How Natural Disasters Affect the Disabled
A startling and unnecessary number of infirm, elderly, and disabled people are losing their lives to natural disasters.
This year’s wildfire season is officially the deadliest in California’s history. It is also the most destructive season in at least 15 years. As of mid-November, a staggering 1,627,652 acres have been devoured by more than 8,000 different fires. By examining the data, we can see that a large number of those injured and killed by the conflagrations were disabled, either mentally or physically.
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2012 to 2016, approximately 9,500 people in Paradise, a town in California that was gravely affected by November’s Camp Fire, were disabled. This is around 25% of the town’s population! Some of these people made the decision not to evacuate because they believed that if they buckled down, they could stay put unharmed. Others tried desperately to escape but couldn’t. Ultimately, their impairments made it too difficult to escape the flames in time. Additionally, many of them received no outside help to flee.
“Over and over again, it is mostly people with disabilities and aged, they are the ones being left behind,” -- Christina Mills, executive director at the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers.
These statistics are deeply troubling. Other natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have produced similar statistics. Data collected from both Hurricane Katrina and the recent California fires show us that vulnerable individuals are often not well-assisted during disasters. People who are cognitively impaired or have limited physical strength will not be as resilient in times of danger. It is more difficult for them to gather information about what is happening, communicate their needs, and assist themselves in times of crisis. Therefore, it is essential that we make the safety of those with disabilities a priority. We can do this by collecting detailed data from areas hit by disasters and determining where vulnerable individuals are most at risk and what strategies can be employed to keep everyone safe.