Calif.: Schwarzenegger Signs Bill to Improve Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities

Calling Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina "wake-up calls," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that requires the state's Office of Emergency Services to make sure that members of the disabled community are represented on all pertinent emergency preparedness committees, among other measures.

The bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, also requires the state's director of emergency services to provide the state legislature with recommendations regarding emergency preparedness, planning and procedures for disabled people no later than Jan. 1, 2009.

"I am proud to sign this legislation, which takes into account the unique needs of persons with disabilities during an emergency, such as access to transportation and life-saving medications," Schwarzenegger said.

The bill's other measures include a requirement that the state director of emergency services and the state fire marshal's office "seek research funds to assist in the development of new technologies and information systems that will assist in the evacuation of disabled persons."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with disabilities might be at greater risk from a disaster than people without disabilities.

People who use wheelchairs, canes or walkers, for example, might find that elevators are not working and streets are flooded or filled with debris, making it difficult to evacuate or move about. Meanwhile, emergency responders might not understand how to communicate with people who have a hearing loss.

The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services has put together a list of preparedness tips for people with disabilities. This list is available on the agency's Web site.

Legislation Aims to 'Protect Animals in Times of Disaster'

Schwarzenegger also signed a bill sponsored by state Assemblymember Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that was written to help improve emergency planning and evacuation procedures for animals during disasters.

The bill requires the Governor's Office of Emergency Services to work with local officials to implement the procedures into the statewide standardized emergency management system.

"California has seen more than its share of natural disasters, such as fires, floods and earthquakes. Thorough emergency planning is critical for the safety of all Californians, including our pets and livestock," Schwarzenegger said. "This legislation will help protect animals in times of disaster."

The bill requires the Office of Emergency Services to incorporate the California Animal Response Emergency System (CARES) program into the standardized emergency management system. The CARES program, developed in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, aims to ensure that California is prepared to respond effectively to the myriad of animal-related issues and needs resulting from a disaster, according to Schwarzenneger's office.

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