PandA Pod: Stories of Democracy when Disaster Strikes

April 8, 2020
PandA Pod: Stories of Democracy when Disaster Strikes

The PandA Pod continues with our three-part series called Disaster, Disability & Democracy! This series focuses on voting rights and census participation of people with disabilities, and how these areas of democracy relate to disasters and emergencies.

The PandA Pod content is all about P&As and provides useful and entertaining training and technical assistance to P&As and our allies in an all-new format. Keep coming back to the PandA Pod for a range of disability rights related topics from some of your favorite National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) staff and our special guests all year long.

In this third episode of the PandA Pod, entitled “Stories of Democracy when Disaster Strikes,” NDRN hears the stories of the P&As who are out on the front lines every day ensuring that the rights of people with disabilities are not dismissed when disaster strikes. First, we hear from Zachary Borodkin of Disability Rights New York who shares his experiences during Super Storm Sandy in 2012. Then we hear from Stephanie Duke of Disability Rights Texas who explains why census participation before and after emergencies is so important for people with disabilities. Lastly, we hear from Carol Starchuski of Disability Rights Florida who explains her experiences following Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Transcript

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Greetings everyone, and welcome back to NDRN’s podcast called the PandA Pod, where we focus on all things related to Protection and Advocacy for people with disabilities. I am Justine “Justice” Shorter, Disaster Protection Advisor here at NDRN, where I focus on all things related to disasters, fires, humanitarian crises, and other emergencies, and I am joined today to my right by the phenomenal Erika. Erika, how you doing today?

Erika Hudson:
Great, thank you very much. This is Erika, Public Policy Analyst with NDRN, focusing on census, or as we like to call it, the big C-

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
The big C.

Erika Hudson:
… here in the studio. And to my right, I had to double-check that.

Michelle Bishop:
I saw you. I saw the hesitation in your face.

Erika Hudson:
On my right or my left. To the right.

Michelle Bishop:
This is Michelle Bishop, Voting Rights Specialist at NDRN, here on the PandA Pod with you today, the podcast filled with pandemonium.

Erika Hudson:
Oh.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
We knew she had to do it.

Michelle Bishop:
I stole a pun from Erika.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
We knew it had to happen.

Michelle Bishop:
It’s a big day. Big day here at NDRN.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Today has to be a big day because it is also the last day of this series all focused on disability, disaster and democracy. It is our final episode in this three-part trilogy.

Michelle Bishop:
Justice give me a beat, (singing). Erika, do you even know that song?

Erika Hudson:
I have no idea but I’m impressed.

Michelle Bishop:
(singing).

Erika Hudson:
That was a good one.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah, did you hear all all up in the [inaudible 00:01:32].

Erika Hudson:
I did, wow.

Michelle Bishop:
All right, we’ll do a whole other series where we introduce Erica to ’90’s RnB.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
And we’ll also be releasing a mixed tape coming up soon maybe and dropping at the end of the year. We don’t have any approval to do any of that, but hey, we have a mic.

Michelle Bishop:
Don’t worry the PandA Pod is here to stay. There are other NDRN staff that are eagerly cooking up spicy new content, including Erika and I who are working on PAVA with Java, a PAVA podcast.

Erika Hudson:
You heard it here.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Wait a minute though, if there’s anyone out there who does not know what PAVA is, could you tell them?

Michelle Bishop:
Oh, Protection and Advocacy for voter access.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
There we go.

Michelle Bishop:
They better know what it is.

Erika Hudson:
Hello.

Michelle Bishop:
Yes, we’ve got new content coming on the Panda Pod where Protection and Advocacy for people with disabilities is always on the menu.

Erika Hudson:
Literally the only thing on the menu but that’s fine.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
And we’re proud of that, that’s very clear. That’s why we’re proud.

Michelle Bishop:
The truth, truth.

Erika Hudson:
But so thrilled to hear that the PandA pod is here to stay ladies and hopefully with us as the three hosts, and as we’re already the host for today’s episode, we’re going to take it away and let you know where we’re going to be talking about today.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Absolutely. We have three phenomenal stories today and I think the content is pretty good. Michelle, would you agree?

Erika Hudson:
I’d like to say just to interrupt, they’re very captivating. It’s like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Michelle Bishop:
Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch.

Erika Hudson:
No.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
But good.

Erika Hudson:
Grey’s Anatomy has been on air for like 16 years. Imagine us in 16 years we’re going to be sitting in this studio.

