The regular meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities took place May 19th, 2009 at 4 PM at Salem Access Television. Present were Andrew J. LaPointe (presiding), Ginny Morse and Robin Powell, Disability Policy Consortium, Debra Lobsitz, Charlie Reardon, and David Tracht, commissioners, Janet Mancini, Salem health agent, [inaudible], program coordinator for the Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition, [inaudible], David Martel, commissioner, Lisa Cammarata, ADA Coordinator and ex officio member of the Commission, Dennis LeVasseur, Salem Fire Department and Deputy Director of Emergency Management, Capt. John Jodoin, Salem Police Department. David Moisan, commissioner, is behind the camera today.
Today’s meeting features Ginny Morse of the Disability Policy Consortium (DPC) and is devoted to emergency preparedness.
Ms. Morse, DPC: The DPC is a cross-disability organization that is dedicated to independent living for people with disabilities across every community in the state. We are the only cross-disability organization in the state. We’ve been noting that communities across the state have not been including people with disabilities in their disaster planning. Where will people go in an emergency and who will take them. A question for the board: What is the most recent disaster that’s happened in the community?
Mr. LeVasseur: Several years ago, an ink factory in Danvers blew up and destroyed the Danversport neighborhood [just north of North Salem.] Nearby, the New England School for the Deaf had to be evacuated on short notice without any prior planning. But through mutual aid, the school was successfully evacuated. Danvers itself was overwhelmed by the emergency and relied on Salem and Peabody fire and police departments to handle the situation.
Capt. Jodoin: Most disasters are storm-related. We try to help people be prepared for the first few hours of any emergency when officials are still responding.
Andy: There was a large fire in Peabody (that destroyed an apartment complex.) What did people do to help?
Ms. Mancini: I worked with the Peabody health agent and the college to set up temporary shelter at the O’Keefe Center.
Andy: Any disabled people?
Ms. Mancini: Not any that I know of, though the residents were very emotionally shaken.
Ms. Morse, DPC: We focus on individual preparation as well, to help disabled look after themselves. We stress preparation before anything happens. Look after medications, food and especially pets and service dogs. Watch over your neighbors. Think of the people that assist you, like PCA’s. Start a network and make sure everyone in your network has your information.
Disasters can happen at home, at work or anywhere. Do you have a plan for each situation? Do you have an out-of-town contact? Plans for evacuation? Discuss it with your PCA is you have one—if they live too far away they may not be able to help.
Work with local Independent Living Centers. Emergency preparedness should be incorporated in your daily life.
Before you need to evacuatte, get our list of shelters is on the Disability Policy Consortium’s web site, http://www.dpcma.org/. We had to bring a lawsuit against MEMA and the Red Cross for not making sure their shelters are accessible to disabilities. Who in Salem is responsible for shelters?
Capt. Jodoin: That’s up to me and the Fire Department.
Ms. Morse, DPC: Disabled people need to find out where their shelters would be. They need to know beforehand what access problems there might be, for example, what are the sidewalks like to the shelter? Is it too far to walk? Public transportation?
Capt. Jodoin: Handicapped access and transportation is set up, through the ambulance companies and the Council on Aging. This very much depends on the particular disaster.
Ms. Morse: How does Salem notify residents of an emergency?
Mr. LeVasseur: We have our police channel that’s broadcast over SATV, and we recently added a reverse-911 telephone notification system. It works very well and all city departments use it. SATV will broadcast the same information.
David Tracht: If communications go down?
Mr. LeVasseur: We have generators and can back up with the Salem Police if necessary. If 911 isn’t answered in Salem, it’ll go to Peabody, if not there, then somewhere else. It’s all automatic.
Capt. Jodoin: We can go around with a cruiser and a bullhorn.
David Tracht: Who are the most severely disabled people in Salem? Do officials know about them? They could be housebound, or single, and not known.
Capt. Jodoin: We strongly encourage residents to register a “disability indicator” with Salem Police; that will let 911 operators know of people with disabilities.
Andy: The commission needs to promote the disability indicator awareness form and everyone with disabilities need to apply now. I’ve gotten packets of application forms from Capt. Jodoin and want Lisa [Cammaratta] and Janet [Mancini] to take these forms and distribute them at City Hall, the Board of Health and elsewhere.
Capt. Jodoin: The form’s also online from http://mass.gov/. The form might be different from the one we use since it’s a state form.
