Including You: A Disability Rights Arkansas Podcast

Inclusive Disaster Preparedness

August 03, 2023 Disability Rights Arkansas Season 1 Episode 8
Including You: A Disability Rights Arkansas Podcast
Inclusive Disaster Preparedness
Including You: A Disability Rights AR Podcast
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Show Notes Transcript

Natural disasters can happen anywhere and to anyone – they don’t discriminate. But when the power is out, transportation is limited, or you are isolated from others – it can be detrimental to the disability community. We are here with Logan Perkes, from Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, to talk about how FEMA can help people with disabilities and how we can prepare in case of said disasters.

Guest: 

  • Logan Perkes, Management Analyst | Portfolio Disability Integration Specialist 
    FEMA Region 6 | Texas Integration and Recovery Office

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Lani Jennings-Hall:

At Disability Rights, Arkansas, we are focused on guidance for people with disabilities on how to navigate your rights, things that help with your everyday life, and how to navigate the complex systems of how to get the support you need. In this podcast, Including You, we bring that information directly to you, the listener on things like accessibility questions, career and care, and even the nuances of love life with a disability. Everyone has the right to know their rights, everyone, including you. I'm your host, Lani Jennings-Hall. Natural disasters can happen anywhere and to anyone, they don't discriminate. But when the power is out, or transportation is limited, or when you're isolated from others, it can be detrimental for the disability community. We are here with Logan Perkes from Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to talk about how FEMA can help people with disabilities and how we can prepare in case of set disasters. Logan, thank you so much for joining me today on including you.

Logan Perkes:

Thank you so much for having me.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Yeah, so Logan can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and your role at FEMA?

Logan Perkes:

Yeah, so I'd love to. So again, my name is Logan Perkes, and I'm a Disability Integration Specialist for FEMA Region six, and FEMA Region six covers, of course, Arkansas, also Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. I work in emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. And then I also deploy and respond when there's a federally declared disaster. I also have personal experience, I became disabled as a child. And so I use that lived experience to make me better at my job. So I know what it's like to see general advice out there that's given to people with disabilities during disasters and kind of get frustrated, because I feel like it doesn't always apply to me. So for example, where I live, we occasionally get extreme winter weather. And so it's here on the news to shut off your water so that your pipes don't freeze. But for me, that would be incredibly difficult, because you have to do that outside your house. And I remember I went and I bought the tool that you need to shut off the water. And I can only use one hand and I was thinking, There's no way that I can do this by myself. So I think there's still the assumption and advice given in the emergency management community, that most people are able bodied and have the ability to do all of the recommendations that they provide. And that is how I became passionate about emergency management.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

I really think that's a great point, just general thoughts to come out, oh, hey, you can do this? Or hey, shelter in place here or why don't you just evacuate to this location when that may not be possible? If there's not those accommodations in place, can you talk maybe a little bit about how FEMA is able to support people with disabilities in these kinds of instances?

Logan Perkes:

Sure, FEMA, we have an office of disability integration and coordination. And that Office supports the entire agency, and it provides guidance to support disaster survivors and programs. That includes any housing mission, if people who've been impacted by a disaster, need housing from FEMA, or any grant assistance that individuals or nonprofits governments may receive from FEMA. So this office ensures that these programs are factoring in the needs of people with disabilities. We send advisors who are trained with helping people with disabilities to make sure that their needs are being factored in. One of the things that advisors do is go out to recovery centers and make sure that they're accessible for people with disabilities, making sure that staff know how to provide interpreters if anyone who is deaf needs to access services. So those are just some examples of how the Office supports disaster survivors with disabilities. And then at the regional level, I support preparedness activities with community engagement outreach, and so I attend awareness events, I can lead trainings on preparedness for people with disabilities with ease. I also work with state and local partners to include people with disabilities and emergency planning and response.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

So I want to ask just as we were preparing for this podcast talking about trainings, and I really hadn't thought about this within natural disasters, the extreme heat being one of the big trainings that FEMA is doing right now.

Logan Perkes:

Yes, on certain months, FEMA, a lot of times we'll highlight at the national level certain topics that are relevant. Extreme heat, I think it's the one for right now. And obviously, that has a huge impact on everyone, people with disabilities, especially ours and your citizens, and the older population can be disproportionately impacted by heat as well.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Man this heat is not playing right now.

Logan Perkes:

Yes, every year seems to get worse and worse. And so it's definitely something to be aware of. And we'll get into later some resources for how to stay aware of things like heat and other hazards out there.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

There's a lot of natural disasters in Arkansas, flooding, ice storms, how should people with disabilities plan for these disasters?

Logan Perkes:

The number one thing is to be aware, because if you don't know what's going on, then it's really hard to plan. Most of us these days have smartphones. And so having the right apps and the most accurate information about how dangerous it is outside gives a warning for people so they know to stay hydrated. It's dangerous level of heat. The FEMA app has information when there is the federally declared disaster like in Arkansas, you can apply for services through the app, and it has the locations of the disaster recovery centers. So it's just a great one stop shop for disaster alerts, warnings and then FEMA services.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Here in Arkansas, we do have a lot of rural communities that may not have access to some of those things. Do you have any recommendations, maybe for those without that access?