Michelle Bishop:
We will not be. Nobody wants to watch 16 years of my life. Listen-

Erika Hudson:
I would. I think that would be fascinating. Just like the Panda Pod.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
The PandA Pod is fascinating. Not sure about the other things you’ve mentioned. I’m sure that this episode in particular though is going to be something that you want to stay tuned for. We have some wonderful folks from the network, the P&A network PandA network here who are going to be giving us some of their personal perspectives on these issues. And when we say these issues, we mean voting rights after disasters and the census. Isn’t that right?

Erika Hudson:
Oh yeah. Later in the episode we’ll connect the census to disaster assistance with Stephanie Duke from Disability Rights Texas.

Michelle Bishop:
And then we’ll get on the road after Hurricane Michael with the Carol Starchuski from Disability Rights Florida. But first-

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
But first we’re going to start out with the gentlemen who inspired me ladies. He was my inspiration for getting this particular series started on disability, disaster and democracy. He was a very active and eager individual who really, really cared about these issues. And everything that I do is driven by what the P&A network tells me that they need, which is what all of us do. So this gentleman’s name is Zachary Borodkin and he is a voting rights specialist coming out of Disability Rights New York.

Michelle Bishop:
Go voting rights specialist.

Erika Hudson:
Excellent.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Go New York. You’re a New York girl, yes?

Michelle Bishop:
Both true.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
All right. Hey now and so Zach has a truly stunning story that talks about his experience during super storm Sandy in 2012. We do think that you all will enjoy it. I don’t even need to say anything else. I’ll let Zach take it away.

Zachary Borodkin:
Hi, my name is Zachary Borodkin. I am a voting rights advocate with the New York P&A, which I have been working at for a little over a year now. My story begins on October 29th, 2012. It is just before 8:30 PM and I and a friend of mine are watching TV, and all of a sudden at 8:30 the lights go out. And that was the time that hurricane Sandy basically struck down on New York city, and my power would go out for the next five days.

Zachary Borodkin:
I couldn’t get out of my house because the elevator wasn’t working, and I couldn’t get to work. So I was basically stuck in my apartment for that week while the city recovered from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Now in this time because there were no electronics, I spent a lot of time thinking about what was happening around me. Because this was also a presidential election year and I knew that the governor of New York, Governor Cuomo had already declared an emergency in the days leading up to hurricane Sandy.

Zachary Borodkin:
But I was curious as to the other decisions that were going to be made around accessibility and access for people who could not get out of their buildings or who were trapped in the city and couldn’t get out. I realized that when you vote, because again, this was a presidential election year, when you vote, you’re not just voting for the governor or the president or the person who’s going to hold that specific position in public office.

Zachary Borodkin:
You’re voting for the process behind the decisions that they make. And part of that decision-making process involves people that they put into power to make decisions on issues involving education and issues involving emergency management. Because the governor or the person appointed cannot make those decisions on their own, they appoint people to make those decisions and have them carried out.

Zachary Borodkin:
I think this is why people should vote in general and following major disasters because you’re putting the person in charge who is responsible for giving someone else the power behind the decision making process. And part of that decision making process during hurricane Sandy was the recovery effort to help New York City recover. And since it was a presidential election year, a decision was made to have people vote from anywhere via affidavit ballot because some of the poll sites had been affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Zachary Borodkin:
My poll site was at the LGBTQ center on 13th street and Eighth Avenue. It was right where St. Vincent’s hospital used to be and that whole area was devastated. It was the decision of the governor to have people fill out affidavit ballots to vote from anywhere, and it was the decision of the governor to appoint an emergency manager who would decide on the recovery following Hurricane Sandy.

Zachary Borodkin:
This is an important reason why people should vote in general, because again, they’re voting not just on the person who’s going to hold high office, but they’re voting on the decision-making process. They’re voting on the people that the governor is going to put in power that’s going to be behind the decision-making process that’s going to affect their lives. This is an understated reason, but it’s a very crucial reason why people need to vote because these decisions affect everybody.

Erika Hudson:
Thank you so much, Zach. And now we go to Stephanie.

Stephanie Duke:
Hello, my name is Stephanie Duke. I’m the equal justice work disaster recovery legal fellow at Disability Rights Texas. I have been working in the Houston office for almost two years since hurricane Harvey hit after 2017. Disasters are catastrophic events, which range from terrorist attacks to extreme weather occurrences. And today the reality of it is that they’re increasing in numbers and in severity.

Stephanie Duke:
In 2019 alone, there were over a hundred declarations with damage assessments at over $91 billion. And in addressing means after disaster, previous traditional models have focused on self preparedness to potentially alleviate consequential costs. While this method has lessened some expenses, the exponential costs have not been decreased, so there’s been a new process that looks at the whole community or community resiliency approach.

