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Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later: Independent Panel Recommendations – Part 1

Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later: Independent Panel Recommendations – Part 1

By Cheryl Heppner

Editor: Have you ever thought about the difficulties you would face during an emergency? The situation would be tough for anyone, and hearing loss compounds the difficulties. A coalition of hearing loss organizations has been lobbying on your behalf to ensure that people with hearing loss are not left out in emergency situations. Here’s Cheryl’s report on their recommendations.

You are welcome to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC. See the credit information at the end of this article.

This is part one of two parts.


One year ago today, Hurricane Katrina began its devastation along the Gulf Coast. The storm was followed by other hurricanes, and before the season ended we saw massive destruction and evacuations on a mind- boggling scale. We also saw an enormous outpouring of generosity to help the victims of the hurricanes.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Response

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) worked around the clock to help restore communications in the aftermath of Katrina. FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin also established an Independent Panel to review the impact of Hurricane Katrina on telecommunications and media infrastructure in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and to make recommendations to the FCC to better prepare for future disasters. The Panel met five times. At its public hearing in Jackson, MS, NVRC Executive Director Cheryl Heppner and NOD’s Hilary Styron testified about Katrina’s impact on individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The Independent Panel presented its report to the FCC on June 12, 2006. Moving swiftly, Chairman Martin and FCC Commissioners Adelstein, Copps, Tate and McDowell issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking one week later on June 19, 2006. They invited comment on actions that could be taken in the four areas they identified. These areas included improving communication of emergency information to the public and improving the operability and interoperability of public safety and 911 communications in time of crisis.

Comments from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Last week, on August 21, 2006, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., American Association of People with Disabilities, Association of Late-Deafened Adults, California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Deaf & Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network, and National Association of the Deaf jointly submitted comments to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The comments from these organizations included:

General Comments – Through the organizations’ active participation in many FCC proceedings related to emergency services, many concerns have already been stated, such as in the recent Review of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

– Although the Independent Panel made several recommendations regarding people with disabilities, other measures are required. The Panel’s recommendations, while thoughtfully considered, do not suggest tangible action.

– Top priority must be given to the need for effective communication of information to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. In an emergency situation, a deaf and hard of hearing person, like any other individual, must have many options for communication. If one option proves ineffective or unworkable in conveying emergency information, emergency personnel should be prepared with readily available and accessible communication alternatives.

– People with hearing loss use many strategies and tools for communication. Katrina disrupted those strategies and took away tools. Heavy rain, flooding and perspiration destroyed hearing aids and cochlear implant processors or made them inoperable. Loss of power and telecommunications services made it difficult or impossible to reach the professionals who provide visual information through interpreting or transliteration, or translation of spoken words to text or serve as support service providers for individuals who are deafblind to facilitate their communication, provide visual and auditory information, and act as sighted guides.

– At a minimum, Katrina reinforced 1) the critical need for additional redundancy to ensure effective communication during preparation, notification, response, and recovery; 2) the need to develop a visually accessible communication system that can operate with off-the-shelf batteries; and 3) the need to better equip shelters and train providers to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing evacuees.

Here’s Part Two


(c)2006 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC