Impact Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities
Establishing Information-Sharing Partnerships:
The Connecticut Approach
The events of September 11, 2001 focused public attention on existing emergency preparedness, response, and recovery practices. Government entities across the country were asked to review, and if necessary, develop and/or revise their response to a catastrophic event. In Connecticut, the governor asked each state agency to develop comprehensive plans to address such events.
People involved in emergency preparedness and response must appreciate the likelihood that many community members may have cognitive disabilities that might diminish their ability to understand or respond to an emergency. With so many community members having a disability that may impact their ability to independently execute appropriate self-preservation actions, planning for emergencies and their aftermath is a challenging undertaking. In support of this effort, many of Connecticut’s 169 towns, supported by the state’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), have developed or are considering developing aSpecial Needs Registry.
A Special Needs Registry represents a method whereby people indicating their need for special support during an emergency voluntarily list themselves, informing the local emergency authority of their presence. Towns employ such registries as an information source to support pre-emergency planning efforts. Registries are also used to alert citizens of impending emergencies. Additionally, emergency responders use registries to identify and prioritize emergency service efforts, such as evacuation, transportation, sheltering, and health care during and following a disaster. Community emergency management personnel in Connecticut consider such registries an extremely useful tool.
The Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) provides services and supports to over 19,000 individuals and their families through a network of public and private providers. DMR realized early on that our support role, in the event of an emergency, could include the sharing of clients’ Protected Health Information with state and municipal emergency response personnel. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it would be essential for state and local emergency responders to have access to such information prior to an emergency event. Emergency management officials’ ability to access and analyze this information would be essential to the development of local emergency plans that would be responsive to the needs of all citizens.
To bridge any information gaps about the special needs of our clientele in an emergency, DMR and DEMHS established a collaborative relationship in 2002. Since then, DMR has participated in over a dozen DEMHS emergency drills associated with nuclear safety, homeland security, and natural disasters. At each, DMR brings to the attention of state, local, and/or federal emergency personnel the emergency management needs of the clients of the department. Additionally, a DMR Emergency Management Liaison Team is continually present at the DEMHS Emergency Operations Center during emergency management events.
Emergency Individual Fact Sheetwith critical information about the person, should they need to be evacuated and/or relocated. It includes the names and addresses of the individual, their physician, and their pharmacy; as well as critical dietary, medical and other information. In addition, a Medication Administration Record (e.g., Kardex) is transported with the individual at the time of relocation.
Individual Identification Badgeto be attached to the individual’s clothing. It is a reduced copy of the Emergency Individual Fact Sheet with the person’s photograph. The badge contains information necessary to insure their safety should they be in the care of others who do not know them.
DMR’s Emergency Management Databasecontaining essential emergency information regarding clients of the department and service providers. It is a means for DMR to establish and maintain operational communications and continual access to vital information during a widespread emergency or significant disaster that could threaten the health and safety of those we serve. It is updated monthly, and certain information shared monthly with DEMHS, who shares it with municipal emergency management directors.
Additionally, DMR, with the support of DEMHS, has surveyed municipal emergency management directors as to what information about people they might need to plan for and execute emergency evacuation and relocation. Survey results will help shape information release forms to be signed by department clientele, authorizing DMR to release information about their emergency management needs to local and state emergency personnel. This form will indicate the information will be updated at least monthly by DMR, and that recipients of the information must keep it secure and ensure it is used only for the purpose of emergency planning and response. Status of individual release form information will be maintained by DMR in the emergency management database.
We, as service providers, must actively ensure the emergency management needs of those we serve are addressed. This includes establishing partnership and information-sharing relationships between people with special emergency management needs and government entities. We have found that innovative and balanced strategies that respect the individual’s right to privacy, while addressing their needs in a time of crisis, can be arrived at through ongoing dialogue between people with disabilities, service providers, and emergency management personnel.