F. Regional and Field Office
Elizabeth Davis, Director of NODs Emergency
Preparedness Initiative (EPI), and Alan Clive, FEMA Civil Rights Program
Manager, led a discussion on regional emergency preparedness.
Regional and field offices face unique challenges when it comes to
emergency preparedness planning. Federal agencies and offices must consider the
needs of employees with disabilities, personnel previously unidentified as
having a disability, and the public. It is vital that federal safety plans do
not conflict with other agencies and/or business tenants sharing building
locations. This session was to examine the importance of involving all
stakeholders in planning and implementation as well as identifying and working
with nontraditional planning partners, such as local emergency professionals,
property management, and building safety directors. There were to be additional
references to planning methodology, situational differences among agencies, and
Dr. Alan Clive, Civil Rights Program Manager for the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), began by explaining that agencies have to
contend with three main issues when developing emergency plans.
- Location/type of building: federal agencies
throughout the country have unique characteristics. Some are located in
Government-built and owned buildings. Others are located in skyscrapers, where
the government leases several floors. Some are sole occupants, while others
share space with other federal agencies or private employees. Some occupy
entire campuses, while others may be isolated industrial-style facilities, such
- Population: Agencies must take into account who is in
the building. Some federal agencies (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigations
(FBI) and FEMA) have very few non-government personnel in the building. Other
offices, especially those that provide services to the public, have a constant
flow of visitors and non-government personnel (e.g., Social Security
Administration (SSA) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)).
Such factors should be considered in evacuation planning.
- Hazards: Clive encouraged participants to be prepared
for a variety of hazards, including natural and man-made disasters, chemical
spills and power outages. He cited such events as the September 11th attacks
and the 2003 power outage in the Midwest that impacted much of the East Coast.
Such events galvanized many, including the disability community, to consider
needs they may have in an emergency.
It was stressed that ultimately each office needs to customize its
plan, determining the most effective practices given location, population,
financial constraints, and emergency preparedness needs.
Rethinking Special Needs
While accommodations can and should be made for those with
distinctive needs (e.g., elderly, people with disabilities, those with unique
medical needs), Elizabeth Davis, Director of the National Organization on
Disabilitys (NOD) Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI), explained that
there is no consensus on the best strategy, technology, or tools to assist
people with disabilities in an emergency. There are complaints that with the
quick growth in the market for emergency equipment for people with
disabilities, no standards exist to advise purchasers on the effectiveness or
safety of specific equipment. Until such standards exist, she said,
She added that in the General Services Administrations (GSA)
Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP), which serves as a framework for federal
agencies, there are no special emergency-support functions, because special
needs fits into each emergency support function. Every government agency that
occupies federally-owned or leased space must have an OEP.
Certain aspects of a plan may need to be tailored to meet
employees needs; however, Davis and Clive contend that general emergency
planning for people with disabilities should be an integral part of the entire
processnot a separate practice or an afterthought. Davis urged
agencies to plan for a gap in ability during an emergency, not for disability.
Such an approach to planning would take into account those who may
suddenly need assistance evacuating a building in the event of an emergency.
For example, a pregnant woman may have difficulty walking down the stairs. If
certain exits are blocked, a person who uses a wheelchair or scooter may need
assistance. She cautioned participants not to assume what employees can or
cannot do in the event of an emergency. Planning for those with distinctive
needs can have application for everyone. Several participants reiterated this
Others had specific questions related to individuals who may take
longer to evacuate the buildings. The presenters and fellow participants
recommended such alternatives as establishing areas of refuge or
areas of rescue assistance, re-evaluating policies related to
elevator use for evacuation, and widening stairwells in future
Even the most comprehensive plans will not be perfect. Davis said
agencies should do the best they can to establish predictable certainty. In the
event of legal challenges of discrimination in planning, establishing intent or
disparate impact can be difficult. Remember that an emergency crisis is an
equal opportunity injury-causing event. Finally, these suggestions were offered
for those in regional and field offices:
- Become advocates with regard to emergency preparedness
planning. Davis encouraged managers and decision-makers to include those
who are not typically involved in the internal agency planning process (e.g.,
human resources personnel, and first responders). Consider the community-based
organizations that can provide assistance, and establish relationships with
these agencies. Be sure to utilize resources in the building as well (i.e., a
medical clinic). However, do not plan for people with disabilities, but plan
with all employees. By doing so, everyone has the opportunity to offer creative
solutions, identify issues, and be a part of the process.
- Keep plans updated and involve employees in the
process. Davis said she believes that most emergency plans are created in
a vacuum, then buried. Plans should be reviewed, revised, and practiced on a
It is helpful for agencies to develop a
template and methodology around planning, (regular) testing, and updating
plans. This can be as simple as a very general outline that can then be
expanded upon by individual regions and field offices. Keep in mind that even
within field offices, plans may need to be further individualized to
accommodate individuals or situations.
- Share information with other agencies and employees.
Determine effective practices, and examine the reasons why something did
or did not work. Clive and Davis explained that in such situations, it is
acceptable to take ideas from another agency.
Davis said that emergency preparedness plans need to become
familiar to all personnel at a site from the agency/division director to the
evening cleaning crew, since an emergency can occur at any time. This ensures a
cadre of people in place who are aware; alert; and able to take quick,