Deaf People And Hurricanes
by Karen Sadler
(University of Pittsburgh)
Deaf people are known to be at significant risk during times of catastrophic weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes...it first started getting attention back in the early 1990s when I bugged the daylights out of the NOAA about putting visual signals on their instruments that receive satellite info from them. Everything up until then was audio, including locally in PA where we tend to get tornadoes. It was a big problem for me when my children were younger and I have no hearing. They'd use the same system to alert firefighters that there was a fire locally somewhere, and it was audio, and I couldn't hear it. Often when we have thunderstorms the electricity is the first thing to go out, so that leaves me with no access online or through television (besides they didn't start captioning weather until the 1990's). So not only did I have no idea what weather problems they were having, but I have no basement...so I'd send my children to a neighbor's home if I suspected anything wrong. During hurricane Andrew several deaf people were killed down in Florida, that got some attention. Then during Hurricane Ivan which we got horrible flooding from, the only person to die was a deaf man who had no idea of the problem and he drove into a raging creek, tried to get out and was washed away. I know this because my husband is on Allegheny Mountains Search and Rescue Team and they retrieved this man's body. There were rumors that are online that deaf people had been killed in Katrina, and I 'heard' that a deaf school down there in New Orleans was abandoned but do not know about the truth of these rumors.
During 9/11 my kids were either gone or in school, and the plane that turned and headed towards Washington from Chicago was plotted as going right overhead where we live, and then crashed not far from us. When they were plotting this, the captioning told me from the television what was going on and I rushed to get my daughter at high school, but they went into lock-down mode, and I could not reach her. The thing was is we also live near a nuclear power reactor and it was first suspected that plane would possibly hit the reactor because of its route. So I was panicky...
Anyway, we are starting to get better about telling our deaf community of problems...and most of us who have access to money tend to get phones like the Sidekick which allows us to both message people, phone through relay if absolutely necessary or call 911, and access our emails. This helps...they have finally put visual signals on the crank radios that get NOAA reports but I don't know how good they are. Any equipment for the deaf is significantly more expensive than it is for 'normal' people which is a laugh because most deaf are lucky to have a job, let alone one that allows us to afford all this equipment such as TTY's, radio alarms, visual Fire/smoke alarms, visual doorbells, and now this type of notification equipment. That will be one of the last things a deaf person would buy for access, and I would recommend that governments help with the costs especially for schools and other organizations in areas prone to hurricanes or tornadoes. But they won't...
I would have no problem if we were to face a devastating natural disaster here, with hijacking one of the many school bus (that could have been utilized to move the poor and people without cars in New Orleans) in order to save live...and face the consequences later. I found it absolutely reprehensible that people who 'borrowed' boats to rescue others were forced to go through the court system here (they were acquitted) in the U.S. during Katrina. There were boats, bus, available cars that could have been used to save lives...that merely were allowed to remain empty and face the incoming storm surge (and were total losses) rather than being used for obvious needs.
I have no patience with the federal, state, and local systems or with FEMA/NOAA who could have done so much more in preparation for a catastrophe that was known in the 1800's was going to occur.