Reducing Our Risk

Portlight Strategies, Inc.

Entry Overview

At the last census, some 54 million US citizens identified themselves as living with a disability. According to some polls, as many as 70 percent of this population do not have a disaster plan in place, and are completely unprepared to deal with a natural or manmade disaster. Additionally, governmental emergency management agencies and disaster relief non-profits often fail to address the needs of people with disabilities in disaster situations. Our Getting It Right conference series, now in its second year, brings together the disability community with emergency management professionals and disaster relief organizations, fostering cooperation and inclusion in finding solutions to the most pressing problems facing the disabled community.

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 

Charleston, South Carolina 29422
United States
Population Impacted: 
54 million
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
We actually address all hazards of natural and manmade disasters, all of which are highly likely at any given time, however the frequency is impossible for us to quantify.The
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
The disability community - including the elder population - is perhaps more vulnerable than any other, particularly because their needs are so often ignored or overlooked by disaster planners.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Going without medications, losing power to vital medical equipment, being cut off from help. The potential for loss of life is very high.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Again, the disability community is perhaps most vulnerable of all to these risks.
Preparedness Goal: 
Foster holistic, integrative disaster planning for the needs of all citizens, including those with functional and access needs.
Implementing Actions: 

o Bring together the disability community with those who respond in times of disaster, to dispel false information and facilitate discussion of the real needs of the community with respect to evacuation, short-term sheltering and sheltering-in-place. Targeted audience is first responders such as EMTs and ambulance drivers; van drivers for governmental and non-governmental agencies; search and rescue personnel; shelter operators and staff, both paid and volunteer.

o Define and “out” the problem by drawing upon the first-hand experience of conference guests to illustrate the shortcomings of current disaster response planning and training. Invite disaster responders to share problems and frustrations they face in the trenches.

o Assist in a collaborative discussion to fine-tune the issues and identify key points to address in planning guidelines and training materials. Focus on simple, easily executable solutions for evacuation transportation and short-term shelter for all people with disabilities, addressing issues of mobility, communication, and cognition.

o With information gathered and refined at the conference, Portlight Strategies will create a cohesive training program for emergency planners and disaster responders. Training webinars and other digital presentations will be made available through the Portlight Strategies website.

o Foster strong relationships between centers for independent living and their local emergency management authority, to render accountability to the disability community at the grassroots level.

o Establish a monitoring system for shelter accessibility, to include inspection and verification that shelter venues are truly accessible to all people with disabilities, and that shelter staff are properly trained to meet their needs in the aftermath of a disaster.

Describe Your Solution: 

The need to provide an environment in which the disability community can bring its perspective to emergency managers, disaster planners, and first responders is our primary focus, and one which we've begun to address through our Getting It Right conference program. Our first 3-day conference, held in Atlanta in June of 2013, was met with overwhelming support and expanded interest, with requests for more regionalized events. In response to those requests, a one-day workshop was held in Charleston, South Carolina on January 30, 2014, followed by a 2-day conference in Weehawken, New Jersey. Both were equally successful, and brought additional interest from emergency managers in other regions of the country. Through these Getting It Right conferences and workshops, dialogues are begun, problems are identified, awareness is increased, and a path is opened to finding workable, easily-implemented solutions, particularly in the areas of accessible transportation and shelter. Attendees are provided with collateral materials, post-conference, including training aids based on exercises and group discussions in which they participated.

An unanticipated, but hugely significant result of our Getting It Right conferences has been the heightened awareness in the disability community of the need to take full responsibility for our own disaster preparedness, in the form of making and maintaining a detailed, personal disaster plan. We believe that as we continue bringing disaster planners and responders together with the disability community, transportation and shelter services will be improved to eventually fully accommodate people with disabilities. Most importantly, lives will be saved.

Our next conference is scheduled for February 24-25, 2015, in Newport News, VA, and plans are underway for a Gulf Coast-focused conference in Biloxi, Mississippi, in late summer 2015, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the ADA. In bringing together the disability community with representatives of regional OEMs, we expect to launch a dynamic and informative dialogue that will address areas of service which can still be improved upon, and as before, seek creative, but simple, easily-effected solutions.


The economic effects are not yet quantifiable, but for those emergency management agencies undertaking the task of improving their planning for people with disabililties, the likelihood of expensive lawsuits regarding ADA non-compliance lessens. Additionally, making disaster transportation and shelter more accessible and inclusive saves the increased costs of emergency rescues, and "special needs" shelters.


While our response to the needs of the disability community do not directly effect the environment, they do increase the personal preparedness of people with disabilities, at a time when we're seeing a marked increase in natural disasters.


We support independent living movement, and the self-actualization of people with disabilities. Our conferences and other activities foster a greater sense of community, by inclusion and integration, and also by educating the disability community to take responsibility for their and their families need for disaster planning and preparedness.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

There have been no negative or unintended impacts associated with our conferences or other disaster planning activities.

Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The average cost of each conference is $25,000. The first two conferences were funded by a single grantmaker, while the third, in New Jersey, we a joint effort of Portlight and The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Our next conference, coming up in February, is being held at the request of, and fully funded by, the emergency management agencies of Hampton Roads, VA, due to the demonstrated benefits of the interaction of these agencies with members of the disability community and disability stakeholders.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

The main requirements are engagement with local and state emergency management agencies and disability stakeholders; speakers from the disability community, including disability rights activists and attorneys, and speakers from EM agencies who have successfully addressed the issues of integrative disaster planning, including, but not limited to, accessible transportation and shelter.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

Contest Partners

Contest Sponsors