Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
A federal trial is continuing in the case of disabled New Yorkers, who say the city needs a protocol for evacuating them during disasters, such as Sandy.
During the trial, Fire Department Chief Fred Villani was asked whether the FDNY had plans specific to evacuating the disabled, or whether he was aware of any special guidance from the federal government on dealing with the disabled. For each question, he answered no. In written testimony Villani explained that while the department doesn't keep records specifically about evacuating the disabled,it's something that's done everyday. He said the FDNY uses its experience and training to respond to everyone, whether they're able bodied or in need of special help.
In written testimony, NYPD Captain James Wahlig said that there's no general approach for locating and evacuating people with special needs because each situation is unique. During the trial, Wahlig testified that just prior to Sandy hitting, the NYPD used 30 MTA buses to get people out of flood zones right before the storm hit. The buses followed designated routes. But he couldn't say whether anyone with a wheelchair used the buses.
Disability Rights Advocates, who brought the case, argue that without specific plans, the disabled are at a disadvantage and they allege that some people were put in life threatening situations during Sandy, the most recent disaster. Attorney Shawna Parks gave the example of a man named Kenneth Martinez who was unable to board an evacuation bus because it was too crowded. Parks said the man ended up going back to his ground floor apartment and nearly drowned but was saved by a neighbor.