“My Two Cents” – October 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

In early October, HMFA will be putting on the Governor’s Conference on Housing. This is usually a three day affair in Atlantic City, and it gives businesses and agencies such as Project Freedom the opportunity to see the latest products and services in the housing industry, but to also attend the various learning seminars on housing management and financing. It is also an excellent opportunity to meet face to face with HMFA and DCA officials, staff and other agencies, that impact affordable housing in New Jersey.

This year I have been asked to be part of a panel on Supportive Housing in New Jersey, which I have done in the past. This kind of workshop is very timely now since the affordable housing industry has recently faced some significant changes due to the Federal Tax Reform Act passed last year. That act significantly de-valued the price for Tax Credits by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 % down to about 15 %. The net effect was to give a tax break to most corporations, who previously would invest in Tax Credits as a way to reduce their federal tax burden. Since taking effect last year, this new law has significantly lowered the price for tax credits ultimately reducing the total paid by as much as $ 500,000.

For Project Freedom, that reduction in total price paid put a big hole in our financing for our Gibbsboro project. Our investor syndicator did help by scrambling to find some other funds such as the penalty money paid to the Justice Department for claims against some of the largest banks. However, that money was limited and did not provide all the needed funding for this project. We had to do extensive value engineering to our buildings, that is to say, to give up some amenities, so as to bring the cost of the project more in line with our budget or available funds. Now under construction, we are hoping that we can save all of our contingency money so as to put back some of those enhancements.

Couple that issue with the fact that the State of New Jersey’s Budget continues to run a deficit with expected revenues to fall short of the expected spending. In addition, our new governor, Phil Murphy continues to want to increase spending for other social programs without really knowing that the funds will be there for their expense.

Finally, although many towns have settled in court on their Affordable Housing plans for the third Round, there are a number of new proposed bills in the legislature that will impact getting new affordable housing completed. Without giving the bill numbers here, one bill was to have every proposed project do an extensive, and costly, feasibility study before moving ahead.  Another bill wanting to eliminate the PILOT programs that reduce the real estate taxes paid by these affordable housing projects. A third bill would require using Davis Bacon Wage scales to all construction projects that are funded with any federal or State funds. This alone provision would increase the cost of the projects by 30%, and thereby reduce the available funds for more projects.

So, with the fact that the Towns have had to go through the courts in order to get approval of their housing plans, many now are asking for the return of COAH. Funny, what goes around comes around.

“My Two Cents” – September 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Every year, Marion and I and Tracee Battis, our Director of Housing Development, attend the Governor’s Conference on Housing, which is  always held in Atlantic City.  Now I know what you are thinking, not much work goes on during that time, but probably lots of gambling.  Not so with me however.  I learned a long time ago that no one wins against the House.  So, what I usually wind of doing is spending those dollars in the gift shop rather than at the blackjack table.  At least that way, I bring home something for my son or daughter.

This year, I have been asked to be a part of a panel discussion on Supportive Housing.  That means that I have to actually prepare a powerpoint presentation about Project Freedom Housing and why we think our housing is a preferred design when compared to other alternatives.

This is easy for me to do, since I live this job every day, and have a good idea as to what is successful and what is not.  And the truth is it is really simple.  Project Freedom housing is barrier free design, makes it easy for anyone to live in one of our communities.  Whether you use a wheelchair or not, anyone can appreciate the functionality that our housing creates.  Our units are larger than most, to accommodate a wheelchair; usually one story, or if two story, provide elevators in each building.  They have lowered kitchen cabinets, ADA appliances, use sustainable outside  materials and are Energy Efficient to the latest Energy Standards.  Today, our new units are even LEED’s certifiable. 

But I think the most important part of this story, is that our units are built with the understanding that we are creating the most independent environment possible.  Our homes are for those individuals who are capable of independence and in making their own life choices.  They are not group homes, that are run by one agency, which have caretakers that oversee everyone’s actions.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the group home model, which does fit a certain target population.  But our units are for that person, who although may be severely disabled, can make their own free choices, and can therefore live an independent lifestyle.  All our tenants have leases, which give them certain rights and responsibilities for their apartment.  They pay a rent, and for that, Project Freedom provides good housing, shovels the snow in the winter, and cuts the grass in the summer.  We also fix anything that goes down in the units under normal course of business.

