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Wildfires Bring Renewed Concern For Physically Disabled

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jack Fink
Jack moved to Dallas after three years at WESH-TV, the NBC affil...
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The rapidly moving wildfires burning across Texas prove just how quickly entire neighborhoods have to evacuate.

But for the intellectually or physically disabled, it’s not easy.

So Dallas County is now working to help those with special needs during emergencies.    D’Juan Harris says if the recent wildfires had forced him to evacuate, he has a plan.  “I’ve re-played that over in my mind many times and always think about do I have everything I need to go?”

Harris has been a quadraplegic for 14 years.  He’s glad to hear that Dallas County is becoming the first county in the state to incorporate people with special needs in its overall emergency planning.

Lisa Chambers, the county’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says, “Instead of a bureaucrat like me reading a post-Katrina white paper, we’re sitting with them at the table, and they’re telling us what we can do to help.”  Chambers says part of this program is to train citizens how to help Harris and others during weather emergencies and other major incidents.

So why has it taken ten years after the September 11 attacks or six years after Hurricane Katrina to do this?  Chambers says, “What we’re trying to do now in Dallas County is find out where the gaps are and fix those.”

Dallas County has contacted Sherry Wacasey, the director of Arc of Dallas.  The group helps people who have intellectual and physical disabilities.  Wacasey says, “The Arc plans to collaborate with the county to provide CERT training to caregivers and professionals to help them know what to do in the event of a crisis.”

Advocacy groups say neighbors are crucial.  That’s because they can help those with special needs on their street or apartment before first responders arrive.  In addition, the county says it will encourage the physically impaired and their caregivers to use evacuation chairs like this one to get down stairways in an emergency.

D’Juan Harris says, “It’s reassuring to know for the special needs comunity, those that are disabled, that someone is thinking about them.”

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