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Evacuation - Maintaining Functional Independence

Based on the 2005 American Community Survey, there are 7.5 million people in the U.S. that need assistance to carry out daily activities. This may include getting dressed, eating, and bathing. Nearly 11.3 million people find it difficult to leave the home alone. Many have a physical or mental condition that prevents them from doing so.

People use a variety of supports to assist their daily activities. These supports can range from durable medical equipment, like wheelchairs and walkers, to the aid of another person. In an emergency, these people may lose the aid they need to function independently. Without support, their conditions may worsen. Emergency planners should include ways to support these individuals in their plans.


A community may have a wide variety of supportive needs to plan for. In order to account for these needs, planners should reach out to individuals and organizations well before an event occurs.

Encourage people to report their needs. If someone needs assistance with daily activities, encourage them to make their needs known. Needs might include (but are not limited to):

The emergency planner has limited resources to provide for these needs. However, he or she may able to refer people to organizations that can provide assistance or support. Planners should partner with organizations before an event, and include their resources in the community plan. Consider creating a registry or referral service to help people find support for their needs.

Encourage people to prepare themselves to support their specific needs. Federal guidance recommends that people keep supplies on hand to support themselves for up to 72 hours. It also suggests that people with disabilities keep a First Aid kit and develop a support network.

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Train responders and volunteers to help people with disabilities. Responders, care providers, and community members can help those with disabilities. It is important that they know how to assist others and communicate in an emergency.

Plan to accommodate equipment and service animals. There is a wide variety of tools people with disabilities use to support their needs. Planners should be aware of ways in which an emergency may affect needed equipment and animals, and include supports in the plan. Consider the following:

Case Study: In 1997, the New York City Office of Emergency Management conducted a drill called the Interagency Chemical Exercise (I.C.E.). The drill involved disability issues to present first responders with a realistic situation. It also proved to be a chance to educate response agencies on how to improve systems. The evaluators found that wheelchairs, glasses, and canes were not properly decontaminated. Additionally, service animals were not handled properly. As a result, the cold zone (safe area) was contaminated because assistive devices, like wheelchairs, were not managed properly. If this happened in a real event, it could have caused serious harm to the community, people with disabilities, and responders alike.

Lesson Learned:State emergency planners should create protocols to decontaminate support equipment and animals. Share these with community planners and responders.

Create shelter plans that include supports for people with disabilities. When planning for shelters, consider the following:

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Once the emergency is resolved and people are able to return to home, planners may need to address several issues:

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Following a disaster, planners should draft an after action report (AAR). The AAR may include information on what kinds of activities or support equipment people required and if their needs were met during the disaster. The report may also include lessons learned to revise and improve plans. If the plan did not allow individuals to maintain or regain functional independence, consider ways to improve the plan.

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Additional Resources

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