Letter to the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program of the California Public Utilities Commission

Letter to the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program of the California Public Utilities Commission

Reina Vazquez

DDTP Committee Coordinator

rvazquez@ddtp.org

 

Barry Saudan

CCAF CEO and CPUC Liaison

bsaudan@ddtp.org

 

Dear Reina Vazquez and Barry Saudan,

The Bay Epicenter of Advocacy for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (BEADHH) would like to work with you to ensure efficient and effective communication of emergencies to the deaf and hard of hearing communities in California. Public safety is not being currently optimized, as was seen during the recent Northern California fires where deaf and hard of hearing residents were not aware of the phone calls made to alert communities to evacuate so as to avoid the deadly and quickly spreading fires. As a result, most deaf and hard of hearing residents were among the last to receive notification of the fires, and escaped within minutes of their homes being consumed by flames. The form of fire notification typically came from neighbors urging their deaf neighbors to escape. This is unacceptable. There must be an emergency warning system that provides improved up-to-the-minute life-saving communication between emergency responders and deaf and hard of hearing residents.

  1. It is important to prepare for emergencies ahead of time so that appropriate warning and communication systems are in place.
  2. Emergency notification and communication systems need to be varied and redundant. During the Northern California fires, only phone calls were made to alert residents of the imminent fire danger. Instead, messages should be sent in as many ways as possible. Current technologies – which include phones, TTY, SMS, email, videophone, radio, television – as well the development of new technologies should be employed to send multiple simultaneous alerts.
  3. Ensure proper interfaces are interoperable and connected to enable the processing of all types of emergency contact for call routing and handling
  4. Provide broadband service and acquire necessary related equipment to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs)
  5. Implement a program to register residents who are deaf and hard of hearing with the local police and fire departments, if not already existing, and actively promote this registration program.
  6. Provide training programs for first responders to learn how to help and communicate with deaf and hard of hearing residents to ensure effective communication with these individuals.
  7. Provide training for first responders to effectively implement the varied emergency communications capabilities such as voice, text and data mentioned above.
  8. Ensure the availability of accommodations as recommended under the Americans With Disabilities Act. These accommodations include qualified sign language interpreters, CART, and assistive listening devices as well as other auxiliary services.
  9. Update current emergency communication systems to follow Next Generation 9-1-1 protocols to receive and deliver emergency information through varied communication systems such as text messaging.

The most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that approximately 10 percent of US residents are deaf or hard of hearing. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there are slightly more than 39 million people residing in California. That means approximately 3.9 million or more California residents are deaf or hard of hearing and unlikely able to obtain emergency information via the phone or use a phone to contact the police.

It is crucial that California residents who are deaf, deafened, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing have access to emergency services. This is critical during times of disaster –  weather-related crises, earthquakes, as well as personal situations –  when people require access to emergency services.

I therefore strongly urge you to take the necessary steps and commit the requisite resources to enable residents of California to have effective emergency communication services with PSAPs.

Sincerely Yours,

Linda Drattell

BEADHH President

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