Logan Perkes:

If someone doesn't have a smartphone, then they can watch local television, listen to the radio, also ask family or friends, neighbors to keep them updated, because usually they'll know someone maybe who has a smartphone or is more interested in technology. And that is really a great source of information. Because I know sometimes people watch news maybe in the evening. And so that's not always the most up to date information. If things are happening during the day, I would say let people know that you want to receive that information. Also, you can sign up for alert systems where they'll notify via text message,

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Here Greenbrier, I've been impressed with some of the more local texts.

Logan Perkes:

So that's great, because a lot of times the texts will work even if it's not a smartphone. So that's a great system that a lot of local governments are coming out with staying aware is just knowing what part of the state you're in and Arkansas, certain parts of the state may be impacted by earthquakes. But other parts of the state may be more impacted by flooding, or tornadoes. So just knowing your specific area will really help you know how to prepare and then knowing based on your disability, what your needs are. So if you're a wheelchair user, knowing Okay, I need to make sure that I take my transfer board, in case I'm going to a shelter because it's not very likely they're going to have that. Or if you take life sustaining medication, make sure you have that available on your emergency kit. And then or your stay at home preparations recommends flashlights, which can work for some people. Like I said, I can only use one hand. So I have headlamps or a neck light so that I can still use my hand. And I find those are helpful for everybody. Because you don't want to be holding a flashlight if you don't need to give it frees up your hands. So there's a lot of technology out there that you can use that I think is more user friendly for people with disabilities. Preparing is really about problem solving for people with disabilities. And we do that every day. Anyway. So it's just applying that skill set to disability to emergency preparedness.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

You talked about an emergency kit. Do you have any other recommendations that have been helpful for having to shelter in place?

Logan Perkes:

Generally, they recommend having maybe five to seven days worth of water. We've had water contamination problems occasionally from power shutdowns or other natural disasters. And so they'll have a boil water notice, but to me that's really challenging. They can't lift heavy pots of water. And so when I buy extra water, I buy the individual size water, even though that's not so convenient. But I can manage those easier for myself. It goes back to what is manageable. I always like to plan for being alone, even though I don't live alone. Because you just never know you could get separated from someone in your household or you could have to separate. So I like to be able to make sure that if I am alone, that I can take care of myself.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

That's a great point. What do you say to people with disabilities who think it's too hard to prepare for something that isn't very likely to happen?

Logan Perkes:

I can understand that sentiment, we do get a lot of warnings, and things don't always come up if you would rather be ready if it does happen. And like you said, there were the recent tornadoes in Arkansas, and most people that were impacted, probably didn't expect that to happen to them. So you just never know. So I always say it's better to be prepared. Because when you prepare for a disaster, even a large disaster like an earthquake, or tornado, you're using skills, and developing plans that you can use for smaller disasters. So it's really not that hard to sit down with your household members or caregivers and come up with an evacuation plan. Write down emergency contact numbers, decide which person is going to handle which task in an emergency. If it's a teen with autism, she can be assigned the responsibility to help her grandmother get to a safe spot. If there's a tornado warning. It can be a family activity that can be made fun, even. There's some national preparedness events. The Great ShakeOut is the national drill where everyone in the country prepares for an earthquake at the same time. So I think there's ways to make it more interesting and fun, and doesn't take a lot of time. And if you think about it, we all prepare for disasters and emergencies at school. And at work. We had fire drills, we think about our evacuation plans, we even time ourselves. And we've turned it into somewhat of a game. And so I think if we're doing that at work in school, why not do it at home? I think that if we all did that, it could really go a long way in terms of safety. And the other thing I found is it's helped me be more organized. If I didn't have to leave the house really quickly. I should have everything in one spot. Now I have all my important documents in one place. I know where they are. So when I need them for other things like a doctor's appointment, I know exactly where my insurance card is. It's in this packet where I have everything out so I know where my passport is, I need to book a flight. So being prepared for disasters or emergencies is useful for other situations too.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

You made a couple of really good points that I want to touch. You talk about the tornadoes and your tornado warnings and having a tornado when it definitely would have been useful. Here I was with a toddler corralling her and two senior beagles into a closet trying to make a game of a tea party underneath the mattress because there's a tornado on the way had I been prepared and been a little more organized. I would have known we've got this already prepared. Everyone in the family knows where we go and a plan gets you organized for other things to, making sure your medications, your important paperwork are available. For me my medication list and all of my contact information for all my doctors. It's in my phone.

Logan Perkes:

Yes, definitely. Handwriting things seems old fashioned, but it does come in handy.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Are there other resources for people with disabilities to prepare for disasters?

Logan Perkes:

Yeah, so I had mentioned earlier the FEMA app, and it's a great resource for people with disabilities. It was redesigned to make it more user friendly for people with disabilities. So it has a lot more photos and it's written in plain language so it's more accessible for Deaf people and anyone with a cognitive disability. It has a lot of educational information. So things you're talking about, like our awareness campaigns on heat and other types of awareness campaigns, so people Little can learn about hazards. Also ready.gov is the main preparedness site out there. And it has a section specific to people with disabilities, and for families and also for pets. It's also good to think about your animals and what you would do with your animals in an emergency. I have a cat and cats are harder to corral than dogs. Usually, a great Arkansas resource is the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities website has an excellent video about preparedness. And they also have a checklist that is available in English, Spanish and also Marshallese. For the large Marshallese population, they're in Arkansas, so I highly recommend that resource. And then one last thing that people often don't think of is to contact their local emergency managers, they can reach out to them and just introduce themselves. If they feel like in a disaster, they may need special assistance because of their disabilities, they can just talk to their local office and find out what resources are available or if they have any advice for them about what they should do your best resources or your local resources.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Logan, that's a great point. I also want to add DRA is working on a resource here for Arkansas as well. We're creating an emergency preparedness website resource, it does link to FEMA, and it's got some additional links as well. We do have videos from FEMA that you guys have released when a natural disaster has occurred. And then we will have a form that you can submit all of your emergency information, your pets, your contact information, your caregivers contact information, your medication printed out and documented.

Logan Perkes:

Yeah, that's great. That's good to have a hardcopy and I also will email it to myself that way, if I'm honest, someone else's computer, I can access it via my email.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

That's great. So what are so common barriers for people with disabilities during and after disasters that you've experienced in your line of work?

Logan Perkes:

Transportation is always a big one. During a disaster, people with disabilities may have more challenges evacuating, especially if they're wheelchair users, or they have walkers or other durable medical equipment they need to take with them, but they might already struggle with accessible transportation. And then as we know, usually, transportation options available aren't on demand. They're scheduled rides. So that's a barrier that people with disabilities face. Often people with disabilities have fewer financial resources, especially if they receive SSI benefits, they're not allowed to save any money or have more than $1,000 in their bank account. So if they lose all their belongings in a disaster, they don't have a savings that they can purchase new things to replace what they've lost. And so that's why it's harder for people with the very low income with disabilities to be resilient after a disaster. And then of course, people who are have Medicaid, Medicare, or even other health insurance programs, it can be hard to get replacement medications or durable medical equipment, national challenge that some other people have to deal with. FEMA can provide some extra funding for people with disabilities to replace items. We are trained to distribute our funds in an equitable way. And we do have advisors that are out in the field, and then we partner with the state and local agencies.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

So one final question. Do you had mentioned in your introduction that how you got involved was for personal experience? That's how you got into your line of work? How can people with disabilities get involved with emergency preparedness and response and recovery?

Logan Perkes:

That's a great question. Emergency Managers and agencies are interested to hear from people with disabilities and get our input. And so one way that people with disabilities can get involved in their local communities is by something called cert. And that stands for community emergency response teams. And those are volunteer programs, where you are trained in some basic skills that if there was ever a disaster, then your team would be deployed to potentially help until some responders could get there for For example, you might help with search and rescue, disaster mental health, things like that. It's very empowering program. And it's a welcoming program, take people of all abilities and skill levels and interests. So whatever you're able to contribute, you can contribute to the CERT teams. That's one way to get involved and learn more about emergency management. And then FEMA has committees that are always seeking members for input on emergency management emergency preparedness. I'm not sure right now of Arkansas, any committees, but your local city or county emergency management offices have local committees that you could join to provide input, I think there's a lot of opportunity out there. And as you continue to have more disasters, the interest is going to keep growing at the grassroots level, people are going to become more engaged in the disability community.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Well, and as you said, Who knows better, what type of change needs to happen in these type of recovery efforts after a disaster, then the people with the lived experience.

Logan Perkes:

And there's also the Red Cross, it's always seeking volunteers. So when there is a disaster, you can provide guidance and advice on assisting people with disabilities. So there really are opportunities, and a lot of them initially are unpaid, but then it can lead to paid opportunities, like working for FEMA, um, a lot of city counties and states are starting to hire paid positions in disability and access some functional need in emergency managers. If you feel like it's a career that might interest you, then I would say go for it. It's very fulfilling, and it's a good way to start

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Logan, we really appreciate you joining us today on Including You and sharing all of this great information listeners, we will make sure that we share all of the links and resources that Logan has talked about today. Logan, thank you so much for all of this information today.

Logan Perkes:

Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Thank you again Logan for joining me today on Including You. And thank you listeners. Disasters don't discriminate. They hit hard, especially within the disability community. But that doesn't mean we can't prepare and respond. How can we ensure that people with disabilities are better represented with larger emergency preparedness plans by making sure people with disabilities are involved in the planning on the front end? At Disability Rights Arkansas we envision in Arkansas where people with disabilities are equal members in their communities and conduct their lives through self determination. And as made clear in this podcast can't create that change without bringing self advocates to the table. If you are interested in more information, make sure to subscribe to this podcast and visit our website. And don't forget to leave a five star rating and a review.