Judge rejects city disaster preparedness plan

A district court, in a first of its kind opinion, ruled February 10 that the city of Los Angeles is discriminating against people with disabilities by failing to accommodate them in its emergency preparedness plans.

“(People with disabilities) will continue to be at-risk for suffering and death in disproportionate numbers unless the City family drastically enhances the existing disability-related emergency management and disaster planning process and readiness as required by the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other statutes,” according to the opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The Disability Rights Legal Center and Disability Rights Advocates filed the class action lawsuit, which affects an estimated 800,000 people with disabilities.

City officials argued its 200-page Emergency Operation’s Plan delegates authority over emergency preparedness matters to various departments, such as the police and fire departments, and to the Red Cross. However, the court found that the authorities in these departments “similarly have no plans for addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities” and the lines of responsibility between the Red Cross and city officials are not clear.

The city’s Department of Disabilities found similar findings in a 2008 report of the city’s emergency preparedness plan and recommended that the city survey all its shelters, warming centers, cooling centers, relocation sites and evacuation assistance centers. Though many of these shelters were, in fact, reviewed, “few – if any – of the shelters meet all the requirements mandated by the (Americans with Disabilities Act),” according to the opinion.

The court also rejected the city’s argument that the plan is not discriminatory because it is facially neutral in regards to people with disabilities, citing precedent establishing the role of disproportionate impact in discrimination cases.

The opinion also cited long held concerns about assistance for people with disabilities in natural disasters, especially after Hurricane Katrina. The National Disability Rights Network was heavily involved in assisting people with disabilities following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.