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Spotlight on Specific Vulnerable Populations: Autism

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

When a disaster strikes, it is critical to for the community to recover as quickly as possible. This means having the utilities turned back on, access to fresh food and water, and of course, access to prompt healthcare. These concepts certainly touch on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in that all human beings need food, water and shelter, and many other things as well.

Assuming that all people have access to these resources is not wise because there are always vulnerable communities that do not have such access.  Concepts like social equity allow us to rethink how we provide resources to individuals in a stricken community. Emergency managers need to contemplate how to provide these resources to everyone in the community.

Autism Cases Require Certain Resources to Help Them through a Disaster

Persons with autism, for example, need certain resources to help them through a disaster. Thus, emergency managers need to know how they can help autistic individuals during major disasters and provide them access to the resources they will need.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals at all ages and differently.  Individuals with autism might not be able to communicate verbally, for example, so they may need alternative communication devices to help them communicate with the general public. If those devices fail or cannot be recharged, for example, autistic individuals may not have a way to communicate with the general public. 

Understanding the Needs of Specific Communities

In essence, emergency managers really need to understand and be supportive of the many daily requirements autistic people need. Meeting with leaders of nonprofit organization that focus on autism is certainly a start, but these officials should also simply ask individuals in the community what resources they need for.

Emergency managers must create the various resources and networks needed to help autistic persons during disasters. Doing so helps to create more mechanisms of community resilience in times of trouble.  

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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