The Mid-Atlantic chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America is partnering with the city of Richmond, VA, to ensure chapter members and other individuals with disabilities in the region do not get left behind in case of emergency.
The Mid-Atlantic Chapter in 2012 forged a relationship with the Richmond city government to ensure not only individuals with disabilities in the region are prepared for emergencies or disasters but that response teams, shelters and other government services are prepared as well.
The chapter attends two monthly Richmond emergency meetings – one with Richmond Emergency Manager Anthony Mclean and a group of advisors to gather input and confirm which sites are most accessible to individuals with disabilities in cases of emergency. The second meeting, done with local hospitals and the Virginia Department of Health, focuses on how the chapter and local government can better work together during disasters.
“The types of things the city of Richmond has for us to use and to go in terms of emergencies is welcoming,” said Jeff East, treasurer for the Mid-Atlantic chapter. “But we’ve also brought to light some of the things the city could better prepare for, including our specific equipment needs in cases of emergency.”
Mclean stepped into his role as emergency manager during Hurricane Irene in 2011. It was then that officials discovered that the city’s six shelters were not capable of supporting citizens with medical equipment. Since then – with the help of the Mid-Atlantic chapter – the city is now capable of providing a hot meal, hot shower and better equipment and backup for individuals who need to charge power wheelchairs and other medical equipment, as well as laptops and cell phones, Mclean said.
The relationship also helps the chapter keep members better informed about emergencies or other warnings, including cold weather, said Jennifer Purser, administrative director for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter. Warnings are e-mailed from the city directly to the chapter, which in turn forwards that information – generally via e-mail – out to members.
The next step is to host the region’s first workshop for citizens with disabilities to train them on how they can best prepare themselves for an emergency or disaster. This includes ensuring that individuals with disabilities are prepared with flashlights, a generator and other items to ensure they are taken care of for at least a short amount of time, particularly if emergency responders are unable to reach them immediately.
“It’s the small things that are critical for anyone, especially citizens with disabilities,” Mclean said. “They’re not thinking on the front end that they may need that extra battery. And if you’re not thinking on the front end, you’re thinking in the 11th hour that you should have been more prepared.”
Purser said the chapter’s involvement with city emergency planning has opened up several new partnerships, including one with a separate committee for local hospital officials, including the local VA hospital, to discuss where individuals with disabilities can go if all shelters are full. The chapter also has developed relationships with local universities to coordinate activities and events, and hopes to eventually engage the VA to get more veterans prepared for emergencies, she added.
Purser stressed the need for all Paralyzed Veterans of America chapters to know their local emergency planners as well as officials from their state and local health agencies.
“It’s really an advantage if you can find who your emergency coordinator is,” Purser said. “It’s almost a disservice to not do it. It’s been beneficial to us, and it’s been beneficial to the city. It’s about doing what you can to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.