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Daniel Sutherland, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Dan Sutherland, DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, addressed the importance of emergency preparedness.

The plenary sessions began with remarks from Daniel Sutherland, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The purpose of Mr. Sutherland’s remarks was to “set the stage” regarding the importance of developing, implementing, and maintaining emergency preparedness plans for employees and customers with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) focuses on mitigating the threat of terror in advance of emergencies by promoting the concept of disaster-resistant communities. DHS has set an aggressive pace in developing and managing national training and evaluation systems to design curriculums, set standards, evaluate, and reward performance in local, state, and federal training efforts. Federal agencies have responded favorably to these and other initiatives by establishing and improving their respective emergency preparedness plans. Additionally, through keen observation and awareness, federal agencies and their employees are doing their parts in combating terrorism. However, even the best security measures can be overcome, so federal agencies and their employees must adequately prepare to address any emergency situation.

In his presentation, Mr. Sutherland remarked generally about the “terror” element that is ever-present since the events of September 11, 2001. However, he urged people to stand against fear, saying the best way to do this is to be prepared. “If we are [fearful], they are winning, giving them victory. [You] need to be doing what you’re doing, planning and thinking ahead and be ready for what is coming. The job of preparedness is not only the job of professionals. It is not just their job, but all our responsibility to be prepared. And why is that? They can’t do everything, be everywhere.”

Mr. Sutherland also commented on DHS’s goal of being a model employer for people with disabilities, through the full implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. This is being accomplished by improving internal and external communications, actively recruiting people with disabilities, challenging DHS managers to provide “reasonable accommodations,” and developing effective emergency preparedness plans. As to the latter, he applauded ODEP’s efforts.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sutherland acknowledged that emergency preparedness for people with disabilities deserves more attention for several reasons. First, “if we in the federal workforce have an effective emergency preparedness plan, it is going to make federal managers much more comfortable hiring people with disabilities.” He explained that having effective emergency plans reduces the barriers that people with disabilities encounter in pursuing employment opportunities. Finally, Mr. Sutherland stated that the challenges identified, and eventually eradicated, in emergency preparedness planning for people with disabilities will have an immeasurable positive impact on emergency planning overall. “The problems that people with disabilities face in the context of emergency preparedness can shed so much light on so many related problems. And, the solutions that we develop to solve those problems can shed so much light on other situations.”

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