Preparedness summit focuses on access & functional needs communities

Preparedness summit focuses on access & functional needs communities

  • The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) recently hosted the Arizona Partners in Preparedness Summit at the Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix
the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) recently hosted the Arizona Partners in Preparedness Summit at the Desert Willow Conference Center in Phoenix.

Phoenix— How can community members actively plan their own emergency response instead of relying on the government alone? To address this critical issue, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) recently hosted the Arizona Partners in Prepared­­ness Summit at the Desert Willow Conference Center.

Families, schools, media, businesses and churches, often referred to as “whole community,” are all part of the larger picture in preparing for an emergency - ensuring people with access and functional needs requirements are included in their emergency plans.

“It’s not about what we can do alone, but what we can do together,” Wendy Smith-Reeve, DEMA deputy director and emergency management director said. “Engaging the ‘Whole Community’ is not just a concept; it’s a national model for success in emergency preparedness planning.”

The State Access and Functional Needs Taskforce leaders, Smith-Reeve and Teresa Ehnert, ADHS bureau chief, public health emergency preparedness, shared milestones:

  • Shelter planning and inventory of shelters to support this population;

  • Demographic and geographical assessments to understand specific access and functional needs in order to support preparedness planning; and

  • Workshops and training available throughout the State.

In May 2018, Arizona will assist in a national mass care exercise, which will include the American Red Cross. Beth Boyd, a regional disaster officer with the American Red Cross, and Dan Porth, human services coordinator with DEMA announced the addition of a new position at the American Red Cross, a disability integration specialist, which will be incorporated in all regional American Red Cross branches across the nation.

The Functional Needs Support Program integrates a functional assessment of people with disabilities as they enter shelters during an evacuation to ensure the specific needs of these individuals are procured swiftly during their stay at the shelter.

In any emergency, medical and emotional support for people with disabilities is critical, providing continuity of the important services they need. Leaders from health insurers, including AHCCCS, Mercy Maricopa and United Healthcare are actively working to remove barriers, such as required pre-authorizations, to avoid gaps in care during an emergency.

Leaders from the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Division of Developmental Disabilities shared updates regarding plans for shelters to accommodate critical needs such as “quiet rooms” for those requiring a space with less stimuli and chaos— a need for people with autism, for example, especially during times of change or stress.

Another concern the whole community can help address is the importance of self-disclosure to first responders for those with disabilities such as what the individual’s disability is, but where they live, and any special assistance or medications they need.

Norm Duve, chief development officer for Marc Community Resources, echoed the importance of relationship-building with first responders for individuals, communities and participating organizations. He recommends understanding ahead of time how first responders will support people with access and functional disabilities. Being aware of the needs of this population in their geography will help when  first responders respond to assist. Regular drills for all organizations supporting a community in a time of emergency is imperative.  

“Regular drills keep you thinking about changes in your staff and the environment,” Duve said.

“For parents with children with special needs, situations can be fluid—even daily,” said Dawn Bailey, MCH (Maternal and Child Health)/OCSHCN (Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs) family advisor. “I can tell you that what seems simple to you— like making a preparedness plan— can be overwhelming for us because of the sheer number of things we have to do each day to care for our children with special needs,” Bailey said.

Bailey explained that a preparedness plan developed today may be outdated within weeks.

“Medications as well as nutritional, physical and emotional needs for my daughter change often,” she said. “I believe in taking accountability and do my best, but parents like me also need to know that shelters can support them during an emergency or evacuation.”

Bailey highlighted that many conditions for adults and children can be exasperated during a crisis or in a shelter environment, adding another complexity or “unknown” to the equation for the parent, first responders and shelter support teams.

Finally, a panel discussion tackled venues from schools to field trips to large stadiums, including:

  • In large venues, such as an amusement park or stadium, families should always have a reunification plan of where to meet in the event of an emergency; and

  • Relative to schools, Jim Lee, emergency preparedness advisor for the Arizona Department of Education advised that parents need to be knowledgeable of the school’s evacuation plan and understand where parents can reunite with children during an emergency. While a parent’s instinct is to go the school, often, this action will cause a delay in reuniting with the child and complications for first responders.

Parents should make certain their children have key information and contact numbers in the event of an emergency. Brett Heising reminded all, “Underneath all of these plans we discussed today are people. As long as we put people first, we will be successful.”