The Right to Be Rescued
U.S. courts have recognized that disaster plans must include everyone. People with disabilities have a right to be rescued in an emergency.
A core principle of planning for natural disaster emergencies in the Post-Katrina era is grounded in the disability rights motto, Nothing About Us Without Us. People with disabilities must be actively involved in the planning, whether that’s at the local government level, or planning the congregation’s response to an emergency, or when the congregation is providing support to an individual or family’s personal planning.
What Can Congregations Do?
Have presentations for the whole congregation about planning for emergencies that include information about disabilities as part of the overall picture. Have resources available to help all members prepare.
Planning with Individual Members and Families
Everyone’s disability is different. Getting to know disabled members, and having a church culture where everyone is included in congregational life, creates a culture where people can be comfortable disclosing what kinds of support they may need. It makes it easier for staff or emergency planning and education teams to know who the decision makers are in a household. Many adults with disabilities are independent and are experts in their own capabilities, and they direct any caregivers they may engage; it is not helpful to act in ways that remove their agency in decision making. Other adults and children may be dependent on their caregivers for decision making, and the congregation’s support may be directly to the caregivers. When we really know our members, we are more likely to offer support that fits and to direct it to the right person.
To be in a position to help, the congregation has to earn the trust of the person, and the person should be able to feel confident that information disclosed will be kept in a confidential file.
Encouraging & Helping Everyone in the Congregation to be Prepared, including people with disabilities
It’s a good idea for everyone to be prepared and have plans for what to do in an emergency. Few of us are at our best when disaster strikes; advanced planning saves lives. For example, anyone can have a Go Bag, so that you don’t forget to bring essential items in your haste. A congregation can provide resources and education about emergencies to everyone, and include additional resources and support for people with disabilities and/or their families or caregivers.
For a story about a congregation who included people with disabilities in their disaster response team, see Disaster Response Team Includes People of All Abilities
Local Community Planning
Get knowledgeable about your community’s planning process. What entities are involved, and what are the opportunities for the public to support that work?
With the recognition of the Right to Be Rescued, local emergency planning should include people with disabilities in the community’s planning process. How can you support the community’s emergency planners work to make the process inclusive of and accountable to the disability community?
Emergency plans incorporate community partners and volunteers. What relationships can your congregation build now to be involved and to support that work?
short documentary about the origin of the Right to be Rescued with stories from Hurricane Katrina, including links for more resources
Red Cross planning guide for people with disabilities
Feeling Safe, Being Safe resources in English and Spanish (from California but widely applicable)
emergency preparedness videos in ASL (from Illinois but widely applicable)
FEMA guide to planning for all kinds of emergencies for congregations
Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery-Dependent Assistive Technology
Emergency Preparedness for People With Disabilities – Guide and Checklist