Visually impaired experiences of earthquakes highlight gaps in disaster preparedness
An opt-in register for vulnerable people is being suggested as a way to better support people with disabilities during emergencies.
Lynne Smith, who lives alone and relies on her guide dog Vegas to navigate her surroundings, sleeps with a transistor radio under her pillow.
That and ensuring she has a network in place, are among the ways she ensures she is prepared for any emergency.
"You just have to hope you have as much in place as you can."
Smith had learnt from the experiences she faced as a visually impaired resident in the Christchurch earthquakes six years ago, and welcomed the possibility of a register for people with disabilities, to ensure they were supported immediately after emergencies.
Dr Gretchen Good and Dr Suzanne Phibbs of Massey University's College of Health identified the need for a register through their study in which they documented the challenges that visually impaired Christchurch residents faced during the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and aftershocks.
The study, "Disorientated and Immobile: The Experience of People with Visual Impairments During and After the Christchurch, New Zealand 2010 and 2011 Earthquakes", was published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness.
Good and Phibbs conducted 12 face-to-face interviews after the September 2010 quake, but prior to the 2011 February quake.
"Our research participants and one District Council have suggested that a registry of disabled persons is needed to ensure that assistance is made available to those who need it in an emergency, such as those who are vision impaired and live alone, those who rely on electricity for medical reasons, those who are hearing impaired and cannot access news and those who are mobility impaired and could not move in an emergency," Good said.
Organisations including the Blind Foundation and CCS Disability Action Group operated their own registers and following the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, staff were able to check in on their client bases.
CCS Disability Action accessibility adviser BJ Clark said the organisation's own register identified those who required "high need" support. They were people who could not look after themselves in the event of an emergency.
Clark said the idea to have a "centralised" register had been raised, with the obvious holder being Civil Defence.
"But the reality is in the case of an emergency, as we found out in the Christchurch earthquake, Civil Defence primarily are involved in upper level structures of support. They're busy setting up emergency response stations ... so there would be a number of days before they could look to assist on an individual basis."
"Given our set up at CCS, it's our responsibility to ensure the safety of those people we support, so we take that on as part of our emergency response plan."
Blind Foundation practice advisor of rehabilitation instructors Carina Duke said if Civil Defence were to hold such a register, where people had a choice to opt in for privacy reasons, support could get to those who needed it.
The organisation had struggled to reach certain members after the Canterbury quakes.
"We had people that were in the red zone areas where we weren't able to get in to visit them because we did make an effort to visit them... so we could ensure they had access to support and food etc. From our perspective, if people had been on a register, Civil Defence would have had access to them and been able to prioritise them.
There is a lot of merit in this."
New Zealand Foundation for Conductive Education national coordinator Sally Thomas said she would jump at the chance to opt on to a register, to ensure her son received the support he needed.
Her 29 year-old son, Alex who has cerebral palsy, would soon move into an independent living situation. She would be informing the nearest police station that he was living nearby.
"I think it is a great idea and would provide a lot of peace of mind for people that may not have a lot of natural support or family supports, who would need assistance in an emergency.
I'm sure that it would help Police, Red Cross and people like that to know where these people are located."