Stephanie Duke:
Community resiliency has become the central framework guiding disaster preparedness and planning efforts with researchers, practitioners who are in policy-making involved and focusing on the factors that communities need. Different conceptualizations of community resiliency emphasize that communities have different types of resources or capital. However, if individuals with disabilities are not personally participating in these community resiliency efforts, their needs are not accounted for unless data from other resources is being used.

Stephanie Duke:
This is where the census comes in and is so important because the Census Bureau provides… They’re the agency for producing data about American people and our economy. At the national level, the Bureau was part of a number of different emergency management working groups organized by FEMA to coordinate the federal government’s disaster response and recovery efforts, which address economic recovery, health and social services recovery and community planning.

Stephanie Duke:
The Bureau also employs the emergency preparedness and response team to provide data about their population directly to units of local government. Without good responses to the census in the survey, the Bureau is unable to provide data to the units of local government and preparing and responding to emergencies.

Stephanie Duke:
Why is this so important? Basically comes down to numbers and the data because the data is going to provide how much money units of local government need. In preparing or responding to disasters, FEMA has a comprehensive planning guide that generally offices of emergency management typically follow to provide emergency services.

Stephanie Duke:
This guide emphasizes a community approach as well and reiterates the jurisdiction’s obligation and planning. These plans, whether it’s emergency operation plans or standard operating procedures include integration with other agencies such as but not limited to health and human services, the police, fire department, transportation to address the unique needs of that community.

Stephanie Duke:
Those units of local government rely on the data from the census to plan and respond to emergencies. So for example, when you’re looking at an area and how many hospitals they have, if one geographic area has one hospital and another geographic area has multiple hospitals, but they potentially could both be impacted, obviously, the area with one hospital is at higher risk for being able to not serve the community needs.

Stephanie Duke:
In general, that’s what they’re looking at. But specific to individuals with disabilities, knowing how many individuals in the area with disabilities that require a continuum of care would help them provide and plan for emergency responses. Another example is in general to local government in preparing request rescue equipment. They look at per-capita needs, but when addressing the specific needs of individuals with disability, they may need modified equipment or in the alternative training for first responders.

Stephanie Duke:
So that census, that data from the census is crucial in preparing what the community needs to address the potential disasters. FEMA also uses the data from the census to identify vulnerable communities and create a vulnerability index to assist with potential aid for public and individual assistance. This index is used to plan for mass care and emergency shelters and disaster response centers.

Stephanie Duke:
This data can also help staff shelters with medical and health professionals, but also potential need for durable medical equipment or other accommodations such as possible interpreters or assistive technology devices in order to allow accessibility to the shelters or disaster resource centers. So that’s kind of just emergency and response.

Stephanie Duke:
Then you go to the next phase with longterm recovery, which is administered by another agency after the short term recovery phase. And generally, and this all comes back down to money, it’s through a different funding source, but it’s all contingent on state and local plans, which is also again based on census data. And application for these funds, these plans rely on statistics in addressing the demographics in their specific area.

Stephanie Duke:
Without accurate data from the census, the needs of the community and specifically individuals with disabilities will be missed and not accounted for. For example, in a state mitigation plan seeking funds for reconstruction or rehabilitation of residences, individual residences, they may be requesting funds for elevation in a certain area because they’re on a flood plain. Specific to individuals with disabilities, there needs to be a discussion about accessibility, whether they’re going to need elevators or other ways to access these elevated homes. The data would help to identify those with potential mobility issues within a certain jurisdiction or region.

Stephanie Duke:
FEMAs vulnerability index does not include those denied because their homes were safe to occupy. So we still have tons of families, thousands actually that have unmet needs because they weren’t given any aid from FEMA. So when the state or local jurisdiction is relying on census data, they can look at individuals with disabilities in those areas to determine the potential impact of those unmet needs for the state planning.

Stephanie Duke:
The state mitigation plan also addresses those relying on public housing, and would potentially need relocation assistance specific to individuals with disabilities. It could produce access to affordable housing and other options and how many they’re having to target and look at. So it’s important for people to remember that the key to disaster preparation and response is responding to the 2020 census. This will lead to more effective and efficient emergency management and rescue operations as well as allocation of funds for rebuilding communities after a disaster.

Erika Hudson:
Excellent. Thank you so much, Stephanie. And now Carol, take us away.

Carol Stachurski:
Hi, this is Carol Stachurski with Disability Rights Florida. I’m here today to tell you a story about us working both our voting project and our emergency management project at the same time. As most will remember, we had a pretty devastating hurricane up here in the panhandle of Florida, hurricane Michael that had a lot of damage. Unfortunately, this hurricane hit right during voting, open voting.

