Shriver Center expert promotes emergency preparedness for people with disabilities in Massachusetts

Sep 13, 2013

The Department of Public Health’s statewide emergency preparedness public information campaign features the expertise of Sue Wolf-Fordham, who works to improve self-preparedness and equal access to emergency services for individuals with disabilities through her role at theEunice Kennedy Shriver Center, a unit withinUMass Medical School’sCommonwealth Medicine division.

DPH approached Wolf-Fordham to share her insight as part of the Together We’re Ready – Massachusetts Prepared campaign, which launched Sept. 1 to coincide with national Emergency Preparedness Month. The DPH campaign is part of a coordinated effort between DPH and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

A project manager in charge of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Initiative at the Shriver Center, Wolf-Fordham is featured in a 30-minute video being broadcast on cable access channels across Massachusetts and available online.

“When DPH came to me I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for the Shriver Center to be a part of something bigger,” said Wolf-Fordham, the mother of an adult child with a severe disability. “This is a topic that is very important, to me and the Shriver Center. We work hard to help first responders provide efficient and equitable emergency response, and for individuals with disabilities to have a better understanding of the importance of self-preparedness.”

Since 2005, the Shriver Center’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Initiative has sought to help adults and children with disabilities prepare themselves for emergencies through training, developing planning resources and drills. It has also developed education programs for first responders, including fire, police, public health and EMS.

The DPH campaignprovided Wolf-Fordham an opportunity talk about the at times complicated, and often individualized, needs of people with disabilities in emergency situations.

“This is an area that, unfortunately, previously received little attention,” Wolf-Fordham said. “There have been, traditionally, a lot of gaps. It just wasn’t on the radar screen, and we’re all working together to change that.”

In the panel discussion video, Wolf-Fordham highlights the needs of individuals with access and functional needs, one of the campaign’s four weekly focus areas. Individuals with these needs may include people with disabilities, such as mobility, vision, hearing, cognitive disabilities or Autism. Others with potential functional and access needs include people with mental illness, chronic health conditions, limited English proficiency or limited financial or transportation resources.

Wolf-Fordham urges those individuals, their families and support networks, to do “what if” thinking and planning for emergencies. Someone who uses a power wheelchair, for instance, would have to develop a plan for mobility if they couldn’t charge their wheelchair battery due to a power outage from a storm.

The Together We’re Ready campaign also includes online videos, print materials, a social media component and highway message boards in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Transportation.

“We want Massachusetts residents and families to be informed, plan ahead and be prepared for all types of emergencies, from weather events and power outages to flash floods and flu season,” DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said. “Now is the time to come together in our communities to make Massachusetts ready.”

The $120,000 campaign is federally funded through the Office of the Assistant Director for Preparedness and Recovery within the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The DPH Emergency Preparedness Bureau developed the campaign in partnership with local health and healthcare organizations, including the Shriver Center. 

Clickhere to view the full 30 minute video that features Wolf-Fordham.

For more details on Together We’re Ready – Massachusetts Prepared, visit

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