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Creating a Disaster Preparedness Plan

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By Stephanie Duke and Maria F. Vazquez, 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows who served in the Disaster Resilience Program. Stephanie currently works as a staff attorney at Disability Rights Texas and Maria is a staff attorney at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Resilience after a disaster or emergency is directly related to preparedness. Marginalized and vulnerable communities are continuously and disproportionately impacted by tragic incidences because inequities or barriers faced in everyday life are exacerbated by the event. For some, preparedness is a luxury, as those who do not have the financial means or other available resources cannot respond or recover to disasters and emergencies as quickly or efficiently as those who do.

For the immigrant community, disaster preparedness should involve creating a safety plan that includes protecting important immigration documents and ensuring that individuals know what to do if they have a case that is currently pending.  Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep immigration documents and correspondence secure. If you are forced to evacuate your home, take your documents with you. It is also recommended to keep digital copies of these documents, so be sure to scan or take pictures in case these documents are lost or destroyed.
  • If you have a pending immigration case and you must relocate, you need to notify each immigration agency where you have a case. This includes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, ICE, and the immigration court.
  • You may be eligible for emergency disaster assistance regardless of your immigration status.
  • For information regarding office closures or appointment cancellations, visit the following websites:

Building resiliency for the disability community also requires tangible resources, as well as awareness of the plans that the local jurisdiction has in place to ensure equitable access to all response and recovery measures. If you are transportation dependent and require a wheelchair accessible vehicle, find out if your city or county has a plan to provide such equipment for evacuations. If you are healthcare dependent, you should ask if your city or county has a plan to staff emergency sheltering operations to address your needs. If you are power dependent for durable medical equipment, look into whether your city or county has a plan in place if there are sustained power outages. Inclusive emergency planning, the process cities or counties implement in blue-sky times, can promulgate equitable response and recovery only if it is truly a whole community approach. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Ask the right questions, to the right people before a disaster:
    • Contact your local emergency management department to ask questions about plans/procedures and how specific accommodations will be made for your needs.
    • Inquire with providers (healthcare, durable medical equipment, mental health, etc.) about back-up plans and resources if services are disrupted or you are displaced.
  • Protect important documents and contacts; have a hard copy and upload or save them digitally.
  • Visit Ready.gov to learn about disaster and emergency resources available to you at local, state, and federal levels.

All attorneys can play a role to further resiliency in our most disaster-prone communities.   Regardless of whether you provide direct legal services or support pro bono efforts in a response measure, you can help prepare all your clients for the next disaster or emergency by simply recognizing that the barriers they face every day will be compounded in their most tragic and chaotic of times. In blue-sky times, be the advocate that inquires and instills a community-lawyering approach to help problem-solve, identify resources, and wrap around services to mitigate the impact our communities will encounter in disasters. It is no longer a question of if a disaster or emergency will happen, but when, and what do my clients need to recover.

Be the advocate that inquires and instills a community-lawyering approach to help problem-solve, identify resources, and wrap around services to mitigate the impact our communities will encounter in disasters.

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 funded by the Bigglesworth Family Foundation, California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and individual contributions. 

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow