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Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services

IPAS > Equal Access > Emergency Preparedness Emergency Preparedness

Preparing for an emergency is critical for everyone—but especially so for people with disabilities. Since Sept. 11, communities, corporations, schools and families have all been charged with the task of proactively planning for the possibility of a future disaster by developing inclusive plans for every situation.

Unfortunately, emergency planning for the masses may not always accommodate people with disabilities. Disaster strategies must have contingency plans in place in all critical stages of an emergency: planning, response and recovery.

Emergency Planning Tips for People with Disabilities

  • Create a support network to help you in an emergency.
  • Tell these people where you keep your emergency supplies.
  • Give at least one member of your support network a key to your house or apartment.
  • Contact your city or county government's emergency information management office. Many local offices keep lists of people with disabilities so they can be located quickly in an emergency situation.
  • Wear medical alert tags or bracelets with information about your identity and disability.
  • If you are dependent on dialysis or other life-sustaining treatment, know the location and availability of more than one medical facility.
  • Show others how to operate your wheelchair.
  • Know the size and weight of your wheelchair, in addition to whether or not it is collapsible, in case it must be transported.

Additional Emergency Supplies for People with Disabilities

  • Prescription medicines, list of medications, including dosage; list of any allergies.
  • Extra eye glasses and extra batteries for hearing aid and wheelchair.
  • Extra oxygen.
  • Keep a list of the style and serial number of medical devices.
  • Medical insurance and Medicare cards.
  • List of doctors, relatives or friends who should be notified if you are hurt.

Local Emergency Contacts for People with Disabilities

Emergency First Responders – 9-1-1
Information and Referral – 2-1-1
TTY Relay – 7-1-1 (if you are deaf, use this instead of 9-1-1)
Speech to Speech Relay – 877-743-8231

Indiana State Emergency Management Agency
302 W. Washington St., Room E-208A
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2767
phone 317-232-3986
fax 317-232-3895

Disability Rights and Emergency Preparedness
As people with disabilities, their family and friends take the necessary steps to prepare themselves for the event of an emergency, it is important to keep in mind the various rights and responsibilities under the law. At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), play significant roles in requiring accessible emergency planning. In addition, some state and local governments have additional requirements on accessible emergency planning.

Understanding the law applied to emergency preparedness:

  • The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, places of public accommodation (restaurants, hotels, convention centers, etc.), transportation and telecommunications. Thus, if emergency preparedness plans are put into place in these kinds of settings, people with disabilities must be included. Information may also be readily downloaded online from the ADA Web site.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice publishes a technical assistance guide titled An ADA Guide for Local Governments: Making Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities. The guide assists officials and emergency managers in learning how to include the needs of people with disabilities in every facet of their emergency preparedness efforts. It addresses topics including planning, notification, evacuation, sheltering and returning home.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors. This means recipients of federal funds must factor in the needs of people with disabilities when conducting work related to emergency preparedness.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined television stations for failure to provide crucial information in an accessible manner during broadcasts related to wildfires in California and tornadoes in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific and detailed requirements on emergency preparedness, including requirements for people with disabilities.
  • Executive Order: Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness by President George W. Bush (July 22, 2004) states that the federal government should appropriately support the safety and security for individuals with disabilities in situations involving disasters, including earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, floods, hurricanes and acts of terrorism.
  • Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 - It will update current law to increase access to interne, television and telecommunications technologies using such tools as closed captioning and video description and will help improve delivery of emergency information during disaster or crisis to ensure no person with a disability is without the necessary information. 

Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Individuals with Disabilities

Personal Support Network
Your personal support network consists of individuals who will check in with you in an emergency to ensure you are OK and to provide you with any assistance you may need. Do not depend on any one person—include at least three people you can depend upon to help you.

Prior to an emergency, make arrangements for your support network to immediately check on you (e.g., after a tornado, earthquake, etc.) and offer assistance.
Give members of your support network pertinent keys—to your house, medical supplies, etc.
Show your support network where you store emergency supplies.
Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card.
Agree and practice a communications system regarding how to contact one another in an emergency. Do not rely on the telephone—it might be out of order as a consequence of a disaster.
You and your personal support network should immediately notify one another when possible to do so safely when an emergency occurs.