Carol Stachurski:
We were concerned that polling places were open and running and buildings were not damaged, and how the different supervisors of elections dealt with making it all work so that people could vote. During early voting and on election day.

Carol Stachurski:
Hurricane Michael hit on October 10th, 2018. We here at the Disability Rights Florida got in our car on October 31st, which gave a good couple of weeks so that we didn’t get in the way of emergency management personnel, which we did not want to do and a good amount of time for the roads to get cleared.

Carol Stachurski:
On October 31st, we hopped in the car and we went to each one of the counties in the Florida panhandle that had been declared a disaster area by the governor and by FEMA. We started out in Tallahassee and the first one we hit was Gadsden County. What we wanted to do was get a picture of what kind of damage each one of these counties had, and how they dealt with it, and how it was working for them at the time during early voting and what their plans were for election day.

Carol Stachurski:
The first place we went was Gaston County, met with the supervisor of elections. They were very available, very accommodating. We went right to their office and got a report of how they were doing. They had to relocate one precinct due to building damage. They relocated the precinct to a library and they report everything is going well. Of interest was how they let voters know. They said they used the newspapers and postcards and a sign at the old precinct to notify voters of the change of location.

Carol Stachurski:
There was power available in all the precincts. The staff felt they were ready and had not run into any significant issues. Then we got back in the car and drove onto Jackson County. Met with the supervisor of elections in Jackson County. And as I’m telling my story, you will notice that we’re going from Tallahassee, which had just minimal damage into Panama City, which had the worst. So we see more damage as we’re going along.

Carol Stachurski:
Back to Jackson County, they were very accommodating, met with the supervisor of elections. They said they had no voting equipment damage. There was damage to a good number of structures that were planned voting sites. They said normally they have 14 early voting sites, and they have opened polling places at emergency staging areas and distribution centers. The Department of Transportation put out voting information signs throughout the County and provided the Secretary of State’s office cell phone number.

Carol Stachurski:
Information on the changes was shared via television, newspapers, at the college, at the chamber of commerce and at schools. They used signs at the closed polling sites so that people would know where to go for the new one. They also received generators from the Secretary of State and from Leon County supervisor of elections just in case. Power was on in all of their sites, but power was sketchy at the time. It would go in and out a lot. So they had standby generators just in case.

Carol Stachurski:
The early voting sites also were accepting vote by mail ballots, which was not the plan in the beginning. The regulation was if you were more than 20 miles from one of the new voting sites that you could bring a mail-in ballot to the supervisors of elections office. They had requested extra vote by mail ballots from the supervisor or the secretary of state’s office in Tallahassee.

Carol Stachurski:
Many of the churches were providing rides to the new polling places free of charge. Immediate family members were allowed to pick up vote by mail ballots to mail to displaced voters because a lot of voters were not in the area anymore. They were in shelters that might’ve been throughout the state or even another state. They were really good about sharing information and what their plans were.

Carol Stachurski:
They said they used social media in addition to some of the other avenues to announce the changes. Excuse me. Then we moved on to Calhoun County, met with the supervisor of elections there. They’re very available, very accommodating. They reported that all of their equipment was undamaged and functioning properly. They did have to move one site to a high school gym because of building damage.

Carol Stachurski:
One of the sites was under a tent. They had AC in the tent. It was one of those big FEMA type tents so it had AC. They were working with television, radio and telephone notification of the changes. The supervisor of elections in that County felt that they were in good shape and they did have generators available just in case. Then we moved on to Liberty County and the supervisor of elections was not there, but we talked with their staff and let’s see, they had no changes of locations at all.

Carol Stachurski:
All eight sites that were originally scheduled for voting had power. They did have generators at each one of the sites just in case. Then we moved on to Bay County, which is Panama City, which got the most of the damage, which had some interesting stories. We met with the supervisor of elections. He told us that they had spent the night in the supervisor of elections office where all the servers were because they were a little concerned. So staff spent the night there.

Carol Stachurski:
They did lose their roof during the night, and all of the water flooded into all of the servers for the voting equipment. Miraculously, and anyone that works with IT will shake their head at this. They were able to take all of the servers, take them outside, take the cover off. This is the next day when the sun is finally shining, take the covers off, dump the water out and lay them out in the sun to dry, and every single one of them worked. So that was really surprising.

Carol Stachurski:
Most of the buildings in Bay County were damaged. They had originally 40 early voting sites planned for early voting and most of the buildings were damaged and they ended up with six, what they call mega voting sites, which is they found a large building that didn’t have damage that was ADA accessible. And so they moved from 40 sites to six. It caused some issues with transportation because people had to go much farther distances.