In the old days, prior to Project Freedom housing, the choices were very limited to someone who uses a wheelchair.  Either a nursing home or hospital were all that was available.  Not a good choice for someone in their twenties. 

Now however, things are different.  Our housing model has spurred other developers to at least build more units that are accessible within their market rate housing.  That housing, along with our barrier free housing model are helping to increase the choices for independence that all people what to enjoy.

From Normans Desk – September 2018

This month marks seventeen years since the attacks of September 11th.  

For many, the memory of that awful day is fading, but my memories are vivid down to my shirt and tie.  The day started out so bright, beautiful, and refreshing and  ended so dark and frightening.  September is also National Preparedness Month when preparedness experts try to catch your attention to prepare for another, inevitable, dark and frightening day.

Every year since the attacks, I choose to honor three fragments that create my memory of that day.  First, I honor the life of my friend and colleague Colleen Fraser who died on Flight 93 with those other selfless heroes who may have saved the Capitol or the White House or thousands of other lives.  Colleen was a fighter, and she was in good company that morning fighting to take back that plane.

Second, I remember the lives of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died that day.  Most knew going into those buildings that some of them would not come out alive.  They knew this instinctively by virtue of their experience and profession.  They still went in with police officers and EMS personnel to save those who could not save themselves.  They went in to save people with disabilities.

And, yes, thirdly, I remember those people with disabilities who died that day in those towers.  I was not     watching the horror on television that morning.  I had a meeting at 10 o’clock and during that meeting I spoke of Colleen and wanting to connect her with someone.  Later, someone told me of the collapse.  My very first thought was that many firefighters had just died; my immediate second thought was that many people with disabilities had died as well.

How many people with disabilities died that morning may never be known.  We do know that the corporations and government agencies housed in those towers hired people with disabilities.  We do know that some people with disabilities made it out because they had a plan, their company had a plan, or some colleague or friend took the initiative to get them out.   We do know that others stayed behind not wanting to burden friends, not wanting to get in the way, or just having unwavering faith that the FDNY would get to them.  We also know that loyal friends stayed behind with them.  We know that some people with disabilities who stayed were rescued but many died with their rescuers.

Every victim of these attacks needs to be remembered and honored.  I feel a personal duty to honor Colleen, The 343, and those almost nameless people with disabilities who stayed behind.

Let us all remember the victims and the heroes of September 11, 2001, by getting prepared and staying  prepared.  You never know how a bright, beautiful, and refreshing day may end.   Check out my Emergency Preparedness Desk page on this site by clicking here.

From Norman’s Desk – August 2018

This year will be the 23rd time in my life that I cast a vote for a member of Congress.  I remember back in 1972 being forced to vote two weeks ahead of time by absentee ballot because my polling place was not accessible.  I remember in 1992 being challenged at the poll because of disability, and I remember the empowerment I felt by calling a state hotline while at the poll to “fix” the situation to my satisfaction.

Times have changed for people with disabilities in terms of voting ease.  Now most polling places and polling booths are accessible. Voting early by mail is encouraged for everyone in many states.  Yes, there are still barriers to voting—especially in other states, but there is no excuse for any person with a disability not to vote. Nothing about us without us, right?

But I want to talk about something besides voting. I want to talk about people with disabilities getting involved with political campaigns.  I have done it twice when I first starting out.  I worked on a statewide Republican campaign for governor and a county campaign for a Democrat.  They both lost, and that may be a commentary of the type of person I support. 

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

Nevertheless, these campaigns opened doors for me, and, more importantly, these candidates, their staffers and supporters gained a greater understanding of my needs as a person with a disability.  This was a great asset in advocating on disability issues through these same people over the years.

“Nothing about us without us” can take many forms at all levels of government.  But we need to be involved to make this come true!  We need to be involved from the start by voting!  Before we go to public meetings, before we demonstrate, before we sit-in, before we get arrested, WE NEED TO VOTE!!!  The rest is meaningless unless we exercise our right to vote. 

