Better process needed for evacuating the disabled before natural disasters

Hurricane Sandy was a nightmare for most New Yorkers. For some disabled residents help did not come soon enough heightening their level of suffering and abandonment.

While there is no official count of disabled people who died in the storm, many of their tragic stories have survived. For example, some have heard the account of the legally blind and partially paralyzed 65-year-old man with cerebral palsy; he drowned in his Midland Beach home. Additionally, New Yorkers recall the tragedy of the woman who perished in her Gramercy Park apartment when her oxygen machine quit during a power outage. These are just a few of the troubling reports.

Natural disaster preparedness plans can easily overlook individuals who need extra assistance. People with disabilities differ in their needs. The government’s response in an emergency should be altered and adjusted for those with physical and mental limitations.

Fortunately, New York City has a special needs coordinator in the Office of Emergency Management. Moreover, feedback from advocacy groups is incorporated into disaster planning efforts. There is also an outreach program to inform New Yorkers during emergencies. However, while efforts were in place to protect disabled individuals, they did not all work.

For example, disabled persons who need electronic-based assistance were in serious risk as power outages spread across the City and into neighboring areas. Breathing ventilators and a number of other electricity-dependent devices, such as a lung-suction machines or feeding pumps, were inoperable during the catastrophe. These individuals needed to be in locations with generators to ensure their safety.

With these shortcomings in mind, it is important to revise emergency efforts designed for disabled residents. In addition to accessible transportation that accommodates power chairs and other electronic devices, some suggest accessible shelters that are publicized to those who need them.

Legal aftermath

Issues that disabled people encountered during Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene are currently being litigated in Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled v. Bloomberg.

Earlier this month, a federal judge granted class-action status to the plaintiffs who assert that the lack of a comprehensive plan for the evacuation of people with disabilities puts them at a disproportionate risk of injury or death.

Social Security Disability benefits

As the government works to refine disaster protocol for disable persons, those with disabilities can still benefit from Social Security Disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance and Social Security Income are federal benefits programs that provide aid to people who are unable to achieve gainful employment due to a permanent disabling physical or mental condition. Many of those who suffered in Hurricane Sandy may qualify for these benefits.

If you struggle with a debilitating condition, you should contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney today. A lawyer can inform you about available programs.