City of Richmond Adopts New Emergency Plan to Address the Needs of People with Disabilities and the Elderly

Richmond, CA – June 8, 2011 – Through a cooperative effort announced today by Disability Rights Advocates and the City of Richmond, Richmond has adopted a new emergency plan to address the needs of people with all types of disabilities.

In 2008, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit legal center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, wrote a letter to the City of Richmond on behalf of Dorene Giacopini, an individual with a mobility disability who uses a wheelchair, regarding the need to include persons with disabilities in its emergency planning.

After receiving the letter, the City immediately began to work cooperatively with DRA to ensure that its emergency plan included persons with disabilities and the elderly. The City hired Sally Swanson Architects, a planning and architecture firm specializing in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities, to assist in formulating a plan to make the City’s emergency preparedness efforts more responsive to its disabled and elderly residents. The City also reviewed and used as a model, the approach adopted by the City of Oakland and designed by an expert in the field, June Kailes. Combining the work of Sally Swanson and the experience of Oakland, the City created a plan that is known as the Mass Care and Shelter Annex for People with Disabilities and the Elderly.

The City of Richmond has long been aware of the importance of emergency preparedness because of its close proximity to the large Chevron oil refinery and the regional dangers of earthquake, wild fires and tsunamis. Moreover, recent disasters like the earthquake in Japan and Hurricane Katrina have highlighted that persons with disabilities and the elderly are disproportionately at risk of being harmed and left behind when disasters strike. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nine percent of Richmond’s population is aged 65 and over and twenty percent have a disability.

As a part of the plan set forth in the Mass Care and Shelter Annex for People with Disabilities and the Elderly, Richmond will do the following:

  • Remedy identified physical obstacles that may prevent persons with mobility disabilities from being able to fully access emergency shelter sites so that all Richmond’s emergency shelters will become physically accessible. In the interim, if emergency shelters must be opened, those shelters that are opened will, to the extent possible, be the most physically accessible shelters.
  • Provide Functional Assessment Service Teams (FAST) training to City employees who are expected to work at emergency shelter sites so that employees can evaluate the specific needs of persons with disabilities and identify how best to support these needs in an emergency shelter.
  • Identify vendors that can supply emergency equipment and supplies needed by persons with disabilities (such as emergency generators, refrigeration units, accessible cots, DME and CMS) to City shelter sites.
  • Ensure emergency communications are in accessible formats. For instance, all City websites that will be used to provide emergency information will be fully accessible to persons with vision disabilities and all emergency announcements made on Richmond Cable Channel 25 will include qualified sign language interpreters and/or real-time captions for persons with hearing disabilities.
  • Continue to coordinate and strategize regarding meeting the needs of persons with disabilities in the event of an emergency through the quarterly meetings of Richmond’s People with Disabilities and the Elderly (PWD/E) Work Group which already has sixty-six (66) organizations as members.

“We would like to commend the City of Richmond for demonstrating that every city can and should address the needs of persons with disabilities and the elderly in its emergency planning,” said Mary-Lee Smith, an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “Richmond’s approval of this emergency plan for persons with disabilities and the elderly shows the City’s true commitment to its most vulnerable residents.”

City Manager, Bill Lindsay, said, “Richmond is proud to be at the forefront of communities that are taking steps to ensure that persons with disabilities and the elderly are not excluded or overlooked in emergency planning efforts.” He added, “We hope that Richmond’s Mass Care and Shelter Annex for People with Disabilities and the Elderly will serve as a model for other communities to follow.”

Dorene Giacopini also expressed her satisfaction with Richmond’s efforts. “I used to worry that I would not be able to access an emergency shelter because I use a wheelchair or because the emergency shelter staff would not be trained to assist a person like me with a disability. However, as a result of collaborative efforts between DRA and Richmond, I am relieved that Richmond now has an emergency plan for people with disabilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, which was just approved by the Richmond City Council last night, the new plan will be periodically updated and DRA will monitor Richmond’s progress in implementing the plan through 2013.


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