Sweeping Settlement Reached by the City of Oakland to Include People with Disabilities in Disaster Planning

January 21, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif. – In a sweeping settlement announced today by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and the City of Oakland, Oakland has agreed to adopt an emergency plan which incorporates the needs of people with all types of disabilities.

The suit was filed in 2007 against the City of Oakland to remedy the lack of consideration of people with disabilities in its emergency preparation plan. Plaintiffs – the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (“CFILC”), Californians for Disability Rights, Inc. (“CDR”), and Marian Gray (an Oakland taxpayer) were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities in Berkeley, California.

After the lawsuit was filed, Oakland immediately began to work with DRA in cooperative negotiations. The City then hired a consultant to evaluate its existing plans and to recommend improvements that would make the City more responsive to its disabled and elderly residents. These recommendations became the foundation of the new plan, known as the Functional Needs Annex for Mass Care and Shelter.

The recent anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake was a reminder to Oakland residents of Oakland’s susceptibility to a disaster. Since 1983, the City of Oakland has experienced eight Presidential-declared disasters, including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm, the 1997 El Nino winter storms, and the 1998 La Nina winter storms.

During many of these disasters, the homes of Oakland residents were destroyed, requiring mass evacuations and the provision of emergency shelter services. Oakland’s record of disasters compounded by its proportion of people with disabilities – estimated at 15-20% of the City’s population – highlight the severity of this issue and the importance of its awaited settlement.

Highlights of the Functional Needs Annex include:

  • Oakland has identified 20 accessible emergency shelters that will accommodate people with mobility disabilities and is working with other entities to identify additional accessible shelter locations.
  • Each emergency shelter will have a designated Shelter Functional Needs Coordinator responsible for assisting persons with disabilities. The coordinator will identify and request durable medical equipment, consumable medical supplies and reasonable accommodations.
  • The City’s emergency notification system, which contacts people to alert them of an emergency situation in their area, will interface with various electronic and wireless devices used by people with hearing, mobility and vision disabilities in addition to standard telephones. Specific information during times of emergency, including locations of open shelters and information on which of those shelters are accessible to people with mobility impairments, will be available through Eden Information and Referral Services. People can access this information by calling 2-1-1 on a voice telephone or TTY machine, a communications device used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • A Geographic Information System (GIS) has been created to assist City first responders with identifying the location of persons who may require accessible transportation services. The GIS has mapped the home addresses of individuals who have voluntarily registered for the City’s 9-1-1 Registry Program, residential care facilities for the elderly and nursing homes, and Oakland Housing Authority public housing facilities. The City continues to work with local organizations for people with disabilities and older adults to encourage their clientele to participate in the 9-1-1 Registry Program.

“We would like to commend the City of Oakland for its model emergency plan announced today. We believe the Oakland settlement can act as a roadmap for municipalities across California to ensure the safety of all residents, including those with disabilities,” said Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

“This settlement is a victory for all Oaklanders – residents and the disability community who have a right to equal access to mass care and shelter programs,” said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. “It would be indefensible to delay improving disability access to our emergency services programs. Instead of debating this through the legal process, costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, we are taking immediate action to adopt cutting edge disaster readiness initiatives for people with disabilities.”

Judith Smith, an Oakland resident who is a wheelchair user, expressed her satisfaction with the settlement. “Prior to the settlement, I feared that I would be stranded in my home during a disaster or turned away from a shelter because of my wheelchair. As a result of collaborative efforts between DRA and Oakland, I am relieved that an emergency plan exists for people with disabilities.”

“With this plan Oakland is committing to address the needs of people with disabilities at every stage of emergency response, from communicating information about the disaster to evacuating residents to providing shelter to preparing for long-term recovery,” said Karla Gilbride of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “This sort of comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t left behind the way they were after Hurricane Katrina.”

Under the terms of the settlement, which was just approved by the Oakland City Council, the new plan will be periodically updated and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) will monitor Oakland’s progress in implementing the plan over the next four and a half years.

To read the settlement agreement, visit: www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Karla Gilbride, Disability Rights Advocates, (510) 665-8644
Sid Wolinsky, Disability Rights Advocates, (510) 665-8644
Karen Boyd, Oakland Public Information Officer, (510) 238-6365

Reproduced from http://www.dralegal.org/