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Blog   |   Oct 12th, 2012 Including Persons with Disabilities in Emergency Management Planning

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Each September, an increased focus and attention is paid to emergency planning as we recognize National Preparedness Month.

But as we move deeper into October, and further from this national educational campaign we must continue to remind ourselves that successful emergency management necessitates year-round vigilance and planning.

Comprehensive preparedness requires regular reassessment of our emergency response posture. Changing environments, resources, and priorities must be included, as well as the regular adoption of new ideas and changing standards.

Increasingly, I am asked to help public and private sector clients incorporate considerations for individuals with disabilities into the emergency planning and response process.

Why the increased interest? The perception in emergency management communities has historically been that emergency services are a life boat not a yacht and that disability services are “extra” considerations that can be jettisoned in an emergency. This perception is false and has been clarified by recent court cases. In the last two years New York City and Los Angeles were sued for not incorporating the needs of people with disabilities in their emergency management planning/response. Rulings on these cases affirm that emergency services must be provided to all persons seeking them and that providing “different” accommodations for persons with disabilities is not acceptable.

The public sector must provide integrated and equal emergency services to fulfill its civil and legal mandates[1]. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends many of these expectations to the private sector as well. Private companies and institutions must also consider, in addition to the health and welfare of employees and customers, the liability and public perception risks of not incorporating these considerations.

How should public and private sector entities incorporate these considerations into their planning? FEMA, the Department of Justice, American Red Cross, and a number of national and local disability groups have developed multiple Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) guidance to integrate disability services into emergency response to ensure that persons with disabilities maintain their independence during evacuations, sheltering, or other emergency response and recovery. A summary of the various FNSS guidance elements include:

  • Know your constituents – analyze population information to identify specific support needs
  • Develop a planning and training process – identify emergency roles and responsibilities and ensure that responsible staff is training to support individuals with functional needs
  • Engage disability representatives – Include a diverse groups, including functional needs representatives in the planning process
  • Conduct facilities assessments – identify barriers to accessibility and ensure that they are mitigated
  • Develop resource inventories – identify and allocate supportive resources and assets
  • Adopt an emergency communications plan – identify the system, process and message to convoy information during an emergency

These elements are also the components of a comprehensive emergency process. Consideration of individuals with disabilities does not require an independent planning process. It should be incorporated into all emergency preparedness; creating an integrated response and conserving financial and labor resources.

A comprehensive planning and awareness process for the provision of services to persons with disabilities during an emergency could lead to maintained quality of life, improved life safety, reduced liability – and it’s the law.


[1] Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Amended 2008)

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968

Fair Housing Act of 1968 (part of the Civil Rights Act)

Post-Katrina Emergency Management Act of 2006

Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988


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Emergency Preparedness Planning

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