Survey reveals disaster preparedness gaps for Texans with disabilities

Posted on

Earlier this year, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) conducted the 2023 Disaster Resilience Survey of Texans with Disabilities. We asked respondents how prepared they are for disasters and emergencies, what they’re worried about, and what they need to be more resilient. The survey – which was open to Texans with disabilities, people who support a person with a disability, and others connected to the disability community – received 426 responses.

We learned that the majority of the respondents are not prepared for disasters or emergencies.

How prepared are Texans with disabilities?

While the majority of survey respondents had some of the disaster preparedness basics covered, the majority of respondents said that they were not prepared when it comes to these items that are specific to the disability community:

  • 85% don’t have a plan to continue to access healthcare services
  • 66% don’t have a plan for evacuating and sheltering in place
  • 71% don’t know how to get prescriptions refilled
  • 61% are not registered as a critical care customer with their electricity provider
  • 70% don’t have an alternate power source to keep medications refrigerated, operate durable medical equipment, or charge a cell phone
  • 77% don’t have a back-up for their in-home healthcare if their provider isn’t available

The basic preparedness actions that the majority of respondents had taken included having their important information in one place (55%), being signed up to get local emergency alerts (65%), having enough food and water for five days (64%), and having a first aid kit (73%).

Gaps at the local level

Another preparedness gap the survey revealed was the disconnect between the needs of disability community, their local emergency management department, and equitable outcomes in response and recovery measures.

Local emergency management departments are required to serve all citizens – including people with disabilities – if a disaster or emergency happens. Some people with disabilities may require certain accommodations so they can access the same services as everyone else and stay safe. A significant majority of survey respondents said that they face barriers related to some services that their local emergency management department should provide. Barriers include a service not being provided, not knowing how to access a service that is provided, and not knowing if a service is provided.

Below are the services and the percentage of respondents who indicated experiencing a barrier to accessing that service.

  • Places to get food, water, and supplies (79% experienced a barrier)
  • Places you can go for shelter (83%)
  • Shelters that are accessible (85%)
  • Shelters with the healthcare staff, services, and equipment you need (92%)
  • Transportation to a shelter (94%)

What worries the disability community?

With Texas being a hotbed for extreme events, the survey also gauged respondents’ level of worry related to naturals disasters and manmade emergencies. The types of events respondents were most worried about are listed below.

  • Cybersecurity threats (82% are worried)
  • Extreme heat (76%)
  • Mass shootings (73%)
  • Tornadoes (67%)
  • Cold weather events (66%)
  • Public health emergency (66%)

The three types of events that survey respondents were the least worried about were earthquakes (18%), wildfires (41%), and hurricanes (44%).

Striving towards a more resilient Texas

Being prepared for disasters and emergencies is everyone’s responsibility. Individuals with disabilities need to take responsibility for their own preparedness. Public entities need to ensure that the resources and services they provide are accessible for people with disabilities.

Since the survey, DRTx has published a number of Disaster Resilience resources that people with disabilities can use to improve their level of preparedness. Some of the resources directly address topics that came up in the survey, like cybersecurity, healthcare during a disaster, and extreme heat. We also launched a monthly Disaster Resilience newsletter, delivering preparedness information directly to people’s inboxes.

DRTx is also having a presence at various disability- and preparedness-related events around the state. At these events, we’re sharing important information to help people be more prepared for the next disaster or emergency.

In 2024, we’ll conduct another disaster resilience survey, and we’ll also use the feedback from that survey to identify – and address – the preparedness needs of Texans with disabilities.