Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombings and Disaster Planning for Disabled People

Boston Marathon bombings
A family in Watertown on lockdown ran out of milk. Courtesy Police Wives Unite on Facebook.

I’ve been trying to think all week what I want to say about the Boston Marathon bombings.

Being Canadian and having an….intense…interest in US events is often difficult. I get very emotionally involved with what’s happening in America – and yet, there’s very little that I can do. I tried to give money to Obama’s campaign, but the fundraising people didn’t appear to want money from Canadians (which didn’t stop them from asking for it over and over once I ended up on the mailing list – I remember yelling at the computer at one point, “I’ll gladly give you the $5, just let me f*cking do it!”). I couldn’t vote, of course.

And while there’s usually an agency that will take my money in a time of crisis such as last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, ┬áthe emotions that the crisis itself brings up leave me feel like I’m stuck between two worlds. There have been natural events in Canada, storms and earthquakes, that have prompted to call friends frantically trying to find out if they’re okay. But I can’t recall ever turning on the news, hearing about a bombing on Canadian soil, and thinking, “Good Lord, so-and-so is there,” while reaching for the phone.

I’m not in the US, and I haven’t experienced with the US has, and I shouldn’t feel it as keenly as I do. But on Friday afternoon I eventually turned off the news and thought, “I can’t take this anymore. It’s too much.”, and didn’t turn on the news again until I saw on Twitter that the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings had been caught.

The Boston Marathon Bombings…For What It’s Worth…

Canadians hurt for you, my American friends. Our feelings about what’s happened to you…well, for me, since 9/11, when I heard about the second tower falling on the radio just a few seconds after walking into the kitchen to get my breakfast, run deep. Not as deep as yours, not by a long shot…but you should never think that we don’t care, or that we haven’t stood with you to share the pain of the senseless events of mass destruction that have gouged your country’s psyche over the last few years.

And we celebrate with you when these people that cause this destruction are caught.

As for what I want to say about the Boston Marathon bombings specifically…as I watched the news about the lockdown in Watertown, the thought occurred to me, “What about the people who get services and care through people coming into their homes?” I’m not talking about people like my father, who currently has a nurse come in to help him every day, but without whom he’s already proven (during freezing rain last week) he can easily survive for a day without support. I’m thinking of people that, because of severe medical condition and/or disability, and the inability to perform essential activities of daily living because of consequent limitations, who may have someone living with them or may not (that really doesn’t matter…I lived with my father for several days after I first came home, but if he’d fallen all that I would have been able to was call 9-1-1 and do basic first aid until they got there) who rely on having daily attendant care services.

It scared the shit out of me. I can’t imagine that care agencies in Canada don’t plan for service disruption contingencies like a full-city lockdown. Do they in the US?

Will they now?

Is This What the World Will Be Now?

It seems sad that maybe they’ll have to, that the Watertown lockdown to catch the second Boston Marathon bombings suspect in the ┬ámay become a, “It is what it is and now we have to do what we have to,” watershed moment. In the terrible times when everything is upside-down, in the bombings and the Katrinas and the Sandys and the now the plant explosions full-city lockdowns, how *are* we going to ensure that the people who, through no fault of their own, cannot take care of themselves, are still taken care of?

It’s becoming more important than ever make this question one of the ones that demands an answer as America finds a way to navigate this terrain into which it’s, tragically, being pushed. And I know that you get that. I know that you’re already thinking about disaster planning and responsiveness for people with disabilities, because I’ve spoken with very caring, competent people who are working on the problem and raising awareness about it.

You’ve got to find a way to keep these people and the agencies for whom they work funded. Because *every* American citizen deserves to have their needs met in an emergency, and one day you might be one of those people who needs the extra support.

You’ve got the experience and the expertise to show the rest of the world, “This is how you meet peoples’ needs when there’s an disaster. And look at the picture at the top of the post – you’ve got the heart.

Show us how it’s done.

And know that….this Canadian is impressed as all hell with how you’ve held up over the past week. And I’ll not give these people who caused this havoc any more publicity – you’ll not hear me talk about them again, and you’ll certainly never hear me say their names.

  • Great post! As the mother of a disabled child, I worry sometimes about the special challenges of dealing with a disability during a disaster. For example, I make all my daughter’s food in a blender, and when an ice storm knocked out power in our town for a week, I couldn’t do that. Luckily, I have a back-up recipe that doesn’t require a blender, and the grocery stores were open.

    As for agencies that provide care, I think that in a disaster, our agency would do whatever it took to make sure all their consumers were okay. I know this because I know that it is staffed by caring and dedicated people who are personally connected and devoted to the people they care for. Unfortunately, they are also overworked, underpaid and constantly frustrated by red tape. And trying to be caring and devoted under these circumstances is exhausting, which leads to high turnover, which means these agencies are constantly understaffed and struggling to keep new people adequately trained.

    I also think the answer is more than just funding for these agencies–it’s connecting the caring people in our community with the citizens who need extra care. And this means finding ways for people with disabilities to be more visible in their neighborhoods and communities, not stuck inside watching TV with a caregiver. My daughter and I have lots of people in our lives we could turn to for help in a disaster, and I wish that were the case for everyone, disabled or not.

  • wjpeace

    I have read many of the disaster management plans produced by the Federal Government and in particular New York City. This is deeply disturbing reading. The botton line is in the event of a natural disaster all people with a disability are screwed and on their own. Sandy proved this.