Developing and Implementing an Inclusive Emergency Preparedness Plan


During an emergency, certain systems and infrastructure that we take for granted may become inoperative. For people with disabilities, this poses a more severe crisis than for the rest of the population, and knowing how to evacuate during a disaster can be critical to survival. This effective practice from the National Service Inclusion Project assists organizations and individuals with disabilities to develop and implement an accessible emergency preparedness plan.


Many people, including the older population who don't consider themselves disabled, cannot evacuate independently in an emergency.


Consider the following steps in preparing an accessible evacuation plan:

Publicize emergency preparation for people with disabilities.
Local government agencies should prepare and distribute updated press releases and brochures that are specifically directed to people with disabilities, and distribute them through channels that will reach this population. Potential outlets are community-based and advocacy organizations, public vehicles (such as buses and paratransit), community centers, senior centers, and even monthly utility bill mailings.

Stock prescriptions and medical supplies.

  • People who take medication should keep at least an additional week's supply on hand in case pharmacies are closed.
  • Individuals, rescue groups, transit providers, and community organizations should stockpile durable medical goods. This includes urological supplies, items that help transfer people with disabilities, and simple mobility equipment like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.
  • Help individuals with disabilities create fire safety zones around buildings and residences. Disasters such as fire can be exacerbated by brush, grass, and debris. Volunteer, rescue, and safety organizations can create home safety awareness teams, helping to assess and clean key areas. Access teams can also improve safety features such as making sure that smoke alarms are in place, working, and equipped with fresh batteries.

 Notification and Evacuation

  • Provide information about Enhanced or Reverse 911 to individuals with disabilities. These systems can be crucial in advising people about threats, allowing the operator to identify the caller's identity and location, and other information that may be necessary for first responders. Note that in many cases it is necessary to provide safety information in advance to the 911 system. Reverse 911 is also useful for seniors and families with young children.
  • Make sure that all emergency announcements will be accessible. Educate the television media about the need to caption emergency announcements on local television stations whenever a real-time emergency announcement is made. Provide them with lists of vendors available to perform this service.
  • Create multiple notification systems. When power goes out, contact may be lost with community agencies that have lists of people who might be more likely to need assistance with evacuation. A centralized dispatching system can help. Work with local organizations to create emergency phone trees. This way, neighbors can notify each other.
  • Include vehicles that can transport wheelchairs and walkers in evacuation planning. Individuals who require mobility aids need to be evacuated with those items.
  • Ensure that public safety personnel know how to communicate with and evacuate all types of people with disabilities. This is essential for people with communication disabilities. In an emergency, interpreters, captioning, and TTYs may be unavailable.  

Shelter and Interim Services

  • Evaluate prospective shelter sites for accessibility for people with all types of disabilities and their service animals. Include restrooms, showers, access routes, and parking. Consult with health providers and community organizations ahead of time to determine the medical supplies that shelters should stock.
  • Before an emergency occurs, educate shelter staff on disability etiquette and how to interact with people who have various disabilities. For instance, staff may not know that service animals are allowed.
  • Community organizations can compile and distribute lists of American Sign Language interpreters and referral services. Work with phone companies to make sure that every shelter site has at least one TTY and one phone that is at wheelchair height. Television sets used in shelters should be equipped for captioning.
  • Once shelters are in use, walkways and other features should remain clear. Advise media personnel to keep from stringing cables across walkways unless they have proper materials to prevent equipment from becoming obstacles.  

Volunteer Management
Involve individuals with disabilities during emergency assistance. Accessibility works a lot better when people with disabilities are involved. For this and other reasons, emergency systems should welcome volunteers with disabilities. Shelter managers need to be aware of how to accommodate any disability-related needs of such volunteers and to ensure that these volunteers can be of service when they offer to help.  


  • Enlist volunteer organizations to help individuals with disabilities who are unable to clean up their properties after a disaster. The process of returning home can be very complicated — especially for people with disabilities. Backlogs in home repair can be critical if a person cannot access most of the local housing due to disability.
  • Make sure arrangements are made for individuals with disabilities to bring their belongings with them. This is particularly important if the community uses public transportation to take people who depend on transit back home.
  • Include mental health counseling as part of post-emergency services. Being able to talk with a professional about the trauma of living through a disaster is necessary for everyone.
  • Establish emergency rent controls in counties where disasters occur. This will ensure that increases in rent prices will not prevent people with disabilities from remaining in their communities.


According to the National Service Inclusion Project, during times of disaster, a well-developed emergency preparedness plan can mean the difference between life and death — particularly for people with disabilities or other special needs. Involving the entire community in the planning process, including those with disabilities, reduces feelings of vulnerability and increases the likelihood of successful evacuation, shelter, and recovery during an emergency situation.

For more information:

Website: National Service Inclusion Project

Related Resources: 

Emergency Preparation and People with Disabilities


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