To paraphrase our great leader Justin Dart: We need to vote as if our lives dependent on it!   We all need to vote on November 6! 

“My Two Cents” – August 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

“What goes around, comes around.” 

“What once was old is now new.”       

I am sure we have all heard theses phrases before, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I am referring to issues revolving around Affordable Housing in New Jersey.

Yesterday I attended an open hearing of the Assembly Committee Housing.  The committee members were called together by chairman Benjie Wimberly (D. Passaic) to discuss the state of affordable housing and the complaints of several Towns about the burden that affordable housing will place on their towns.  This is the result of COAH not passing third round rules back in 2015, so the Towns have had to go to the Courts to resolve these issues.  Most have settled with Fair Share Housing and have had their affordable housing plans approved by the Courts, however with numbers that they still don’t like.  And so, a call for a return of COAH to administer these plans and settle these issues.

That would be all well and good, if COAH had been allowed to work as it originally was set up.  In the early days, the COAH board was a bi-partisan Board and would work with towns to discuss their affordable housing issues and ultimately arrive at a settlement.  However, the towns still railed against having to do their housing obligations, so then governor Christi’ sought to marginalize COAH to the point that it was no longer able to function.  Ultimately, The Supreme Court ruled that until COAH is reconstituted, Towns would have to have their housing plans certified by the courts.  So that is where we are today.

Settling through the Courts was always an option, however today it is the place of last resort, so that Towns now must finally settle, establish their plans and then help to get the construction done.  This is what they don’t like.  At yesterday’s hearing, I heard a lot of statements from the members of the committee, as well as from the mayors of many towns, of how they support affordable housing      however they are worried that they don’t have sufficient infrastructure within their towns, to manage this new growth.  They fear overbuilding of the town, overcrowding in their schools, and higher taxes.  All this really without having any new construction being built yet. 

So, this clearly is still a very big issue for towns in New Jersey.  We are yet to hear about the new Governor’s position on Affordable Housing.  Will the Governor re-institute COAH or a like body that will take up these issues and remove them from the courts.  Or will he allow the process to run its course, through the judicial system, ultimately having judges making the decisions as a Town’s      affordable housing plans.

My experience has been that even when COAH was an active body, some towns would still delay, and throw up barriers as to why they couldn’t comply with the law.  However, with the issues in the hands of the courts, Towns have been forced to settle and move on.  My recommendation would be to stay the course, allow the Courts to do their job, and settle these issues.  No longer are towns     allowed to get away with delay after delay, hoping for some governor or new legislature to change the law.  Given some time, we will begin to see new housing develop that will ease the burden of those who need it.  Finding decent and affordable housing should be something that we should all support.

My Two Cents – July 2018

Well it’s that time of year again, when the Governor and the State Legislature argue over the State Budget, which must be passed by June 30.  If not, then the government is supposed to shut down.

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Now the Governor has said that he doesn’t want to pass a budget that doesn’t have a realistic forecast that shows that the revenue to support the budget will indeed come in.  He acknowledges that other governors have played games with the budget, often presenting very optimistic forecasts as to the amount of revenue that the State would generate, only to fall very short of that forecast,  thereby having a severe shortfall at the end of the year.   This is why he advocates for higher taxes which only further burden the citizens of New Jersey– A state that is the sixth most expensive state in which to live.

The opposition both from the Democrats and Republicans are urging some combination of tax cuts also with some tax increases.  The problem is that the Governor has laid out such ambitious goals and has promised increased spending almost across the board, that there doesn’t seem to be any amount of money sufficient to pay for his new programs.

Along with this scenario, is the fact that the Governor wants to confiscate the money which is still in the municipal housing trust fund accounts, to help balance his State budget.  These funds were raised as fees paid by for profit developers when they build commercial and market rate housing.  They cannot be used for anything else but affordable housing, however, in the past governors have taken similar monies from dedicated fund accounts.  Witness the gasoline tax, which was only    supposed to fund repairs to our roadways, but has often found itself being put into the general fund to balance the budget.  As a result, this past year, that tax was raised.

