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Shelter-in-Place - Maintaining Functional Independence

The 2005 American Community Survey reports that about 7.5 million people need another person to help them every day. They may need help for things like getting dressed, eating and bathing. In addition, about 11.3 million people cannot get outside their home due to a physical or medical condition. They may rely on like durable medical equipment, like wheelchairs and walkers, or the help of another person to meet their needs. In an emergency, people may lose the support they need to be able to function on their own. Therefore, it is vital to consider these needs and plan to support them in an emergency.


Many emergencies, like hazardous spills, will require individuals to shelter-in-place for a only short time. Others, like pandemic influenza, may require sheltering-in-place for weeks or months. Planners and individuals should prepare for a range of situations.

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

Mobilize local support. Community groups may be in a position to help set up support networks and mobilize volunteers. In some events, emergency workers may be able to reach those with disabilities by using PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). If so, volunteers could assist people with disabilities in their homes. Determine where the needs of a community are ahead of time. Knowing what is needed where will help prioritize limited resources.

Work with community organizations. The emergency planner has limited resources to provide for these needs. This is especially true when a community is sheltering-in-place. However, he or she may able to refer people to group that can provide support. These groups may help people learn ways to sustain themselves while sheltering-in-place.

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. Having supplies and support ready ahead of time will be crucial for sheltering-in-place.

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In a disaster, people may lose the supports they require for functional independence. This is especially true when sheltering-in-place. Those who need equipment or support to function may not be able to reach it. Nevertheless, there are several things a planner can do to help them maintain their supports in an emergency.

Ensure people are notified. Those with visual or hearing impairments may not receive warnings. Planners can help find ways in which these populations can make special arrangements to receive warnings. These arrangements will keep them advised of the situation and let them know when it is safe to go out. In some cases, volunteers may be able to go door-to-door to give these notices.

Help people protect their residences. In a hazardous materials situation, those with disabilities may need help sealing their home or shelter. Volunteers may be able to help if enough warning is available.

Encourage back-up power. Some support equipment may not work in an emergency. It may be destroyed in the disaster or require power. Planners should encourage those with disabilities to find alternate means of power. Back up generators can provide days of electricity.

Arrange to reach those who need help. If the emergency lasts for a long time, some individuals will need help. A registry of those with disabilities will help relief workers reach them by whatever means necessary. However, those with disabilities should not assume they will be contacted in every situation.

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Following an emergency, people will need to reconnect with their supports. Planners can assist in the following ways:

Refer people to service providers. A person with disabilities may not be able to depend on their caregiver or equipment in an emergency. They should plan for this in advance. Care facilities, churches, charitable organizations, and other community services may be able to give the needed support. Planners should know which resources will be available and refer services if possible.

Assist with financial support. After sheltering-in-place, people may need to refresh their supply of medicines, devices, or equipment. Planners can assist by working with care providers and funding agencies. These groups can help to speed payment for any equipment that helps people maintain their functional independence.

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Draft an After Action Report. Following an emergency, planners may work to draft after action reports (AARs). The AAR may include information on what tasks or support equipment people required. It will also show if needs were sufficiently met during the emergency. The report may include lessons learned. These will help in revising and improving plans. If the plan did not allow individuals to maintain or regain functional independence, the report might consider ways in which it can be improved. It is very important to include feedback from individuals with functional needs (and caregivers) where possible.

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Additional Resources

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