In 2016, the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC) conducted a full-scale exercise at Six Flags New England. The After-Action Report (AAR) compiled for this exercise identified a gap in first responders’ ability to meet the functional and access needs of some people with disabilities. Over the past few years, several real-world events have also highlighted this gap. Although WRHSAC has developed tools and programming designed to address the emergency requirements of those with functional and access needs in the past, its previous programming was focused on emergency sheltering and emergency planning. The overall objective of this project is to provide resources and tools to support first responders in effectively, safely and efficiently recognizing and responding to the needs of individuals with functional and access needs in everyday incidents and large-scale events such as a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) or disaster response.
WRHSAC contracted with regional Public Health Emergency Planners (PHEP) to conduct a needs assessment and research available resources. The project team utilized surveys and interviews with first responders, people with disabilities and human service agencies to understand the current situation and to develop a comprehensive picture of what additional resources are needed to support first responders in the optimal care of people with disabilities.
The project team compiled a report of the findings and made recommendations including training for first responders, the need for some type of tool or resource for first responders, and opportunities for first responders and people with disabilities to meet each other prior to an emergency incident.
The project team conducted research to determine if any tools or resources which first responders could access in the field exist. The research led the team to Mobile Tips for First Responders on Disabilities and Other Functional and Access Needs created by the Center on Disability and Development (Center) at Texas A&M University (TAMU). The team contacted the Center at TAMU. The Center readily agreed to share the Tips Tool and allowed us to adapt the content to western Massachusetts.
The project culminated in a conference and training, Enhancing Response, Protecting Dignity: Disability Tips and Tools for First Responders, held on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at UMass Amherst. The conference provided plenary sessions from leading experts in the field and included a condensed version of the premier training First Responders Disability Awareness Training from Niagara University.