Furthermore, as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling with regard to COAH and the municipality’s affordable housing obligations, municipalities need those funds more than ever now, in order to fund their required housing needs.  Without these funds, towns could legitimately tell the court that they are unable to comply because the State has confiscated their housing trust funds.  These funds   survived the several attempts of the Christi Administration to scarf them up, so it would be a shame for the new Democratic governor to now arbitrarily do that now.

So, a call to action is needed.  Call you State lawmakers and tell them that you don’t want those funds put into the General Budget but to be used for what they were intended—and that is creating more affordable housing.

 

From Norman’s Desk – July 2018

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

Our nation celebrates its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4th.  We celebrate the idea that this nation wanted to be free from rules, regulations, and laws created without input from the Colonies. 

We also celebrate the concept that each person has equality in the eyes of the law.  Although many are still tramping upon this basic concept today, its promise has survived thanks to the sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears of many. 

As we celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember what we are celebrating and why.  We need to remember the sacrifices of those who have died for the concepts of independence, liberty, and freedom.  We must also remember that the fight is not over for people with disabilities, and, indeed, remember that the fight is only beginning for many of us. 

The promise has been slow in coming for people with disabilities, and for many of us, equality is still not here, is still a concept enjoyed by others, and is a promise that still needs to be kept.

The promise is a lofty one, yet for some people with disabilities the promise translates into more practical considerations: the freedom to make choices in their daily lives, to be responsible for their lives, and to be a contributing part of their community. 

Freedom and independence are grand sounding words, but for some they mean the right to do simple tasks. 

Freedom and independence are empty and hollow words when elected officials ignore our needs and discount our vote.

Expecting the promise of freedom to be kept without struggle and sacrifice is foolhardy.  Again, our history teaches that participatory governance over oneself or one’s country means stepping up to participate and sacrifice.  Individuals must take up the cause of freedom, work together, and battle for the promise to be kept.  This is true now for people with disabilities. 

So, while we celebrate what happened 242 years ago, let us remember for many of us with disabilities the struggle for freedom continues!    Join me on July 16 to “RevUp the vote by people with disabilities at our rally at the NJ State House.  Get more information by clicking Here

From Norman’s Desk – June 2018

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

For most of my life and well into adulthood, June represented the end of school and the beginning of the Summer season.  Even after leaving college too many years ago, June felt like the end of a period of intense work.

More recently, as my readers are keenly aware, June became my month to remind everyone to be prepared for Hurricane Season, which “officially” begins June 1. 

Much more recently, June has been the month to write about being a father.  I have only celebrated Fathers’ Day nine times as a father before this year.  Celebrating the day as a father is far different than celebrating as a son with my father.  For one thing, a son is trying to show his Dad his love and appreciation that he feels for him while the Dad wants to show his son (or daughter) the wonderment and pride of being Dad.  Being Dad to any child is wonderful and awesome.  Father’s Day is the icing on the proverbial cake.

Fatherhood and Motherhood can be daunting and pleasurable at the same time.  Every parent knows this mixture of feelings.  I think, however, those of us with obvious disabilities also feel an additional mixture of emotions.  Indeed, there is pride of your child and pride of being a parent when others think you should not or cannot be a parent. 

There is also the apprehension of being judged by others because you have a child and a disability.  Your capabilities and skills as a parent are constantly being scrutinized to see if, indeed, you can take care of your child.  This scrutiny is always in the back of your mind as you try to let your child experience what other children experience.

The article below by Robyn Powell, an attorney and a nationally recognized advocate fr people with disabilities, describes some of the fears and harassment that parents with disabilities face throughout the nation.  The parents profiled in Robyn’s in depth piece are themselve “frontline” disability advocates who have the fortitude to fight for their children, and this makes me frightened for the parents with disabilities who have not yet learned these skills. How many have lost their children because the “system” can be overwhelming? 

This is the unfortunate price we pay by being parents with disabilities.  Before President Obama left office, the White House sponsored a conference on parenting with disabilities because more people with disabilities are paying that price nationally.  The price can be minimal for some, higher for others, but well worth it to hear your son say “Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!”

Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02

 

 


PARENTS WITH DISABILITIES FACE AN UPHILL BATTLE TO KEEP THEIR CHILDREN

by ROBYN POWELL  –  Pacific Standard  —  January 3, 2018

Nearly one in 10 children in the United States are at risk of being removed from their home by a child welfare agency simply because their parent has a disability.

In October, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of five parents with disabilities who had their children removed by New York’s Administration for Children’s Services, alleging widespread discrimination. What happened to these families is not unique or uncommon; rather, their tragic experiences are part of a national phenomenon: Parents with disabilities are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system and once involved are more likely than non-disabled parents to have their parental rights terminated.

For more than four years, Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler have been fighting with the state of Oregon to regain custody of their sons, Christopher and Hunter. Both Fabbrini and Zeigler have intellectual disabilities. “I tend to learn a little slower than others but it in no way affects my abilities to safely care for my kids and has no effect on my day-to-day living,” Fabbrini says.

Christopher was removed by Child Protective Services in September of 2013 when he was only four days old, after Fabbrini’s family contacted the agency, concerned for Fabbrini and Ziegler’s ability to care for the baby. In February of 2017, CPS removed Hunter, when he was only two days old, directly from the hospital.  According to Fabbrini, “they have been in the system ever since.”

Since their initial involvement with CPS in September of 2013, the couple has enrolled in several parenting classes. “[CPS] said if you take this parenting class or if you do this course or you do these steps then that will increase your chances of getting your son back. Well, here we are four years later and we still do not have our children,” Fabbrini says.

The couple’s quest to regain custody of their sons has persisted for four years and included many courtroom battles. As Fabbrini and Ziegler navigated these trials, they also became figures in the fight for disability rights. “Our main goal is that we want our kids back and to have a family. We also want to stand up for other families in this situation and help them have a voice.”

For Carrie Ann Lucas of Windsor, Colorado, these issues are both personal and professional. Lucas has mitochondrial myopathy, a type of muscular dystrophy that requires the use of a power wheelchair and ventilator assistance to breathe. She is hard of hearing and has low vision. Lucas is an attorney and has represented parents with disabilities for nearly two decades. She currently works for the state agency that oversees court-appointed attorneys.

Lucas is the mother of four children, all of whom also have disabilities. She has adopted each of them from foster care. Despite the state deeming her capable to adopt four times, Lucas has been referred to CPS on numerous occasions, and says she has “lost track” of the exact number.

One time, for example, her daughter’s school filed a report with CPS because the girl’s ponytail was “too tight.” Other times, Lucas was reported to CPS for neglecting her children because she wanted them to be independent and autonomous, such as requiring her teenage daughter to drive her own wheelchair from the school bus to the door of her home.

Every referral to CPS increases the risk of further action, even if the report was based on senseless allegations. “If people have multiple referrals, then every single one gets investigated,” Lucas says. These investigations can be traumatizing for families, especially for children who came from foster care and have long involvements with CPS, like Lucas’ children.

Lucas’ first negative encounter began nearly two decades ago when she set out to adopt her niece, a process that lasted 16 months. It took a judge threatening to put the CPS worker in contempt of court if she didn’t immediately place the child with Lucas. Lucas says the CPS worker told the judge, “There is no way that a handicapped woman can take care of a handicapped child. We’re going to be picking up the child within two weeks.”

“Well, we’re 18 years down the road, and she’s still with me,” Lucas says.

Lucas’ experience motivated her to attend law school and become an attorney. “I thought, if this is happening to me, and I have a master’s degree [and] I take care of other people’s children all day long, what’s happening to every other parent?”

Research indicates that parents with disabilities and their families are overrepresented in the child welfare system. While parents with disabilities make up only 6.2 percent of all parents in the United States, a recent study found that 19 percent of children in foster care have a parent with a disability.

Nicole Brisson of Sage Haven Associates, Inc. conducts parenting assessments of people with disabilities and provides recommendations to CPS and the courts. Brisson’s intimate involvement with child welfare cases involving parents with disabilities offers her a unique perspective.

