Include People with Disabilities in Emergency Response Planning

By SHRM Online Staff Aug 17, 2009

​The National Council on Disability (NCD) is recommending sweeping changes in the way federal, state and local governments develop emergency management practices for people with disabilities.

Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities ​calls on government officials to consider and include people with disabilities when creating emergency response plans. NCD first issued a report on the topic in 2005: Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning, a prescient publication that “laid out a scenario of a major hurricane striking the Gulf Coast and outlined steps that the federal government should take to include people with disabilities in emergency preparedness, disaster relief and homeland security,” said NCD Chairman John R. Vaughn in a news release. “Hurricane Katrina struck four months later.”

As a result, the 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill included the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which required the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to employ a national disability coordinator and to coordinate with NCD on activities. 

NCD’s latest report includes some advice for employers and a link to the publication Emergency Procedures for Employers with Disabilities in Office Occupancies, written by FEMA and the United States Fire Administration. The NCD encourages employers to “include people with disabilities in each phase of their emergency planning process.”

The recommendations and interventions include:

Federal Recommendations

  • Continue strengthening efforts to enforce compliance with Federal Communications Commission policies regarding emergency broadcasting to reach people with disabilities.
  • Complete the FEMA Comprehensive Planning Guide series—including 301 Special Needs and 302, which deals with service animals—in sync with other CPG series guides.
  • Hire disability coordinators at the FEMA regional offices.

State Government Interventions

  • Task a state official with disability and disaster issues.
  • Involve disability community organizations and state offices or agencies in all state efforts regarding natural hazards, terrorism, technological or hazardous materials concerns, and pandemic planning.

Local Level Interventions

  • Local jurisdictions should create working groups to review and revise emergency operations plans, mitigation plans and recovery plans to address the issues of people with disabilities.
  • Cross training on disability and disaster issues should be conducted among emergency managers, first responders, voluntary agencies and disability agencies.

Individual Level Interventions

  • Accept personal responsibility for preparedness in a disaster context; where that is challenging, involve caregivers in such efforts.
  • Create contingency plans for evacuation and other protective action, shelter life, medical care and service animals.

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