Serving Alaskans with Disability: An Integrated Approach

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By: Amanda Cooper, Alaska Health and Disability Program Manager

With 663,000 square miles of land, rural location, and risk for at least seven types of natural disasters, Alaska’s emergency preparedness efforts are vital to the health and well-being of its residents. The majority of Alaska is inaccessible by road; therefore, emergency response efforts rely mostly on air and water transportation. Alaska invests heavily in its local and state health and medical surge capacity following a disaster. Of Alaska’s 735,000 residents, 23.8% live with disability. In addition, only half have enough food and water to last 5 to 7 days, the minimum time Alaska recommends for its citizens plan to be prepared. The unique needs of the state combined with the complex needs of Alaskans with disabilities mean preparedness efforts need to be comprehensive, integrated, and proactive. The State of Alaska has an integrated approach to increasing disaster education and awareness, preparation, and response.

Alaska Health and Disability Program logoThe Alaska Health and Disability Program (AHDP) uses a grant from CDC’s Disability and Health Program to work on several emergency preparedness projects aimed at improving preparedness among Alaskans with disability. Our most intensive effort centers on training for service providers, caregivers, and Alaskans living with disabilities and their families. Using the Get Ready! toolkit, Alaska’s adapted version of Oregon’s Ready Now toolkit, the program provides in-depth training for adults with disability that addresses who, what, when, where, why, and how of emergency preparedness. Participants are introduced to the Get Ready! toolkit and given guidance on how to use the toolkit to develop an emergency plan and build home and go emergency kits, called SKIP kits.

SKIP – Safety Kept in Place

Photo of Alaska SKIP Kit with emergency items.Training includes the highly interactive activity of building a personal Safety Kept In Place (SKIP) kit, a small emergency preparedness starter kit that include items such as small flashlights, mylar blankets, bandanas, permanent markers, whistles, and hand warmers. The AHDP’s goal is to provide a SKIP kit to every Alaskan with disability to keep in cars, desks, backpacks, and other easily accessible locations. In addition to the Get Ready! training, SKIP kits can be requested from the AHDP at no cost for any Alaskan living with a disability. We have recruited volunteers who are assembling 5,000 kits for distribution in fiscal year 2015.

Plan and Practice

In March 2014, Alaska led the Alaska Shield 2014 exercise to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 9.2 magnitude Great Alaska 1964 Earthquake by replicating the earthquake’s effects and resulting tsunami. The Department of Health and Social Services conducted the health and medical component, exercising its capacity to meet the medical needs of patients in a catastrophic earthquake. Alaska, the first state to own and operate a former Federal Medical Station, erected the Alaska Medical Station and treated 356 non-critical patients in 7 hours over two days. Additionally, Samaritan’s Purse opened a field hospital adjacent to the Alaska Medical Station. These resources stood ready to address the needs of all Alaskans, including individuals with disability, who do not require hospitalization. During Alaska Shield 2014, in-state resources and federal assets were used to move patients to unaffected locations in and out of state. During an actual disaster, these resources would only be utilized as a last resort.

Building an Infrastructure using Lessons Learned

Cover of AHDP brochure with people and a house.After the Alaska Shield exercise and the 2013 Galena flood, our expertise was called in to create the DHSS Emergency Operations Plan Functional and Access Needs Annex (FANA). FANA will provide the structure, policies, and procedures needed to meet the needs of Alaskans with disability during an emergency. Disabilities addressed in FANA include a variety of visual, mobility, cognitive, emotional, mental, and physical limitations. Since the needs of Alaskans with disability during disasters are more complex, specific planning is necessary.

In addition to the FANA, the lessons learned from both local and national disasters identified gaps in service for adults with disabilities. Over the next few years, the AHDP and partners will address three areas of need for Alaskans with disability.

  1. In partnership with several state and private agencies, we will provide guidance and technical assistance to disability-related agencies on preparing realistic continuity of operations plans, and for technical assistance and equipment provision in disaster response.
  2. We will work to strengthen communication and training between emergency managers and disability agencies with the goal of full integration of Alaskans with disability in emergency planning and disaster exercising on a community and statewide level.
  3. To turn our vision of 100% accessible shelters into a reality, we will enter into a new partnership with the American Red Cross of Alaska to provide technical assistance on improving shelter accessibility.

With help from CDC, Alaska has made great strides in improving emergency preparedness for Alaskans with disability. AHDP has been able to actively focus not only on emergency preparedness for Alaskans living with a disability, but on health promotion as well. The creation of the AHDP has opened the door to increased advocacy, awareness, planning, and training. The combination of current and future efforts will ensure that Alaskans with disability are included, supported, and regarded during all phases of disaster planning and response. As Alaska moves” North to the Future,(our state motto), the emergency preparedness efforts focused on Alaskans with disability will continue on a dynamic, progressive path.

To learn more, visit:

Alaska Health and Disability Program

Alaska Health and Disability Program Facebook page

CDC’s Disability and Health Program

Amanda Cooper serves as the Alaska Health and Disability Program Manager. Amanda’s focus areas include health promotion and emergency preparedness for Alaskans with disability. Amanda received her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage and her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Northwest Nazarene University.

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Page last reviewed: September 11, 2014
Page last updated: September 11, 2014