Oroville residents are returning to their homes after the evacuation order has been lifted. Whether that's a good idea is up for debate since there is more rain in the forecast and the situation is unfolding. What's less debatable is that the evacuation of Oroville's disabled population left much to be desired.

Oroville's plan endangered the disabled

Paul Timmons is the Chairman of Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies. The organization works with cities and states to develop comprehensive strategies to effectively evacuate disabled people when disasters are imminent.

Many areas have either bad strategies or like Oroville, no strategies and they have to wing it.

Case in point, disabled people who needed to evacuate were advised by Oroville authorities to call 911 for help and an ambulance would show up.

This might seem innocuous to the average able-bodied person.

However, Timmons said that evacuating via ambulance is basically the worst option. The most obvious problem with this plan is that there's a strong possibility that there are simply not enough ambulances to get everyone out. The other problem is that Oroville's disabled people run the risk of losing their independence.

"Ambulances are designed to go to three places: Hospitals, morgues, or nursing homes," he said.

They don't go to shelters. What we are worried about happening is that disabled people who were previously independent will get lost in the system and become trapped in nursing homes with no way to communicate."

Timmons went on to say that evacuating via ambulance is a bad option for another reason: You can't take your stuff with you. Disabled people tend to have a lot of equipment. Things like power wheelchairs, computers, assistive communication devices can't go in an ambulance and would most likely be destroyed.

What you'd end up with is a situation where people have no ability to communicate or move around efficiently. This would increase the likelihood of a person being trapped in a nursing home. Since many people who have a Disability would quite literally rather die than go into a nursing home, this can complicate evacuations.

Oroville, rest of country, needs to 'use imagination'

To make things worse, it wasn't necessary to use ambulances.

Public transit, rather than ambulances could have been used for the evacuation. However, all public transit, including paratransit, was shut down during the evacuation.

"Somebody could have used a little imagination," Timmons said.

More importantly, they could have consulted the disability community. Oroville's problems with evacuating disabled people are not unique. According to Timmons, they're common from California to Georgia.

This is because they don't actually include the community in the conversation.

As a result, things like the fact that expensive adaptive equipment gets left behind by ambulances gets easily overlooked. The best way to fix this, according to Timmons, is to include the disability community in disaster planning.

"We're the experts," he said. "Let us help you help ourselves."

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