JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Friday’s wave of strong storms expected to roll into Central Mississippi has a member of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on high alert, but not for the reason you may think.
Yes, the state agency braces to respond to disasters with resources and life-saving information, but MEMA’s Amber Hall is one of four people in the country ensuring people with disabilities are a priority during emergencies. And she happens to be based right here in Mississippi.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that we get the people to safety,” Amber Hall said.
She’s called a Disability Integration Advisor.
“I always track the storm and see where it’s going,” Hall said. “Then I’ll inform the specific allies in that area.”
Her allies are a close-knit network of 25 disability organizations throughout the state.
The team is named R.A.R.E., the acronym for Recovery and Response for Everyone.
“I try to inform my R.A.R.E. committee about 72 hours before inclement weather so they can start making preparations,” Hall said. “I’ll tell them ‘this is what time you can expect the weather, please let me know if you need help evacuating anybody and if you have someone with a mobility disability that can’t just get up and leave.’”
Then, MEMA coordinates to route the resources and meet the need.
She’s also helped the agency revamp its communication to all types of people, including a braille hurricane guide and even Vietnamese and Spanish guides.
One of R.A.R.E.’s biggest projects right now is an Autism program for shelters.
“We’re working with the Mississippi Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, recreational therapists, and occupational therapists to put together a program with sensory kits for people with autism so they feel comfortable going to shelters,” she said.
Hall’s position is all because of a lesson learned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina.
In 2007, FEMA appointed a disability coordinator as required by the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act in 2006. The disability coordinator advises the FEMA Administrator on the challenges within the disabled community before, during, and after disasters.
It’s also why the Magnolia state has a Medical Needs Shelter in Wiggins, Mississippi; a unique facility compared to other states.
The shelter is as rare as Amber, who keeps all things disability-specific.
It is her job, but it’s also very personal.
“I have a mild form of cerebral palsy so I’m always thinking about how can my community and the people that are also affected by mobility issues – how are they being considered and how can they be planned for,” she said.
Planning even includes sign language interpreters during live announcements from the agency, reminding media companies to keep closed caption active, and ensuring everyone can access information.
“I always put myself in each situation and hope when I am older and maybe if my disability does progress a little bit and maybe I can’t get around so well, I hope that someone is considerate of me.”