Emergency and Disaster Planning for Students with Disabilities – Response

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking questions of the minister representing the Minister for Education and Child Development about emergency and disaster planning and awareness in schools for students with disabilities.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: It has come to my attention recently that a James Cook University academic has been conducting research into levels of emergency and disaster planning readiness for school students with disabilities. The schools surveyed were in South Australia and Western Australia. It is concerning to note that this research demonstrates that students with disabilities in South Australia have a lower level of education and planning despite children with disabilities, including chronic medical conditions and special healthcare needs, being potentially among the most vulnerable to natural disasters.

Some may find it difficult to cope with their environment when support systems are drastically altered, especially those with a limited understanding of the level of danger they are in during and after a disaster event or who become anxious and confused in response to emergency signals. Children require more preparation and assistance to fully participate in emergency evacuation plans and to move quickly from an area likely to be affected by a disaster.

A study in the United States found that the evacuation rates were 9.25 per cent lower in households where one family member had a disability compared to other households in the aftermath of hurricanes Bonnie, Dennis and Floyd. Transportation issues and the lack of accessible shelters were reported as factors contributing to the decision not to evacuate. My questions to the minister are:

1.Does the minister agree that it is an outrage that in 2014 students with disabilities are not being taught emergency service procedures at the same rate as their non-disabled peers?

2.Does the minister agree that this is a clear case of discrimination against students with disabilities?

3.Does the minister agree that if there is a natural disaster or other emergency and students with disabilities and their teachers have not been adequately prepared by the department, the government could be liable for a negative outcome?

4.Does the minister agree that students with disabilities have the same rights to access full education and that their equal access to training and planning for disasters, particularly when some students have extra needs and additional vulnerabilities, is essential?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions to the Minister for Education and Child Development in the other place. I undertake to take those questions about emergency and disaster planning readiness for students with disabilities to her and seek a response on her behalf.

In reply to the Hon. K.L. VINCENT ( 3 July 2014 )

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): The Minister for Education and Child Development has received this advice:

Irrespective of whether a student has a disability, as part of their Emergency Management procedures, schools communicate to both parents and students on plans they have in place to reduce and manage risks before, during and after an emergency.

A system is in place to ensure school staff regularly reflect on having the correct level of care in place for all students. This includes a checklist designed to facilitate the development and review of the Emergency Management Plan, as well as timely reminders from the Chief Executive (and senior management) to continually re-assess them.

Principals work to ensure emergency planning not only considers facilities and location, but also the specific needs and abilities of all students, especially those with disabilities. Arrangements are rehearsed within routine emergency drills across schools. The Department ensures additional resources, instruction and support is available for any principal to update or modify their Emergency Management Plan.

When appropriate, staff members are also pre-assigned to each special needs student to ensure they receive adequate care and instruction during an emergency situation.
Schools located in bushfire prone areas are afforded a ‘risk rating’ commensurate with their location. Those schools deemed to be most at risk are also required to annually submit Bushfire Response Plans. As well as focusing on issues relevant to the entire school community, specific considerations are made for managing the needs of vulnerable students, including those with a disability.

Each of these plans is reviewed by Central Office for compliance and to ensure that all aspects of emergency management are properly considered. Unsatisfactory or incomplete plans are returned to schools for correction and resubmission.

Building disaster resilience in all students through education is an important focus for schools and has been reflected as part of the national curriculum.
I am also advised that the results from the survey are not a clear representation of the situation in South Australian schools. In 2011, this survey was returned by 18% of the 450 schools canvassed across South and Western Australia.

With the majority of the State’s student population located in the metropolitan environment, many schools do not need to have a dedicated Bushfire Response Plan. Subsequently, those schools that participated in the survey have advised that they do not have a specific bushfire plan. The data implies that these schools have not made suitable plans for students with disabilities, when in reality all they have done is indicate that they do not have a strategy in place for a particular emergency that may not be relevant to a school’s individual circumstances.

The Government has also adopted a system of review for every school that has to close due to catastrophic bushfire conditions being declared. It is important that we continually look at how we can respond to this very real risk. This is why if a school is closed under such conditions, its leadership team and school community will be surveyed, so long as they have not endured a school closure in the previous 12 months. This is an important step to improve if it is determined our pro cesses could be better managed.