evacuation Effectiveness for Strobe Flash with the Severely Hearing Impaired (1986-1989) which studied current visual alarms and designed a total interactive rehabilitation safety program to maximize protection from fire and other hazards.
- Building Egress for Mobility Impaired Persons in Alaska (1987) which studied emergency exit devices in multistory buildings in Alaska.
- Emergency Warning and Evacuation for Individuals with Disabilities (1993) which developed a registry and alert system for people with disabilities in a Florida community.
Training, Planning, and Integrating
Later projects expanded to training self-advocates, integrating accessibility into safety planning, and accessing emerging technology for emergency communications.
- Emergency Preparedness Training Software with Universal Access (2002) proposed a web-based program to train people who are Deaf and hard of hearing in self-advocacy and survival skills for life-threatening situations.
- Project Safe EV-AC: Safe Evacuation and Accommodation of People with Disabilities (2004-2006) developed high-quality, comprehensive, easy-to-use safe evacuation materials that include people with disabilities.
- Access to Locally Televised On-Screen Information: Auditory Messaging and Captions During Emergency Broadcasts (2005-2008) explored and prototyped digital television solutions that enable local TV stations to send alerts that meet the needs of people with sensory disabilities.
- Evacuation Methodology and Understanding Behavior of Persons with Disabilities in Disasters: A Blueprint for Emergency Planning Solutions (2007-2009) looked at the unique challenges of people with disabilities during emergency and disaster evacuations, gathering data on the state of preparedness to meet those challenges.
- The Captioned Braille Radio Initiative: Providing Emergency Information for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind (2009-2012) focused on standardization of a captioned Braille digital radio service model to serve deaf-blind consumers.
- Proximity-Based Fire Alert Notifications for Hearing Impaired (2017) tested a smoke detector that would push text alerts to a user’s cell phone or smart device.
Building a Culture of Inclusion
The latest NIDILRR-funded projects are working to promote inclusion in emergency planning and preparedness and the technology we now rely on in these situations.
- The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Telecommunications has focused on this area since 2004, as has the RERC on Wireless Inclusive Technologies since 2006. These two projects work with the telecommunications industry and regulators and legislators to ensure access to the networks and technologies we need to stay safe and informed.
- The ADA National Network is also focused on inclusion in emergency and disaster preparedness, as municipalities must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in their planning, building, and programming for emergencies. The Pacific ADA Regional Center offers regular webinars in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on inclusive preparedness. In addition, each regional center can assist local and state agencies and organizations to make their own emergency plans inclusive.
The NARIC collection includes more than 120 articles, books, and reports on emergency preparedness from these and other NIDILRR-funded projects. You can also explore the full collection of more than 225 articles indexed under “emergency preparedness” or more than 260 which also discuss types of emergency events from storms to man-made disasters in the NARIC collection (including international research).