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Evacuation - Communication

Communicating clearly is very important in an emergency. Some community members may have hearing, vision, speech, cognitive or intellectual limitations. Others may have limited proficiency in English. These people may not be able to take in or respond to information. In an emergency, they may not be able to hear verbal messages or see directional signs. In addition, they may not understand how to seek help. Planners must communicate with everyone in ways that are easy to access and understand. Planners must also use communication methods that reach everyone in the community.


Some members of the community will need extra time to prepare. Planners should teach the community about any plans before an event occurs. Education will allow these people to prepare themselves properly.

Notify the community of important information. People must receive accurate information so that they can make good decisions and take action. Planners should work with the community to develop warning methods for people with disabilities.

Educate and reach out to the community. It is important to make the community aware of what kind of information they might receive in an emergency. They should also learn what might happen when certain events occur. Giving information ahead of time will help those who need additional support more time to prepare. Planners should think about the following:

Work together with the community. Communication is a two-way street. Planners should work with their community to make sure that people can communicate their needs to planners. Using many forms of communication will help make sure all people with disabilities understand. For example:

Work together with disability groups. There are groups that serve people with disabilities on a daily basis. These groups usually know where to find those with disabilities and how to communicate with them. Many have specialized staff that may provide extra help with the particular needs, wants, and feelings of people with disabilities. By talking with these groups early on, planners can:

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Strong communication is the key to safe and quick evacuation. Put out messages early in the event give accessible, repetitive messages. This will help ensure communications reach people with disabilities.

Let people with disabilities know as soon as possible. People with disabilities often need more time to properly respond and cope with an emergency. Planners should improve communications to people with disabilities.

Work with different media sources. The media can be an important resource to help communicate with the public. Planners must work with TV, radio, print, and internet sources to make sure that information is accurate, consistent, and timely. This will limit panic and inspire trust and confidence, especially for those who may need additional assistance. When giving emergency information or evacuation instructions:

Ask the community to provide support. Neighbors and informal support networks can serve as communications links. Planners should support these informal networks.

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People will be eager to return to their normal activities after an emergency. Planners need to share recovery information to make the return to normal easier.

Provide communication support. A disaster may cause psychological trauma to a community. People with disabilities may require additional supports to cope with new or changed surroundings and to minimize confusion. Some may need help telling their needs to emergency management and financial recovery services. When planning for an event, planners should find mental health professionals or organizations that can offer this support.

Minimize financial cost. Many people with disabilities require financial support to pay for their specialized care. It is important that people can communicate in ways that are not costly.

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After an event, planners should draft an after action report to note observations. The report should record the events and response that occurred. The report should include information on what services or communication equipment people needed. The report should assess if needs were met during the disaster. The report should also include lessons learned to revise and improve plans. If the response did not support communication needs, planners should work to improve the plan.

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Additional Resources

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