Because of this, the Red Cross has focused on making long-term infrastructure investments such as backup solar power, disaster training and backup battery installation for people who rely on electricity for their medical devices in hard-hit places like Northern California, said Brad Kieserman, the vice president for disaster operations and logistics at the organization.
Out of 2,059 community health centers throughout California, an analysis by Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian organization, shows that 61 percent lack a form of backup power. In Butte County, there are no community health centers with backup power, the analysis found.
The challenge of evacuating and caring for people with disabilities is not new. A large number of the more than 1,800 people killed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were older and disabled.
In response, Congress passed a law in 2006 requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to appoint a disability coordinator and develop guidelines to better serve people with disabilities. However, an accountability report published in 2019 showed that the agency had failed to provide comprehensive disability training to its staff. And the agency’s emergency preparedness report that year made no mention of those with disabilities.
A FEMA spokeswoman, Jaclyn Rothenberg, said that under President Biden, the agency was focused on strengthening its relationships with disability organizations as a way of improving preparedness.
Similarly, California is encouraging state officials to meet regularly with disability organizations, according to Vance Taylor, chief of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the state’s emergency services agency. Such organizations can offer expertise and assistance during evacuations — including by providing power wheelchairs, motorized lifts, ventilators or other supplies.
As a result of guidance from local disability organizations, Plumas County has set up an emergency transportation service for anyone who has a disability or who otherwise cannot drive, and Butte County now keeps a list of people who may need help in a crisis and sends law enforcement deputies to their homes during evacuations.