Carol Stachurski:
But again, a lot of the local churches and FEMA and the NAACP all got together and provided as many rides as they could. So they used public service announcements to advise the public of changes including radio and television and social media. Bay County asked Disability Rights Florida to put it also out on their social media. So they tried to hit as many outlets as possible.

Carol Stachurski:
They said the Secretary of State from Florida had visited the supervisor of elections office three times already. I don’t think the mega voting sites were probably the most efficient way to do this. But with anybody who was in Panama city after hurricane Michael, there were very few undamaged still standing buildings. They didn’t have a lot to choose from.

Carol Stachurski:
So that was a story of how we combined two projects together, our voting project to make sure people with disabilities had access to voting, and our emergency management project, which we use to monitor how communities and people with disability are reacting and responding to a disaster.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Carol, that was a wonderful and amazingly enlightfull ride, ladies would you agree?

Michelle Bishop:
Yes. Thank you so much to all of our guests today. These stories were amazing.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
And what a wonderful way to close out this series guys. Just ending it with the voices of the folks who are out there on the front line doing this work to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are not dismissed, disregarded, ignored, pushed to the side, yeah.

Erika Hudson:
Absolutely. I like how you said dismissed and you said another word that started with a D.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah, I was tying in our 3D theme and the same thing.

Erika Hudson:
I was going to say 3D theme, I like it.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
All of things going on. Yes, but I mean we’re literally closing out this entire series about disability, disaster and democracy and I think that there were so many wonderful jewels that were dropped throughout the entire series. And do you guys have any favorite moments at all?

Erika Hudson:
Power at the polls. Loved it.

Michelle Bishop:
I was going to say when you coined the phrase the big C for census.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
That was a moment. That was a moment, you know what I mean? I did it for the culture. I did it for the culture.

Michelle Bishop:
That was a moment.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah.

Michelle Bishop:
I noticed nobody said when I sang Boys to Men for you. But that’s okay. My feelings aren’t hurt at all.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah, nobody mentioned the backup vocals that I provided, which became the foreground vocals.

Michelle Bishop:
So really our only audience was Erica and she was not impressed.

Erika Hudson:
Clearly

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
I took it from the background to the foreground and nobody cared. And it’ll take a lot of work to get those vocals in line. Anyway, it’s fine. I think that this was such a pleasure to do this series with you all. I think it puts us in a really wonderful position to inspire other folks to listen and then also other staff members to get involved. Because I think people are going to enjoy getting their content, technical assistance training type of material in a different format. Yeah.

Michelle Bishop:
Yes, and it’s 2020 so keep an ear out. Not an eye I suppose an ear out for a new series coming from Erica and I, PAVA with Java.

Erika Hudson:
Yes.

Michelle Bishop:
Where we’ll be talking about elections and voting rights all throughout 2020.

Erika Hudson:
2020 it’s a big year.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Okay, wait a minute. I feel like there’s a lot of tea that will be spilled about the census and the elections. So what’s in your mug?

Erika Hudson:
I see what you did there, I like the tea thing.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Steamy, steamy. All right.

Michelle Bishop:
Justice is definitely auditioning to be a guest.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Well listen, I’m just out here. I’m just doing the work on a day to day basis. Put me in the time. Put me in the time.

Erika Hudson:
I love it. We want to be sure to thank everyone who listen and the folks on the NDRN team who helped us put this podcast together.

Michelle Bishop:
Oh, shout out to Tina Pinedo.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah, who is our audio engineer. We also want to shout out our IT specialist who is such a phenomenal guy. His name is Charles and he does a lot of the hookup. He helps us out with a lot of stuff.

Michelle Bishop:
Charles is the fixer of all thing in here.

Erika Hudson:
We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Charles, quite frankly.

Michelle Bishop:
I wouldn’t have my life together if it wasn’t for Charles.

Erika Hudson:
Never.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah. I’ve got to give my mom some of the credit for this. But yeah, no I think Charles is a big part of this as well. I see. All right. Good to know.

Michelle Bishop:
Oh, Carol Bishop, I’m so sorry.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
But what we’re trying to say in a very roundabout way, is that there is a whole team that’s involved with putting these things together, right? So we want to give a shout out to the comms team, the admin team, just everyone who was supportive of just even the smallest details from helping us to get to the rooms booked and get the equipment secured. But then also all of the folks who participated throughout the series, we have some stunning interviews and really, really great stories.

Erika Hudson:
Oh, and they’re doing great work on the field every day.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
Yeah, so it’s been a joy.

Michelle Bishop:
Stay tuned in everyone. There’s way more coming for you on the PandA Pod. The PandA Pod.

Justine “Justice” Shorter:
We’re out.