Passing the one year anniversary of the 416 Fire last week was a stark reminder of how overwhelming a community disaster can be.
The distressing loss of life during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Camp Fire in California in 2018 highlights what can happen when communities are not prepared to address the needs of everyone in an emergency. People with disabilities, the elderly, the poor and undocumented residents are often the hardest struck when disaster occurs.
San Juan Basin Public Health recently gathered a group of emergency planners, first responders and representatives of a variety of social services organizations for a training in the C-MIST approach to emergency response.
The concept of C-MIST is a helpful way of considering the barriers people may face during an emergency and planning for ways to overcome those barriers.
The “C” stands for communication, an essential component of any emergency response and a common barrier. There are many potential barriers to communication – hearing, seeing, reading or interpreting – so multiple methods of communication must be used during an emergency.
“M” covers medical needs, including chronic illness and conditions that increase a person’s need for support such activities as eating, dressing, bathing and transferring. Planning for these needs may include arranging caregivers or ensuring access to medical devices.
Independence (“I”) may be reliant on technology or devices. Someone who is completely mobile when they have access to their electric wheelchair may be dependent if they are evacuated without that chair or are left without a way to recharge it.
“S” is for supervision, which might be needed by someone with a mental illness, addiction, brain injury, intellectual disability or other circumstance that decreases the ability to cope with the anxiety of an emergency. Alternative shelter or supports might be needed.
Many of the people who end up stranded during regional emergencies have barriers in transportation, “T.” Whether they cannot drive because of age or disability or cannot afford a car, people who cannot evacuate themselves require specific planning to address that need.
These are limited examples of how people may need to be supported in an emergency, whether it’s a temporary or long-term need. There are many more. As a community, it is important for us to start this conversation and recognize that while our usual tactical responses may be effective for more than 90% of the population, there may be 10% or more in any given situation who have barriers we need to plan to overcome.
Our community leaders are thinking about these barriers and the ways we address them. Suggested actions include: strengthening communication with the services sector during emergencies; finding respectful ways to identify those who will need specific support during an emergency; and helping everyone in the community design their own plans for emergencies.
Even with our moist winter, we all know that the next community emergency is not a matter of if, but when. Our hope is to ensure that future emergencies are handled smoothly for all of us.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO is Community Connections, Inc.