“I think that the lack of understanding of community members and stigma causes parents with disabilities to be under a microscope more so than parents without disabilities. A bump or bruise on a child of a parent with a disability who is learning to walk might warrant a call to CPS, whereas it would not if the child’s parent did not have a disability,” Brisson says.

Once parents with disabilities are reported to CPS, they face pervasive stereotypes that often have devastating consequences. CPS has an obligation to act, which often means hiring experts to guide them. Yet Brisson claims many experts have little to no training or experience working with people with disabilities, and are unable to adequately evaluate parents and measure progress. “Courts do not realize this, err on the side of caution, and move to terminate rights often without evidence that the parent is unfit.”

Bias toward parents with disabilities transcends all disability types—physical, sensory, intellectual, and psychiatric. However, Lucas says certain segments of the disability community experience worse treatment. “I think [parents with physical disabilities] get a lot of referrals, but we don’t get a lot of cases,” she says, referring to the difference between doing a welfare check and opening a full-fledged investigation. “For parents with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disabilities, referrals often turn into cases.”

For Fabbrini and Ziegler, the fight is far from over. A circuit judge issued a ruling four days before Christmas that deemed the pair fit to raise Hunter, stating, “I feel the threat articulated to Hunter is fairly amorphous. … There is no allegation that they’re not able to meet his basic needs.” Though they were able to take 10-month old Hunter home from foster care, they’re still battling to bring four-year-old Christopher home as well.

The rights of parents with disabilities and the rights of children are not mutually exclusive, yet in ensuring the rights of children, the rights of parents with disabilities can often go by the wayside. Ensuring that disabled parents have the opportunity to raise their children and are provided support, if needed, benefits both parents and children—the onus now falls on Child Protective Services agencies to adequately protect both children and parents with disabilities.

 

“My Two Cents” – June 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

From time to time, I write a column on the status of our affordable housing situation that is playing out now in New Jersey.  Since the Supreme Court’s ruling that COAH was defunct in 2015, Towns have been required to work out their “Round Three” obligations in the courts.  Most towns have settled, and have entered into an agreement with Fair Share Housing but still a good many have not, so this process now is shaping up to be a rather lengthy one.  Based on recent court rulings, especially one from Judge Mary Jacobson, in Mercer County, the courts are not    letting the towns off the hook—with many judgements requiring more units than if the towns had settled their cases in the first place.

In many of these settlements, the Court is requiring that the Towns provide the “ reasonable opportunity “ for housing to be built, which also mandates that the Towns provide some kind of financing, or contribution to these projects, in order for them to truly be built.  Many towns have used their affordable Housing Trust Funds for this financing, and as a result have no moneys left for future housing needs.  About half of the towns have not completely used up their funds, and as a result the State of New Jersey estimates that there is about $46 million in these municipal trust fund accounts which could be used for that purpose.  These funds were raised when A500 was passed and allowed the municipalities to charge a 2% fee on all commercial new construction.  The law specifically mandated that these funds had to be maintained in separate accounts and could only be used for the creation and support of affordable housing.

Two years ago, then Governor Chris Christi tried to take those remaining unused funds to balance his State Budget, however the Courts ruled against his doing so.  Many towns also placed those existing funds into new accounts, which were not reported to the State.  Now, when towns very much need these funds to complete their affordable housing plans, the present governor, Phil Murphy, is again trying to take those funds to offset his current State budget deficit.  His plan is to move those funds over to the Department of Human Services which would thereby reduce what he would have to provide from the general State budget—not what the funds were intended to be used for.

Now we have heard this kind of proposal before.  The legislature will pass a particular bill to remedy a specific need, but then when some other perceived crisis seems to occur, the moneys are funneled back into the State general fund, where the Governor can use as he pleases.  This is simply not right.  The Affordable Housing Trust Fund moneys should only be used for their stated purpose—that is to build affordable housing—not to be a substitute for the funding of a specific State Department or agency.

