During the Lightner Creek Fire in 2017, some residents with disabilities left their homes without medications and supplies.
Evacuees were able to obtain medications they needed by receiving early refills with help from Southwest Center for Independence, a Durango-based nonprofit, said Martha Mason, executive director of the organization.
To help residents avoid similar emergencies during fires, floods or other disasters, several nonprofits and San Juan Basin Public Health started to work together on an Equity in Emergency Preparedness program.
The program will help individuals form emergency plans and update the emergency plans of groups that serve those with disabilities, speak Spanish or have other needs, said Kristin Pulatie, assessment and planning director for San Juan Basin Health.
“Historically, people living with disabilities, people requiring interpretation services and people living with specialized medical needs have been addressed in annexes or appendices of plans,” Pulatie wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “We believe that to promote the health of everyone in our community, emergency plans should not relegate any population to an ‘appendix,’ but rather take a whole community approach.”
The health department is also creating a hazard map that will identify areas at risk for fires and other disasters and locations that would require special health attention during an emergency.
For example, the map could identify areas at risk for flooding and locations of in-patient care facilities, she said.
The health department plans to work with the Southwest Center for Independence; Community Connections, a nonprofit that serves those with intellectual and developmental disabilities; and Compañeros: Four Corners Immigrant Resource Center on the effort.
The program received a state grant that will provide $200,000 per year for three years depending on available state funds, Pulatie said. The health department will seek additional funding to help maintain planning efforts into the future, she said.
The Center for Independence will receive some of the grant funding and plans to hold a series of workshops to help those with disabilities plan for emergencies, Mason said.
“What we can do is help our consumers learn how to help themselves,” she said.
In addition to physical considerations, the center also helps those with disabilities who may be isolated develop social support networks so they have people to call when in need, Mason said.
During the 416 Fire, representatives from the Southwest Center for Independence were not allowed to enter emergency shelters to check on people with disabilities because of privacy concerns, she said. As part of the new planning effort, Mason hopes she can spread the word among emergency planners that her nonprofit is available to help those with disabilities, she said.
Community Connections provides residential services to its clients and has emergency plans to provide care from outlying areas if necessary, said Tara Kiene, president and CEO. The nonprofit also works with its clients on their own emergency plans, she said.
Kiene expects the planning effort will improve the sharing of information among organizations.
“We have had lots of disparate groups working on our own emergency plans and what-if scenarios very separate from each other,” she said.
To help Spanish-language speakers, San Juan Basin Public Health plans to prepare emergency communication information ahead of time, Pulatie said.
“We want to have them ready so everyone gets the same information,” she said.