By Ted Horton-Billard
As I am now assigned to help with the disaster relief operation due to the current wildfires raging across Southern California, I have been reflecting on my deployment experience at the Northern California Wildfires, last month. During the northern CA wildfires, I had two placements with the Red Cross. The first was as part of the Shelter Support Team (SST), a new group being developed, where we visited shelters, checked what the shelters needed and worked to solve problems either right at the shelter or by bringing it back to headquarters. With the Shelter Support Team, I was able to learn how different shelter managers maintained the facilities and equipment, interact with the public and ensure that clients receive proper care. While on the team, I was able to see that, despite the devastation and huge loss that was experienced, communities stood strong and worked together to help each other in an incredible way.
The second part of my assignment was working with the Disability Integration Team, a group that focuses on accessibility during disasters and in shelters. As a member of the deaf community, I am passionate about accessibility for all deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as anyone with accessibility needs. With the Disability Integration Team, we assured that signage was in the right place. For example, signs that indicate how to get an interpreter from Local Assistance Centers needed to be visible and accessible for everyone. Another example is installing video phones for people who are deaf and amplified phones for those who are hard of hearing. The moment that really affected me was when I was talking to a deaf family and asked them how they were alerted about the fire and knew to evacuate. They told me that the police officers and firefighters didn’t have a specific alert to inform deaf and hard of hearing people about the evacuation, and that they were saved by the help of their neighbors who kept ringing their doorbell (with flashing lights) or banging on their door (to feel the vibration) until it alerted them.
With these experiences in Northern California, my personal experiences and my interest and desire to make everything more accessible for those with functional and accessible needs, I am working on a team to continue to make Red Cross services more accessible to everyone. But for now, I am off, back to helping families and people who have evacuated due to the Thomas Fire and need assistance in Ventura County.
Ted Horton-Billard is a graduate student currently pursuing his Master’s in Public Administration (MPA). He is a Deaf AmeriCorps Member, with the Red Cross Los Angeles Region’s Mass Care Team, who has been passionate about advocating for people with disabilities as well as people with access and functional needs.