Trump Signs Law Improving Disaster Planning For Those With Disabilities

The federal government will be required to do more to consider the needs of people with disabilities when hurricanes, fires and other disasters strike under a new law signed by President Donald Trump.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act, which was signed by the president this week, calls for the creation of a national advisory committee specifically focused on disaster planning for those with disabilities.

Comprised of government officials, health care professionals and people with disabilities, the committee will be tasked with reviewing federal policies and making recommendations to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are properly factored in disaster planning.

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“No American should ever feel like they might be left behind or forgotten when disaster strikes,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who proposed the advisory panel and who has a disability himself. “By including people with disabilities as advisors during disaster planning and policy development, this bill ensures that the unique needs of this vulnerable community will be included.”

The establishment of the so-called National Advisory Committee on Individuals with Disabilities and Disasters is part of a larger law enhancing the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters and public health emergencies. It comes as multiple government reports in recent months have exposed flaws in the nation’s disaster preparedness for people with disabilities.

Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that people with disabilities and individuals over age 65 “faced particular challenges evacuating to safe shelter, accessing medicine and obtaining recovery assistance” during the 2017 hurricane season. Investigators said that changes are needed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to better accommodate this population.

Separately, a report out last month from the National Council on Disability found that people with disabilities are often unnecessarily institutionalized during and after disasters because of conflicting federal guidance and inadequate access to services, among other issues.

Kate Williams