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Emergency Preparedness

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:

  • Children
  • 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.

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.  

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.

OCR Identifies Practices and Resources for Emergency Responders/Officials to Help Ensure Individual Have Equal Access to Emergency Services

As Super Typhoon Yutu makes landfall, 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
  • 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
  • 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 Super Typhoon Yutu is successful.



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 of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. This is FALSE. (September 15)

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

Recuperación y respuesta en casos de emergencia

Recuperación y respuesta en casos de emergencia: La Oficina de Derechos Civiles identifica prácticas y recursos para socorristas y personal de emergencia para ayudar a que las personas puedan acceder de igual manera a los servicios de emergencia

Mientras se despliegan los recursos financiados por el gobierno federal para salvar vidas y asegurar la salud y el bienestar de las personas ubicadas en las áreas afectadas de una emergencia, los socorristas y el personal de emergencia deberían tomar en consideración las siguientes prácticas para asegurarse de que todos los segmentos de la comunidad reciban los servicios necesarios en forma adecuada y eficaz

  • Uso de servicios de intérpretes calificados para ayudar a las personas con conocimiento limitadodel idioma inglés y a las personas sordas o con problemas de audición durante las actividadesde respuesta y recuperación.

  • Ofrecer los mensajes de emergencia en los idiomas prevalentes en el área y en varios formatos,como audio, letras más grandes y subtitulado, y asegurarse de que los sitios web que ofrezcaninformación relacionada con el desastre sean accesible.

  • Usar diversos recursos y medios para llegar a las personas con discapacidades, personas conconocimiento limitado del idioma inglés y miembros de diferentes comunidades religiosas.

  • Considerar la necesidad de las personas con problemas de movilidad y quienes utilizandispositivos de asistencia o equipos médicos duraderos al momento de ofrecer medios detransporte o evacuación.

  • Identificar y publicar los centros de refugios que ofrecen servicios especiales para personas condiscapacidades, por ejemplo baños, camas y comedores.

  • Evitar separar a las personas de sus fuentes de apoyo, como perros guía, equipos médicosduraderos, cuidadores, medicamentos y suministros.

  • Abastecer a los centros de refugios con artículos que ayuden a las personas a mantener suindependencia, como baterías para audífonos, bastones y andadores ortopédicos.

Ser conscientes de todos los segmentos de la comunidad y tomar medidas razonables para evitar la exclusión en las labores de respuesta en casos de emergencia ayudará a garantizar que las personas a cargo cumplan con las leyes federales sobre derechos civiles y que el manejo de las labores de ayuda y rescate se realice correctamente. La Oficina de Derechos Civiles del Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos ofrece recursos y asistencia técnica continua para asistir y asegurar que las personas reciban la ayuda que necesitan por parte de los socorristas y administradores en sus labores de rescate a las personas afectadas por un desastre.

Para obtener información detallada sobre cómo se aplican las leyes federales sobre derechos civiles en casos de emergencia, haga clic aquí.

Para obtener información sobre cómo se aplica la ley HIPAA en casos de emergencia, haga clic aquí.

Para obtener información sobre cómo asegurar que las necesidades de las personas en riesgo, con problemas de salud conductual y la capacidad de recuperación de las diversas comunidades afectadas se integren a la salud pública y a las actividades de preparación, respuesta y recuperación en casos de emergencia médica, haga clic aquí: http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/abc/Pages/default.aspx

Para obtener información sobre cómo fomentar la eficacia de los servicios humanos en actividades de preparación, respuesta y recuperación en situaciones de emergencia, haga clic aquí: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohsepr.

Recuperación y respuesta en casos de emergencia

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.

Read the Guidance

Download the HHS Checklist for Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance

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

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


Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on December 7, 2018