Trial on NYC’s Defective Large Scale Disaster Plans Will Show Unnecessary Harm to New Yorkers with Disabilities and Increased Chance of Greater Harm in Future Disasters

New York, NY – March 11, 2013 – A Federal Court trial beginning today at 9:00 a.m. EST, 40 Foley Square, New York, Courtroom 1105, will expose the alleged deficiencies in New York City’s large scale disaster planning and demonstrate that such failures needlessly endanger the health and safety of seniors, women, children, and men with disabilities. Federal Judge Jesse M. Furman will hear from witnesses who have suffered as a result of the City’s failures, as well as experts on disability and emergency planning, and people who work with people with mobility, sensory, cognitive, and mental health disabilities.

Today’s testimony will highlight that much of the misery experienced by New Yorkers with disabilities during emergencies such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy could have been prevented if the City had addressed the unique needs of people with disabilities in its disaster plans.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2011 (more than a year before Sandy), on behalf of organizations that serve people with disabilities and individuals with disabilities, seeks effective large scale disaster planning for people with all types of disabilities. The named plaintiffs are Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID), Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), Gregory D. Bell and Tania Morales. The case gained class status in November 2012 for the City’s 900,000 residents with disabilities, including those with vision, hearing, mobility, cognitive and mental health disabilities. The class is represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center with offices in California and New York City, which specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

Despite the lessons of 9/11 over a decade ago and an increasing number of weather emergencies, New York City continues to ignore the critical needs of people with disabilities in emergency planning. To this day, New York City still has no system to evacuate large numbers of people with disabilities trapped in high-rise buildings. It does not know which emergency shelters are wheelchair accessible and affirmatively tells people with disabilities their needs will not be met at shelters. The City has no protocol to address the needs of most people with disabilities in power outages and lacks reliable and effective communication systems. The City also relies largely on inaccessible public transportation for emergency evacuation and has major deficiencies for this population in its recovery plans.

Joan Peters, Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID) commented: “New Yorkers with disabilities deserve a chance to survive disasters. Yet, during Hurricane Sandy they were left in the dark about critical emergency information including which if any shelters were wheelchair accessible, what types of emergency services shelters would provide, and what residents should do if they were trapped in their buildings.”

Plaintiff Gregory Bell who is blind and has diabetes commented: “Accessing critical emergency information is a matter of life and death for people with disabilities. People with diabetes must know which if any emergency shelters can provide refrigeration for life-sustaining medications and offer diabetic meals. People who are blind require evacuation zone maps in formats they can read to know whether they must evacuate and may require evacuation assistance during emergencies.”

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) commented: “Despite New York City’s experience with 9/11 and recent Hurricanes, it has not effectively planned for the needs of people with disabilities. Failure to account for the needs of disability populations perpetuates unnecessary harm in future disasters to come.”

Shawna Parks, Co-Director of Litigation of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) commented: “The solution for keeping people with disabilities safe in disasters is not difficult or expensive. It’s a matter of planning. The City’s response for this population has historically been to make decisions on the fly when a disaster strikes. That’s just not good enough, particularly in a city like New York, and puts people’s health, safety and very lives at risk in every major disaster. New York can do better, and under the law it must.”    


Shawna Parks, Co-Director of Litigation (and lead counsel), Disability Rights Advocates, 310-866-7531 or 212-644-8644, (reachable at the end of trial each day)

Daniel Brown, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, 212-634-3095, (reachable at the end of trial each day)

(If you need assistance reaching the attorneys, please contact Mike Puleo, Paralegal, Disability Rights Advocates, New York Office, 212-644-8644 or on trial days, by cell: 914-374-9134 or by email: