Having started in South Florida, Sunrise Community has always been intimately familiar with the turmoil and trauma we often experience during the summer months. Even under the best circumstances – the frantic gathering of supplies, ensuring that one’s home is protected, or, in the case of potentially devastating storms, having a way out – can create a stressful environment like no other. For people with disabilities, however, the difficulties presented by a hurricane are exponentially greater.
At Sunrise, we are focused on addressing the needs of the people we support through the best of times, but especially, through the worst. Our Refuge from the Storm Initiative provides support for people with disabilities during the hurricane season by creating habitable environments in which they can ride out the storm in safety and comfort. This includes installing generators, hurricane shutters, and impact windows on our group homes as well as our Adult Day Training Centers.
In all but the most extreme circumstances, and because of the unique population we serve, it is imperative for the health and safety of our residents that they remain in their group homes or in our centers, as opposed to evacuating. While this might sound contrary to public opinion, studies have demonstrated the real-world implications evacuation and relocation can have on how a person with disabilities copes before, during, and after hurricanes and other natural disasters. In one such study, researchers noted that “emergency personnel and voluntary service organizations frequently do not consider the support needed by individuals with disabilities in post-disaster exercises” (Stough, Sharp, & al., 2016). As part of the study, researchers also surveyed survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The results emphasized that survivors with disabilities struggled to recover for several reasons, but most notably because many were forced to evacuate to “unfamiliar environments” where they did not receive the same level of support they previously had.
In a review of emergency evacuation and disaster relief practices, another study concluded that public shelters often failed to provide appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities (Twigg, 2011). The reasons for such failures ranged from an inability to meet specific dietary needs (unable to chew, diabetics, etc.) to difficulty accessing medications and medical supplies. Perhaps even more troubling, the article noted that people with disabilities were often “invisible to emergency officials and relief workers.”
By contrast, Sunrise’s staff are well-equipped to care for the unique needs of people with disabilities. We are dedicated to remaining with the people we support, ensuring that their physical, mental, and emotional needs are met. But services like this during such critical times would not be possible, were it not for the support of our partners in the community. In the following weeks, we will share how our funders throughout South Florida have empowered Sunrise to better support people with disabilities during the hurricane season.
Stough, L. M., Sharp, A. N., & al., e. (2016). Barriers to the long-term recovery of individuals with disabilities following a disaster. Disasters, 40(3), 387-410 .
Twigg, J. e. (2011). Disability and public shelter in emergencies. Environmental Hazards, 10(3-4), 248-261.