/ Blog Post
By Jordan Davis, 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program. Jordan is hosted by Disability Rights California.
Each year the number of wildfires in California increases. In 2021, there were over 300 wildfires recorded by Cal Fire, and in the first two months of 2022, there have been nearly 200 wildfires. People with disabilities face additional life-threatening concerns from unpredictable power shutoffs.
Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) require utility companies to turn off power to specific neighborhoods determined to be a high fire-threat under certain weather conditions. When the power goes out unexpectedly, Californians who rely on medical equipment to live independently may be left helpless and in the dark. These shutoffs can last days on end, placing people who are dependent on medical equipment and temperature-controlled medicine at risk of harm or death.
Without backup power or additional batteries, these power shutoffs create medical emergencies for people who depend on things like life-support, power wheelchairs, insulin, etc. The price of purchasing additional batteries or generators with enough power to supply medical equipment is burdensome and most insurance providers don’t cover these needs. Right now, legal aid and community-based organizations are working together to find solutions to this issue.
One of the first calls I received at my host organization Disability Rights California was from a person experiencing multiple power shutoffs who relied on a power wheelchair and lifts to live independently. The lack of warnings meant that every time a PSPS event occurred in her area she would have to call emergency services to come help her move. To address this issue, we provided the client with information on PSPS notifications and programs her utility company provides to people with disabilities, while we continue to advocate for policy change within the medical insurance industry.
As “fire season” becomes more of a year-round occurrence, it places additional burdens on people with disabilities. Increasing awareness about disaster preparedness can help the most disadvantaged feel safe and be safe.
As 'fire season' becomes more of a year-round occurrence, it places additional burdens on people with disabilities. Increasing awareness about disaster preparedness can help the most disadvantaged feel safe and be safe.
The Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program is committed to ensuring that all disaster survivors have an equitable recovery and are resilient for the future. For more information about the program, please visit here.
The Disaster Resilience Program is currently funded by the Bigglesworth Family Foundation, California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and individual contributions.