Janet M.: Forms already available from the Health Dept.
Ms. Morse: Are the forms at other local disability organizations?
Capt. Jodoin: It’s distributed to the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann. It’s probably time for us to do another certification and get the forms out.
Andy: Many don’t have computer access. The library has a computer with JAWS [screen reader] and magnification.
David Martel: Remember self-preparedness—and let people know you need help.
Charlie: Many don’t want to disclose their disabilities
Capt. Jodoin: That information is completely confidential and only used within the Police Dept. It’s just used to prepare responders so they can assist appropriately.
Andy: Thing to remember, is that in times of great stress, like a disaster or an emergency involving your loved one, you don’t really know how you’d react. At least you can call 911 and they know what they’re dealing with.
Morse: We encourage you to talk with disabled people who may be in shelter, so they can let you know of any access problems they may have, like bathrooms and hearing and sight-related problems.
Also, Salem’s call-back system can also send emails and pages, and that is a very useful thing for people with disabilities.
Charlie: An elderly person should be able to put on the form that they speak French, Italian, Greek or Spanish. There is a large Spanish-speaking community in Salem.
Capt. Jodoin: Our 911 system is completely ADA-qualified and we can get a translation service on the line immediately.
Charlie: Andy’s been pushing communications for years; Andy (and David Moisan) are ham radio operators that can communicate with people in the city, or outside the city or even around the country just by using their radio equipment.
Lisa Cammaratta: There are volunteer translators available, too.
Morse: Back to shelters. Service animals are allowed in shelter. Make sure you have everything needed for your service animals.
Charlie: We need a list of things one can do right now to prepare.
Morse: There’s a worksheet on our website, http://www.dpcma.org/. It takes you through all the information you need to have before a disaster, like shelter locations, supplies, food and etcetera. Steps are broken down so it doesn’t overwhelm anything.
People should get and have a month’s supply of meds. Insurance restrictions make this very difficult if not impossible for most people.
Powell: DPC has proposed several state bills on emergency preparedness. S.B. 812, sponsored by Sen. Susan Fargo, would make prescription medication readily available when a state of emergency is declared by the Governor, in case medications are lost or destroyed or pharmacies are unable to open. We realize people can’t stockpile meds, so we are working on a statewide plan; the Department of Health would set up a safety-net plan and a phone number for people to get or replace meds if there is a state of emergency. A hearing date is set for June 9th at the State House
The other bill we are sponsoring is S.B. 961, by Sen. Joan Menard. This would require that all high-rise residential housing, commercial or non-commercial, that is taller than the fire department’s tallest ladders, have evacuation chairs for the disabled at every stairwell. No hearing has been set for this.
David Martel: Type of chair? Number of chairs?
Powell: Cities and towns would set the requirements. The state building One Ashburton Place has these chairs.
Andy: Ashburton Place has good plans in place; they are the home of many disability-related agencies such as the MOD.
The Commission has done sensitivity training in the past with the House of Seven Gables. I would like us to do this training with the Police and Fire Depts. on the proper etiquette for dealing with the blind, hard of hearing or those with mobility impairments. The Commission is very well connected with the community and would gladly do this training.
Charlie [to LeVasseur:] If you had to evacuate a tall building, do you have a chair on the ladder?
LeVasseur: No, there are refuge areas in the stairwells and we would evacuate people from there.
Morse: Our website has many different contact and information forms for people with disabilities to use.
Capt. Jodoin: We provide similar information to the elderly of the Salem Council on Aging.
Andy: We can put the information on a memory stick [USB thumb drives].
Morse: Everyone needs to get birth certificates and other vital documents on hand. Take videos of your belongings and keep the videos on a CD or memory stick. Don’t forget medication lists.
Also, designate a health care proxy who can act for you if you’re incapacitated.
Here is a crank flashlight [shows a flashlight] for use in power failures. And an emergency crank radio.
The radios pick up AM, FM and Weather band. And also TV [not after over-the-air TV goes digital June 12th. All “TV Audio” radios will stop working—DCM].
David Martel: A gas crew was working outside my house. I took pictures of everything and put the pictures and documents in my freezer in case the gas crew blew up my house.
Morse: Good idea!
Capt. Jodoin: 98% of the population thinks, “It won’t happen to me!”
LeVasseur: How does the Commission get the information out to the disabled community?
Charlie: People watch our monthly meetings. The Commission for the Blind has a register, and sends out large-type notices to mail out, for example.
