The World Institute on Disability and the American Red Cross announced Wednesday the creation of an innovative national training, awareness and action program to help Red Cross staff and volunteers better serve people with disabilities during disasters.

The program will be funded through a $300,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation.

"The American Red Cross is committed to providing the best service possible by constantly learning and building on its over 100 years of providing disaster relief," said Harold Brooks, chief executive officer of the organization's Bay Area Chapter. "The American Red Cross trains staff and volunteers to respond to almost 75,000 disasters annually. This grant from Verizon is much appreciated and will help people with disabilities through this collaboration with the World Institute on Disability," Brooks continued.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the American Red Cross saw a need to improve outreach and response to vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, children and low-income communities.

The World Institute on Disability (WID) and the American Red Cross will set up a pilot program in one of 10 targeted locations across the country that could be affected by a high-risk disaster such as an earthquake or forest fire. The pilot location has not yet been selected, but among the locations selected for the training are Chicago, Houston, New Orleans and New York.

Goals of the program include:

  • Improved emergency preparedness and disaster response by Red Cross staff and volunteers for people with disabilities.
  • Increased collaboration between the American Red Cross and local community-based disability organizations and resources.
  • Increased understanding of the special needs of those with disabilities in disaster situations.

Once the pilot program is complete, the American Red Cross will expand the training to all 10 locations to teach 200-300 staff members and volunteers how to better serve people with disabilities in emergency preparedness and disaster response. The WID also will develop disability resource directories for each location, including information on local community-based disability organizations.

"Through this generous Verizon grant, the WID and the Red Cross will have an opportunity to create new approaches to disaster preparedness that will result in creative ideas to improve responsiveness for each and everyone of us," said Kathy Martinez, executive director, World Institute on Disability.