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Disaster & Emergency Planning: Seniors & Disabled

  • Synopsis: Information regarding disaster and emergency planning and procedures for seniors and persons with disabilities in emergencies.

Definition: Disaster Recovery Plan

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a documented process or set of procedures to recover and protect a business IT infrastructure in the event of a disaster. Such a plan, ordinarily documented in written form, specifies procedures an organization is to follow in the event of a disaster. It is "a comprehensive statement of consistent actions to be taken before, during and after a disaster." The disaster could be natural, environmental or man-made. Man-made disasters could be intentional (for example, an act of a terrorist) or unintentional (that is, accidental, such as the breakage of a man-made dam).

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People need to plan for emergency evacuation in anticipated and unanticipated situations including chemical, biological, radiological, explosion, transportation accidents, fire, floods, earthquakes, mud slides, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, and power outages, etc.

For the millions of people with disabilities around the world, surviving a disaster can be just the beginning of a greater struggle.

For people with disabilities, barrier free, as well as barrier-ridden environments, become a great deal more hostile and difficult to deal with during and after an emergency. For example, people with physical disabilities may have reduced ability to get to accessible exits, as well as reduced access to their personal items and emergency supplies. People with vision and hearing loss and people with speech related disabilities often encounter many more communication barriers, especially when regular communication channels are down or overloaded. These barriers appear at a time when rapid communication may be crucial to survival and safety.

Emergency, or disaster, planning includes preparing organizations and staff to deal with natural and manmade disasters; to support people with disabilities in preparing for a disaster; and to provide education and information to ensure local and statewide emergency officials are fully prepared to address the needs of people with disabilities in the event of an emergency. Often the needs of people with disabilities in emergency preparedness are unaddressed or plans are not well coordinated, leaving individuals with disabilities unnecessarily vulnerable in the event of an emergency.

The critical needs of individuals with disabilities during an emergency include the evacuation of transit systems, getting to safe shelter in the event of a natural disaster, and full access to transportation systems when there is a need to evacuate a particular location.

If you or someone close to you has a disability or a special need, you may have to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family in an emergency.

Steps for individuals with disability and special needs in the event of an emergency
Disability/Special NeedAdditional Steps
Visually impairedMay be extremely reluctant to leave familiar surroundings when the request for evacuation comes from a stranger. A guide dog could become confused or disoriented in a disaster. People who are blind or partially sighted may have to depend on others to lead them, as well as their dog, to safety during a disaster.
Hearing impairedMay need to make special arrangements to receive warnings.
Mobility impairedMay need special assistance to get to a shelter.
Single working parentMay need help to plan for disasters and emergencies.
Non-English speaking personsMay need assistance planning for and responding to emergencies. Community and cultural groups may be able to help keep people informed.
People without vehiclesMay need to make arrangements for transportation.
People with special dietary needsShould take special precautions to have an adequate emergency food supply.
People with medical conditionsShould know the location and availability of more than one facility if dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment or treatment.
People with intellectual disabilitiesMay need help responding to emergencies and getting to a shelter.
People with dementiaShould be registered in the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program

Remember, preparedness must begin with you.

Preparation, which includes practice, is the key to success in dealing with a disaster. Preparation is an ongoing process. Keep in mind the usual means of support and assistance may not be available during an evacuation and after the disaster. Prepare a personal disaster plan with the following in mind:

Disability organizations must join with relief and rescue organizations and the media to educate and inform their constituents of disaster contingency and self-help plans.

A universal design approach to meeting the needs of people with disabilities before and after a disaster will benefit many people without disabilities, such as the very young or the aged.

A look at existing agreements among relief organizations and local, state, federal, and international governments will offer guidance in developing effective strategies for universal design and implementation plans.

Quick Facts: Disaster Planning

Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance: how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together; and what you will do in different situations. has made it simple for you to make a family emergency plan. Download the Family Communication Plan for Parents and Kids (PDF) from FEMA and fill out the sections before printing it or emailing it to your family and friends.

Latest Disaster Planning Guides Publications

  1. What Happens After You Register with FEMA for Disaster Assistance
    Information on the process of registering and waiting for FEMA disaster assistance.
  2. Quake Kare Kits Make Disaster Preparedness Easier
    Quake Kare helps minimize stress of disaster preparedness for individuals, families, schools and businesses.
  3. NIST Study Provides Voice for Evacuation Needs of Mobility Impaired
    Findings based on concerns, insights and opinions of people with mobility impairments provides guidance for helping them get safely out of multistory buildings during emergencies.
  4. Louisiana Federal Disaster Assistance for Affected Individuals and Families
    Federal disaster aid available to State of Louisiana to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in area affected by severe storms and flooding.
  5. Emergency Evacuation Orders - Should I Stay or Should I Go?
    Researchers studying evacuation data and predictors publish papers that may improve prediction models used by emergency planners, leading to more efficient evacuations and possibly saving lives.

Full List of Disaster Planning Guides Documents (50 Items)


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