Increasing Inclusivity in Emergency Preparedness
LOS ANGELES — As Vance Taylor drove towards the wildfire in Lake County a few years ago, numerous cars drove past him, anxious to get out of the area. He continued driving toward it.
As chief of the state’s Office of Access and Functional Needs within the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, he was there to make sure individuals with disabilities, access and functional needs (DAFN) were taken care of at the local shelter.
As he pulled up, he noticed a van blocking the placard parking spots. The curb cuts were also blocked, making them inaccessible to his wheelchair. Inside, doors to the showers had a metal bar in between, preventing wheelchairs from getting in.
Last year, Taylor returned to the same shelter after another wildfire and found that the placard parking and curb cuts were accessible, and the showers were available to everybody.
Taylor was the keynote speaker at the “Community Lifelines: Energy Workshop” sponsored by the Homeland Security Advisory Council and Edison International. He spoke about DAFN inclusion and preparedness at the workshop attended by emergency management personnel from the counties of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego, city of Los Angeles, first responders and nonprofits.
The day-long workshop also addressed Public Safety Power Shutoffs and how to better collaborate across public, private and government sectors to better meet the needs of DAFN communities.
Don Daigler, SCE director of Business Resiliency, addressed the purpose of the workshop: “It doesn’t matter how you lose your power. We need to make sure our most vulnerable communities’ needs are met. We don’t have all the answers … and we need to work with you and these communities to more appropriately meet their needs.”
Participants hoped to walk away from the workshop with ideas and suggestions on how to move forward.
Most agreed on the need to promote “individual preparedness,” such as having a relative or neighbor as a designated driver, writing down the names of medications with a plan for refills, and signing up for emergency alerts.
Kevin McGowan, director of the Office of Emergency Management, County of LA, spoke about the increasing dependence on power during devastating wildfires and proactive power shutoffs.
“De-energization is no longer an energy issue, it’s a systemwide issue,” he said, noting that power shutoffs can also affect gas stations, cellphone towers and grocery stores. “We are looking at this holistically and it’s about as complex as you can get. The solution is a ‘shared responsibility.’”
It doesn’t matter how you lose your power. We need to make sure our most vulnerable communities’ needs are met. We don’t have all the answers … and we need to work with you and these communities to more appropriately meet their needs.”Don Daigler, SCE Director, Business Resiliency
The DAFN community includes a number of diverse groups, such as those with physical or intellectual disabilities, seniors, those with limited English proficiency, pregnant women and the homeless.
Laura Trejo, general manager for the Department of Aging for the city of Los Angles, spoke on the “Continuing the Conversation” panel. She noted that seniors may have more physical and language challenges during an emergency. Many will often put their pets first since in addition to companionship, they may play an important role as service animals.
“We need to have an honest conversation about roles and responsibilities,” said Sinan Khan, associate director, Response, Office of Emergency Management, County of LA. “There is a lot of work to be done. And a lot more collaboration will be needed.”
To better reach DAFN communities, SCE is creating internal and external AFN advisory panels. They are partnering with nonprofits, such as independent living centers, and funding grants for the creation of 211 county emergency phone services. The utility is also working with communities that have niche language needs such as the Mixtecos.
“SCE is good at what they do, but they don’t touch everyone. That’s what partnerships get. The work we do here will save lives,” said Taylor. “It’s about neighbors helping neighbors. Leverage this as an opportunity to be better prepared for all events. Each of us share in this responsibility.”