At-risk people or people with special needs may need specific assistance in an emergency. This can be medical care, transportation, maintaining independence for daily living, supervision, or communication.
Persons with special needs or who are at risk in an emergency include:
- Elderly persons
- Persons from diverse cultural origins
- Individuals with disabilities
- Individuals with limited English proficiency
- Persons who live in institutionalized settings
- Persons who do not have access to transportation
These people may be protected under the law from discrimination in certain emergency situations.
Who is a person with limited English proficiency (LEP)?
A person who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English well.
Who is a person with a disability?
A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Persons with cognitive, vision, hearing, and speech impairments may have specific communication needs.
Emergency Preparedness Recent Announcements
New HHS Checklist Helps First Responders Ensure Language Access and Effective Communication During Emergencies
Recent natural disasters have demonstrated the importance of ensuring accessibility to health and human services for everyone living in the United States, including individuals who are limited English proficient or with disabilities in need of interpretation and translation services. HHS' Office for Civil Rights led efforts by the HHS Language Access Steering Committee to develop a plain language checklist to help first responders provide services to individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals with disabilities during emergency response and recovery efforts, in accordance with federal civil rights laws. The checklist includes recommendations, specific action steps, and resources to assist first responders in providing on-the-ground language assistance and communicating effectively in disasters. Practical tips range from how to identify language needs in a disaster-impacted community to effectively utilizing interpreters.
OCR Identifies Practices and Resources for Emergency Responders/Officials to Help Ensure Individual Have Equal Access to Emergency Services
Following the Puerto Rico earthquakes, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and its federal partners remain in close coordination to help ensure that emergency officials effectively address the needs of at-risk populations during disaster response. To this end, emergency responders and officials should consider adopting, as circumstances and resources allow, the following practices to help make sure all segments of the community are served:
- Employing qualified interpreter services to assist individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing during evacuation, response and recovery activities
- Making emergency messaging available in languages prevalent in the area and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning and ensuring that websites providing disaster-related information are accessible
- Making use of multiple outlets and resources for messaging to reach individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and members of diverse faith communities
- Considering the needs of individuals with mobility impairments and individuals with assistive devices or durable medical equipment in providing transportation for evacuation
- Identifying and publicizing accessible sheltering facilities that include accessible features, such as bathing, toileting, and eating facilities and bedding
- Avoiding separating people from their sources of support, such as service animals, durable medical equipment, caregivers, medication and supplies
- Placing persons with disabilities in integrated shelters to the extent possible; and
- Stocking shelters with items that will help people to maintain independence, such as hearing aid batteries, canes, and walkers
Being mindful of all segments of the community and taking reasonable steps to provide an equal opportunity to benefit from emergency response efforts will help ensure that responsible officials are in compliance with Federal civil rights laws and that the disaster management in the areas affected by the Puerto Rico earthquakes is successful.
HIPAA Emergency Preparedness, Planning, and Response
For access guidance about sharing patient information under the Privacy Rule in emergency situations, such as to assist patients in receiving the care they need, as well as to assist in disaster relief, public health, and law enforcement efforts.
DHS Statement on Safety and Enforcement During Hurricane Dorian
Release Date: August 30, 2019
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued the following statement on safety and enforcement during Hurricane Dorian:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are concerned about the potential impact of Hurricane Dorian to portions of Florida. Our highest priority remains the preservation of life and safety. In consideration of these circumstances, there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to the storm, except in the event of a serious public safety threat.
Rumor: Sharing Application Information, Immigration Enforcement
FEMA will not proactively provide information gathered through these applications with ICE or CBP for immigration enforcement purposes; however, if a significant law enforcement interest exists (e.g. a national security case) for an individual whose information is contained therein, FEMA may share information with our law enforcement partners, within DHS per their request, in accordance with the intra-agency need to know exception to the general disclosure prohibition of the Privacy Act of 1974.
Rumor: Service Animals in Shelters
There are rumors that persons with disabilities are not permitted to bring their service animals to shelters serving disaster survivors. This is FALSE.
The American Red Cross, along with other state, local, and nongovernmental organizations, operate most shelters serving disaster survivors. Under civil rights law, these shelter providers are required to allow an individual with a disability to be accompanied by their service animal within the shelter. A service animal is not a pet and is therefore not subject to restrictions applied to pets or other animals (Rumor: Pets in Hotels (Transitional Sheltering Assistance)). For more information about service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, see Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA and ADA Requirements: Service Animals.
Anyone with a service animal who has been turned away from a disaster shelter can contact the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) at CRCL@dhs.gov, or the Department of Justice's Disability Rights Section at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800- 514- 0383 (TTY), or the HHS Office for Civil Rights at https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights
Emergency Preparedness Resources
Federal Agencies Issue Joint Guidance to Help Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Providers Comply with Title VI – August 16, 2016
HHS, Justice, HUD, DHS and DOT issued joint guidance to help ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance do not discriminate against individuals and communities on the basis of race, color or nation origin when providing emergency preparedness, response and recovery services.
For additional resources, visit the civil rights section of the FEMA website at: www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/26070.
HHS Office for Preparedness & Response
- Disasters & Emergencies Preparedness Information
- Fact Sheet: "Working with Older Adults and People with Disabilities: Tips for Treatment and Discharging Planning"- explains the importance of ensuring that people remain in the least restrictive environment and provides information to responders and providers about discharge planning for persons with disabilities.
Civil Rights & Emergency Preparedness
HIPAA & Emergency Preparedness
- Learn how the HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to the release of protected health information for planning or response
Administration for Community Living
- Helping Community-Based Organizations Be Prepared for Emergencies (Sept.19, 2019)
- Capacity Building Toolkit - Aging & Disability
- Emergency Preparedness Month: "Disasters Don't Plan Ahead. You Can."
- Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
- Planned Toolkit to Improve Disaster Preparedness and Recovery
- SAMHSA's Disaster Kit
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress