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Ref: Deaf and blind emergency response outreach in Louisiana

The Advocate

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Course helps officials, deaf talk


By SONIA SMITH
Advocate staff writer
Published: Jul 2, 2007 - Page: 1B
Deaf and legally blind, Jackie Broussard weathered Hurricane Katrina alone in her house in Baton Rouge.
While she had planned to ride out the storm with a friend, those arrangements fell through at the last minute.
When the electricity went off, Broussard’s connection with the outside world — e-mail —was severed. The electricity stayed off for two days.
“I was scared. I didn’t know if it was safe to go outside,” Broussard, 51, said through a sign-language interpreter Thursday at a training event designed to help first responders and the deaf community communicate effectively during an emergency.
East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness hosted Telecommunications for the Deaf Inc.’s eight-hour course, with eight deaf and two deaf-blind individuals and 20 emergency responders in attendance.
Neil McDevitt, who is deaf, designed the course with situations like Broussard’s in mind.
After struggling to glean information from television news during the 9/11 terror attacks and the D.C.-area sniper attacks, McDevitt realized that emergency communication with the deaf community needs to be streamlined.
“There was no centralized form of training,” said McDevitt, the national coordinator for the project.
In an emergency, the deaf want an explanation why they have to evacuate a building, McDevitt said. The first impulse of emergency responders, however, is to tell people to leave, without readily clarifying why, he said.
In Thursday’s class, participants navigated their way through simulated emergencies, such as a bomb in an apartment building.
The groups then shared their experiences and talked about difficulties they faced.
The course is taught by two instructors, one deaf and one a hearing emergency responder. McNevitt, who is a volunteer firefighter in
Pennsylvania, said this combination lends the course credibility.
TDI has trained 800 people across the country since the first course was held last September. The course was funded through an almost $1.5 million Homeland Security grant to Eastern Kentucky University.
Thomas Tucker’s daughter Aimee, 39, is deaf, so he understands the issues this community faces. Tucker is the director of LSU’s National Center for Biomedical Research & Training and one of the people who helped the course gain Homeland Security certification.
“We all tend to be a little uncomfortable dealing with people not exactly like us, and so we don’t tend to ask the deaf community what they need,” Tucker said.
Baton Rouge Police Officer Brett Jones found the training beneficial.
“(The course) brought us closer to the deaf community, which we might not have been in touch with,” Jones said.
Elizabeth and Clyde Heurtin, both deaf, formerly of Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, were unprepared when Katrina hit.
“We didn’t hear anything about the hurricane coming,” said Elizabeth Heurtin, who now lives with her husband in the St. Charles Parish community of Hahnville. Her hearing son told them about the storm the Saturday before it hit and they evacuated the next day to Houston.
The Heurtins lost everything after 11 feet of water filled their house for days.
“We really couldn’t understand what was going on,” Elizabeth Heurtin said, faulting the lack of captions and sign-language interpretation on television.
“If I had really known how large it was, we would have had more time to prepare,” she said.
 

 

 
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