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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Disability Organizations Making a Difference in Disaster Response

In recent months, several areas of our country have been hard hit with disaster. California has experienced wild fires and Texas and South Carolina have experienced torrential rains and flooding. NCIL, Portlight Strategies, FEMA, Red Cross and various other non-governmental organizations have worked together to provide disaster response and recovery in the hardest hit areas.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingNCIL, through their partnership with Portlight Strategies and local CILs and SILCs, has had a presence in California, Texas, and South Carolina during disaster response and recovery. As agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding between NCIL and Portlight, the two entities will work together to ensure that the needs of the disability community are being met before, during, and after a disaster. Portlight, through their partnership with American Red Cross, deployed staff to these areas to ensure: shelter accessibility, accessible response and recovery services, and to provide Just In Time training to Red Cross volunteers working the disaster.

These partnerships allowed both NCIL and Portlight to get involved in a meaningful way. For example: Portlight coordinated and funded daily disability stakeholder calls in all three areas. As NCIL was already aware, some CILs will have the capacity to provide disaster recovery services and other CILs may not. By establishing the disability stakeholder calls, we were quickly able to determine which CILs, SILCs, or IL Associations could and would be involved in disaster recovery, which ones could provide minimal information and referral and which ones might need some assistance themselves. In addition, the calls encouraged networking among all of the local and national disaster response entities to ensure that the needs of the disability community were met. Through these calls, NCIL and Portlight learned what was working well and what areas of service may need immediate attention.

In addition to the disability stakeholder calls, Portlight’s deployment into the disaster areas allowed for immediate access to individuals with disabilities needing assistance. Working with local Centers for Independent Living allowed Portlight to replace lost durable medical equipment and supplies as soon as possible and to establish valuable relationships with local businesses and organizations that could continue to provide long term relief in the areas.

Portlight Strategies logoFinally, deployment to disaster areas allowed Portlight to determine the accessibility of the Red Cross services being provided to disaster survivors. Portlight shared that information with NCIL and local CILs and SILC representatives who were able to advocate for immediate improvements at shelters, disaster recovery centers and within program services, thus ensuring that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against and receive the most accessible and appropriate services after a disaster.

These relationships in emergency management continue to evolve daily as we learn more and more about the needs after each disaster. Our primary goal has been and remains: to help save the lives of individuals with disabilities affected by disaster.

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