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Casey Holds Hearing on Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults and People with Disabilities

Despite facing a higher risk, seniors and people with disabilities often don’t get adequate information or resources during emergencies

Casey bill would include these groups of people in emergency preparation, protect them from discriminatory distribution of resources

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, June 15th, U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) held a hearing entitled, “Before Disaster Strikes: Planning to Support Older Americans and People with Disabilities in All Phases of Emergencies,” examining the effects of natural and human-made disasters, as well as infectious disease outbreaks, on older adults and people with disabilities in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

During the hearing, Chairman Casey highlighted his Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act (REAADI for Disasters Act), which would ensure that people with disabilities and older adults are included in disaster preparation and that their needs are considered during the response and recovery efforts. It would also ensure that the civil rights of older adults and people with disabilities are not violated through discriminatory distribution of resources during disasters and emergencies.

“While all Americans are affected by disasters and emergencies, older adults and people with disabilities face a disproportionate impact,” said Chairman Casey. “These groups of people need accurate, accessible, and comprehensive information to plan for and respond to all types of emergency situations, from infectious disease outbreaks to natural and human-made disasters. My bill, the REAADI for Disasters Act, will ensure the voices of seniors and people with disabilities are included throughout every phase of emergency preparation and that they aren’t discriminated against in the emergency resource distribution process.”

As disasters increase in both intensity and frequency due to climate change, the 54 million older adults and 61 million people with disabilities living in the U.S. are particularly likely to experience challenges with mobility, health care, support networks, and accessing food and water during all phases of disaster management. These groups typically have fewer resources to draw upon, more limited options for housing and health care, and more difficulty recovering once the immediate emergency has passed.

During the hearing, Chairman Casey highlighted a Majority staff report released earlier this year by the Senate Finance and Aging Committees detailing the specific consequences of extreme weather events on older adults and people with disabilities living in long-term care facilities. The report identified the risks posed to long-term care residents by winter storms in the central and southern United States in early 2021, including widespread power outages that left residents without power and water for days.

According to a report by the National Council on Disability, emergency management agencies often fail to account for the unique barriers that people with disabilities face or to coordinate effectively with disability organizations and community-based organizations when working to prevent, plan for, or respond to disasters and emergencies. Additionally, contractors receiving emergency funding from states and localities to provide services, shelter, and communications often do not comply with federal disability rights laws.

Chairman Casey invited Annie Lloyd, a mother from Darlington, PA, to testify about her experience as a mother of a son with a disability during the East Palestine train derailment that happened earlier this year. She testified, “No disaster is ever truly expected, but everyone should be prepared by our local and county emergency response authorities. And first in line in those preparations should be the needs of our most vulnerable... There is nothing more fundamental to a dignified life than the capability of self-preservation. What is freedom if not an equal ability to survive?”