Now this argument is hard for me to make, since funding Human Services is something close to my heart and the consumers and tenants of Project Freedom.  However having a place to live is equally important, and  using these funds to replace original Human Service funding is not what should be done.  Some would call this process, “sleight of hand”  or robbing “Peter to pay Paul.”  Also, it is disingenuous to change the purpose for taxation, from its original intent, to then use those funds to shore up the State budget.  The Legislature needs to tell Governor Murphy, NO, that these funds need to be used only for the creation of affordable housing, otherwise New Jersey will continue to fall further and further behind on this issue, and towns will never have the resources to fulfill their stated housing plans.

 

From Norman’s Desk – May 2018

Norman A. Smith, Co-Founder/Associate Executive Director, Project Freedom Inc., is a subject matter expert in inclusive Emergency Preparedness for people with disabilities, functional, and access needs

It is May!  It is time for my annual rant as we near Hurricane Season.

“In the next decade, the probability of a major hurricane hitting the Northeast is one and a half to two times greater than in recent years. We are returning to the earlier decades where landfalls were more common,” said from Dr. William Gray, Emeritus Professor, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University.

That prediction came true five years ago with Hurricane/Super-Storm Sandy slamming into New Jersey.  This year’s predictions by Colorado State University’s team, now headed by Dr. Philip J. Klotzbach, is for a “slightly above” average season for 2018.  This is worrisome since last year’s initial prediction was for an “average” season.

This is the 35th year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued the Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecast. Recently, the Tropical Meteorology Project team has expanded to include Michael Bell, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science. William Gray launched the report in 1984 and continued to be an author on them until his death in 2016.

Dr. Klotzbach’s team’s initial prediction is: A total of 14 named storms with seven hurricanes and three of them becoming major hurricanes.

 Last year’s prediction was 12 named storms, six becoming hurricanes, and two reaching the major threshold.

The actual number for the 2017 season was 18 Tropical Depressions turning into 17 named storms; ten of these storms turned into hurricanes with six being “major” in power and scale.  Remember Hurricanes Harvey and Maria?

The prediction also estimates the probabilities of at least one major hurricane making landfall:

For the Entire U.S. coastline – 62% (Last year it was 42%)

For the U.S. East Coast including Peninsula Florida – 39% (32% last year)

With this year’s prediction in mind, it is not too early to start thinking about severe weather and being prepared for it.  The first step is being more aware of both the potential threat and the “emergent” or imminent threat.  Here is what FEMA recommends that people with disabilities do to address that need.

Severe Weather Preparedness for People with Disabilities—It is important to know in advance what steps you need to take to keep yourself and your family safe. 

Do you know the best way to get emergency alerts and warnings? If you have a disability that affects your communication, identify the best ways for you to access emergency information in advance. What television stations in your area offer live captioning? Can you sign up for text, email, or telephone alerts through your municipality? Keep phones and communication devices charged, and always have a backup way of learning about emergencies. Some options for alerts and warnings are listed below.

  • Television stations with live captioning
  • Emergency Weather Radio (some can support strobe lights, bed shakers and text readouts)
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts – If you are in an area where the alerts are available and have a cell phone that is equipped to receive them, you may automatically receive a text message when an emergency alert is issued.
  • Smartphone applications – Many smartphone apps will provide text and audio weather alerts. You can set the locations and types of alerts you would like to receive.
  • Social Media – If social media is accessible for you, look for local emergency management agencies and news stations that also use social media to broadcast alerts and warnings. Save these organizations to your ‘favorites’ or begin ‘following’ them in advance.
  • Local warning systems – Many localities have emergency alert services that will provide alert information to you in a format of your choice. Most locations can send messages to email addresses, mobile phones (text or voice), landline phones, TTYs and Braille readers. Contact your local emergency management agency to learn what options may be available in your community.
  • Support network- Talk to trusted friends, family and neighbors and create a plan to notify each other of emergency information.

After determining how you will be notified of an emergency, put together an emergency plan and kit. Involve your friends, family, neighbors, support staff and anyone else that you trust to assist you. Determine how you will contact them in an emergency and what they can do to assist you. Think about where you will take shelter in your home if you need to. Also consider any services you need (personal care assistance services, dialysis services, etc.) and how you will access those services in an emergency. Talk to provider agencies about their emergency plans   Learn more about preparing for severe weather at www.ready.gov/severe-weather.