Debra: The Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing doesn’t have a register. There is much reluctance and controversy amongst the deaf and hard of hearing community about identifying themselves as hearing-impaired.
Andy: There’s also the Talking Information Center, http://www.ticnetwork.com/ that broadcasts over the web. The blind and print disabled can get special receivers. The commission tries to bring up these issues at the meetings.
The reverse 911 system is an excellent way to alert the disabled community in Salem.
Capt. Jodoin: Good idea. We can think about this.
David Tracht: The Mass Rehabilitation Commission doesn’t have a registry either. Privacy issues are a concern.
Andy: This is frustrating and counterproductive.
Capt. Jodoin: We tell people if they want us to help, they have to let us know who they are and what they need.
David Martel: Why not use the blue snow emergency lights to indicate other emergencies?
Capt. Jodoin: I agree, but it’s just an adjunct and an alerting method for SATV and reverse 911.
Andy: Salem has done wonders with that alerting system. Ellen Talkowski has worked hard to make that system work. We need to work with police or fire to come up with a plan to call people with disabilities.
David Martel: This meeting is widely watched in Salem. I’m constantly being asked about our agenda. We have put things on TV, like the dollar-bill identifier, that people have learned about from us.
Morse: Is it possible to do this through the YMCA?
David Martel: The Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann regularly holds emergency preparedness sessions.
Andy: Janet, can you give me your insight about the Commission and the Board of Health working together.
Janet: It’s a great plan. We’ll have to continue to work together. We want to be involved with the reverse-911 system. Equipment ideas, like flashlights and radios can go in the plan, for us to have on hand in shelters and so forth. What ideas does the Commission on Disabilities have?
David Martel: Make a rough template
Lisa Cammaratta: How do we get the information out to people not as technologically adept? What about the swine flu?
Capt. Jodoin: We have public safety events and newsletters. We have drills.
Janet Mancini: The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has done a lot to keep us informed.
Charlie: I can barely spell “computer”. The information should be available in printed form, like the Council on Aging newsletter and up at the Senior Center. If seniors learn of something, they’ll be on the phone with their cronies in minutes.
LeVasseur: Is there a large portion of the disabled who live in public housing?
Andy: Carol McGowan [executive director, Salem Housing Authority] would know. We’re not sure.
Capt. Jodoin: We hold meetings at public housing complexes across the city and are well familiar with that community.
Andy: I wanted the Commission on Disabilities office to be at the Council on Aging when Linda Elworth was director. We have a natural alliance.
Charlie: Andy’s been trying to put together a plan for the City to provide locator bracelets to people with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments.
Capt. Jodoin: They’re similar to confinement bracelets for parole violators but for a different purpose. LoJack for people.
Andy: I’ll be on Salem Now, June 9th, 6 to 6:30 PM on Channel 3. Capt. Jodoin and someone from Project Lifesaver will be there to discuss the program.
It’s very similar to ham radio or CB. It’s a nationwide program; the success rate has been 100% and people are located in 30 minutes. North Andover has the program. They asked us if we could get it in Salem and other neighboring communities.
If your loved one has been missing without your being aware of it for 4 hours, they could be anywhere. The bracelet’s cheaper than having many cruisers, officers and helicopters on patrol.
Example: A gentleman of ours has two severely disabled children; one went missing. Fortunately, she was found nearby unharmed. The bracelet would be excellent for these situations.
Can we get copies of the Salem Now video?
David Moisan: Yes, that should be possible.
Andy: Please tune in, watch and ask questions. There’s a website, http://www.projectlifesafer.org/ Jane, what’s your website?
Jane Morse: http://www.dcpma.org/ My phone number is (617)-283-2107. We encourage all people and organizations to get involved. This is a collaborative effort. Thanks for your time.
Charlie: When do these disability indicator forms get processed?
Capt. Jodoin: Within 24 hours. As soon as I verify it’s a Salem number, it’s in the system ASAP.
Andy: There are 8000 people with disabilities in Salem. You’re not doing yourselves a favor if you don’t submit a form.
David Tracht: We should bring this up every month, two minutes a month.
Andy: Done. Janet, we can be a part of your planning team?
Andy: Thank you very much for coming!
Meeting was adjourned at 5:35 PM. Next meeting is on June 16th, 2009, 4 PM at Salem Access Television, 285 Derby St.
[Note: The Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition can be found at http://nscalert.org/]