Emergency Preparedness: Vital Necessity or Expression of Privilege?

As I hear of recent and impending disasters and assess my, and my household’s state of preparedness, I’ve begun to ponder the assertion once made to me that it is privilege that allows me to be able to devote the time and energy that I have toward emergency preparedness.

Ok, I accept that if that’s the way you feel. I have a different take on the matter. Everyone, as much as they possibly can, should be prepared. Many of us have the mistaken belief that the government will, or should be there to help when disaster strikes, but as people who have lived through disasters can attest, the government is often NOT there, at least, for the first few days.

Sometimes, even when first responders know of folks with disabilities in their communities, they either cannot or will not help—a situation that can–and has–led to tragedy.

Check out this scenario: A tornado or hurricane blows through your town and your neighborhood is affected; there is damage and rubble everywhere, most likely, blocking off streets, highways, and the like, preventing first responders like police, fire rescue and ambulances from reaching your area to help you and your neighbors out.

Now, you and your family are in your home or apartment a bit shook up, but otherwise, ok. If you’re lucky, you still have power, so you watch TV or listen to the radio and are furious to learn that help will not arrive for three days. You’re panicking because there’s not much food in the house because you were supposed to go shopping tomorrow, and the water is only trickling out of the faucet.

You check on your neighbors and find that they’re pretty much in the same boat except that odd lady with the dreadlocks who lives on the corner. She says she’s a bit rattled but everyone is fine and they have plenty of food, water and supplies. She’s about to go check on some other neighbors and invites you to go along.

You ask how is it that she has plenty of food and water when everyone else doesn’t. She tells you she’s been putting aside a can of food here and there, a bottle of water here and there, stashing a roll of toilet paper and batteries here and there for a few months and making sure that her and her roommate’s wheelchairs have been kept fully charged. You figure the lady isn’t so weird after all, and maybe you and your neighbors should have listened to her instead of laughing.

You see, being prepared isn’t just for rich people or Preppers waiting for a race war or the zombie apocalypse. Being prepared is for everyone, from those wealthy enough to build underground shelters stocked to the ceiling to folks living on a fixed income relying on food stamps.

For me, being prepared also means helping and teaching my neighbors to be prepared, as well. I’m not rich, nor am I special or privileged. I am a person with disabilities, who has a part-time job and who makes a couple of bucks off of my writing when I can. In my free time, I took classes on emergency preparedness, classes which are absolutely FREE. ALL of the classes I took, from CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) training to teaching CERT, to designing CERT programs were absolutely FREE, including textbooks! The only thing I paid for was bus fare to get to the classes.

Look folks, I fully understand that when you’re struggling to make ends meet, when you’re in that nursing home trying desperately to get out, when you’re wondering when your attendant is going to come get you out of or into bed or come fix your breakfast or dinner, the last thing on your mind is emergency preparedness.

When your free time is devoted to fighting for civil and human rights for folks with disabilities, emergency preparedness seems just a bit frivolous, doesn’t it? I think that’s where some of the resistance and accusations of privilege comes in from my brothers and sisters in the Movement – that since I don’t devote all of my time to freeing our people, that I have somehow sold out. My 35 years of fighting for social change and social justice, including 31 years in ADAPT doesn’t count, so I suppose I have no defense.

To me, working to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all levels of emergency preparedness, from access to shelters to being involved in CERT and serving on committees, to teaching our community to be prepared is very important – perhaps, not as important as freeing our people, but certainly important in its own right.

The problem is, right now, those of us with disabilities who are into emergency preparedness are few and far between. We are separate voices in the wild, sometimes, with no support at all. For the most part, our community doesn’t think about emergency preparedness until a disaster happens and someone with a disability is turned away at a shelter or there is no way to evacuate someone using a wheelchair.

Face it folks, natural disasters are occurring with greater frequency. We as a community need to be prepared to help ourselves and our families, at least. We cannot depend on the government or agencies to help us. It’s up to us to be prepared. It’s up to us to make sure that we are included in our city, county or state emergency preparedness plan and not take no for an answer when they don’t want to deal with us. It’s up to us to teach emergency responders how to help us BEFORE a disaster happens. It’s up to us to learn basic survival methods so that we can help ourselves, our families and our neighbors. Trust me, NO one will do it for us!

If doing this to help my community means that I am privileged, then, I’m guilty as charged!

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