AMU Emergency Management Fire & EMS Original

Spotlight on Specific Community Needs: the Deaf Population

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

The Whole Community Approach is an important facet of emergency management, the idea that the entire community must be involved in all aspects of emergency management. 

When disasters occur, a community’s infrastructure can be greatly damaged and it takes time for recovery efforts to repair it so the community can bounce back. More importantly, the Whole Community Approach includes aspects of Community Resilience because as the community works together, it needs to be able to regain its balance.

Vulnerable populations are community pockets that require additional support during disasters. These communities need numerous resources to function properly. If emergency management officials do not take these resources into account, the community is in a far more vulnerable position when a disaster occurs.

In essence, emergency managers need to create mechanisms to support vulnerable populations and include them in emergency management plans, response and recovery efforts. When they are not supported well and infrastructures are damaged, it becomes vastly more difficult to manage emergencies in these communities. Individuals within the deaf community, for example, need special mechanisms in place so they can survive serious calamities.

The Deaf Community Must Have Adequate Alarm Systems

Emergency managers need to work on behalf of the deaf community for the installation of alarm systems that include components like flashing lights to alert the hard-of-hearing and the deaf to emergencies and disasters.

Smoke alarms, for example, make especially loud and unique sounds that alert people to evacuate a building immediately. Tornado warnings to take cover are also very loud. But the deaf and hard-of-hearing may not hear these warnings, leaving them in vulnerable positions. What are needed are alarm systems that are more than just loud sounds. They also must include flashing lights and other means to alert deaf persons to serious situations.

Place More Emphasis on Use of the American Sign Language

For many deaf persons, their primary means of communication is the American Sign Language (ASL). We need more emphasis on teaching ASL among the general public.

Like any other language, ASL should be included in the various emergency management planning and resources offered to the community. There needs to be greater access to ASL classes – including for first-responders and law enforcement agencies – to break down the communication barrier. In the long run, ASL classes will be a valuable asset in search and recovery operations.

Vulnerable Populations

Because they need to consider the vulnerable populations within their communities, emergency managers are in a difficult position. They need to know where these vulnerable people live, what their needs are, and then work to include them in planning processes and recovery operations. 

Such conversations are important because they add to overall community resilience. They also add to the importance of the Whole Community Approach by creating a network that helps the community to recover and bounce back from major disasters. So it is essential for emergency managers to gain a better understanding of vulnerable populations such as the deaf and hard-of -hearing so they can strengthen their disaster mitigation efforts.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C., and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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