As Sandy roared through I was thinking about all the work Jane Dunhamn and Frank Latham from the Council had done over the past several years to help people with developmental disabilities living in community-based settings get ready for these catastrophic events. And those efforts continue through contracts with other groups and agencies.
People from the Arc and its Self-Advocacy Project, independent living centers, such as PCIL, and many others have also been working to ensure that people with disabilities have the understanding of these events and the resources they need to go through the serious life threatening moments and the significant disruptions that follow. I am pecking away here using sporadic generator power myself and so don’t have all the connections readily available to mention everyone by name but they know who they are and should be proud of the many people they have helped through their efforts.
For these short thoughts I want to focus the commitment the Council membership and the work of the Council staff.
When I was still working with the Council, one of the many (and for those of you who know Jane it is definitely many) boards and coalitions and task forces and groups she was involved with was one on emergency prep.
From there, working closely with Council Executive Director Dr. Alison Lozano, they developed a simple but very effective presentation for people with developmental disabilities, especially those with cognitive disabilities, about how to deal with emergency events. In addition to the classes, materials were developed and produced to help individuals get ready for and transition with natural disasters and other catastrophic events.
The idea was brought to and endorsed by the Council membership and emergency preparedness training through the NJCDD was on its way.
When Frank Latham came on board he joined Jane in doing trainings and passing out the materials. One of the main items was (and is) a “Go Bag.” These bags include essential items that the individual needs if and when they get uprooted by an event. Crucial medications, toilet items, favorite comfort things, whatever, can be added as space permits. When everything is upside down and confused once the storm knocks out power or the flood waters rise, the “Go Bag” is ready to grab, no rushing around trying to remember what you need to grab. This is especially important when you have multiple people living together and fewer staff members to help them all get to where they need to go to be safe and secure.
Another important part of the training included simple concrete ways to explain what is going on and what the individual needs to do to themselves to help with the transition from an unsafe environment to a safe one.
I remember Jane and Frank working with first responders so they would understand some of the physical and cognitive variations they may encounter in helping people with developmental disabilities in events like Sandy.
Every one of us in New Jersey and the surrounding area has been hammered and uprooted by Sandy. Some much more seriously than others. We are still assessing the impact and will be for many months to come.
Public officials, especially Gov. Christie, have been all over this, to their credit. We need the cooperation and commitment of all to help dig our way out.
However, one early bright ray that came to me early in the aftermath of this devastating storm is the thought that there are some people with developmental disabilities and the people who were working with them at the time who fared better than they might otherwise have because they had good prep, understood a little bit better what was going on and what they needed to do, and had their “Go Bags.”