Emergency Contact List

Ask several relatives or friends who live outside your immediate area (approximately 100 miles away) to act as a clearinghouse for information about you and your family immediately following a disaster. It is often easier to place an out-of-state long distance telephone call from a disaster area than to call within the area. All family members should know to call your contact people to report their locations and condition. Once contact has been established, the contact person(s) should relay messages to your other friends and relatives outside the disaster area.
Besides emergency out-of-town contacts, your emergency contact list should include emergency response agencies, personal support network, equipment vendors, doctors, utility companies, employers, schools and day care center information, for all household members. Post this list by all telephones in your home.


Work with your doctor to obtain an extra supply of medication, as well as extra copies of prescriptions. Make several copies of your prescriptions and put one copy in each of your survival kits, car kit and wallet, with your emergency documents and your evacuation plan.
Ask your doctor if it would be safe to periodically miss one dosage of your medication(s), until an adequate emergency supply has been accumulated. Some medications should never be missed, not even once; it is of vital importance to follow your doctor's recommendation on establishing your emergency medication reserve.
Ask your health care provider or pharmacist about the shelf life and storage temperature sensitivities of your medication(s). Ask how often you should rotate stored medication to ensure that they remain effective and do not weaken due to lengthy storage.
If your medications are administered to you by a clinic or hospital (such as methadone, or chemo or radiation therapy), ask your provider how you should plan for a 3-14 day disruption.

Equipment and Assistive Devices

Store equipment and assistive devices in a consistent, convenient and secured place, so you and others can quickly and easily locate them during an emergency.
Maintain backup equipment such as a spare battery or manual wheelchair.

Carry-On/Carry-with-You Supplies

Emergency health information card that lists information about medications, equipment, allergies and sensitivities, communication difficulties, preferred treatment, treatment-medical providers, and important contact people
Instructions on personal assistance needs and how best to provide them
Copy of emergency documents
Essential medications/copies of prescriptions (at least a one-week supply)
Flashlight on key ring
Signaling device (whistle, beeper, bell, screecher)
Small battery-operated radio and extra batteries

Supplies to Include in Emergency Kits
Store your kits in areas you anticipate will be easy to reach. If evacuation is necessary, make sure you take with you:

Food and water for three days (one gallon per person, per day), blankets, non-electric (manual) can opener
Disability-related supplies for up to two weeks (If unable to afford extra supplies, consider contacting disability-specific organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Arthritis Foundation).
Life in cramped, unheated shelters can increase the chances of pneumonia and colds. Equip your kits with any vitamins or medications you take to guard against getting sick and to cope with being sick.

Communication: Practice Assertiveness Skills

Take charge and practice how to quickly explain to people how to move your mobility aids and how to safely and rapidly move you. Be prepared to give clear, specific and concise instructions and directions to rescue personnel, e.g., "take my oxygen tank;" "take my insulin from the refrigerator;" "take my communication device from under the bed." Practice giving these instructions with the least amount of words in the least amount of time.
Be prepared to request an accommodation from disaster personnel. For example, if you are unable to wait in long lines for extended periods of time, practice clearly and concisely explaining why you cannot wait in line.

Conduct a Self-Assessment
Evaluate your capabilities, limitations, needs and surroundings to determine what type of help you will require in an emergency.

Designate a room in your home for shelter in case of a chemical or biological attack, and have on hand a roll of duct tape, scissors and plastic for covering windows and vents.
Determine how to shut off utilities (gas, water, electricity) for safety reasons.
Keep on hand a fire extinguisher you are able to operate.
Organize your evacuation kit so you can carry it to another location. If needed, arrange for duplicate kits at other sites.
Determine how you will be evacuated. Move or secure large objects that might block your evacuation route.
Write instructions for the following (keep a copy with you and share with your support network):

  • How to turn off utilities
  • How to operate and safely move essential equipment
  • How to safely transport you if you need to be carried—include any areas of vulnerability
  • Personal care assistance needs (dressing, bathing, etc.) with instructions on how best to assist you. Make a map of where medications, aids and supplies are kept.

Source: Administration on Developmental Disabilities; Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; ADD Program Update, June/July 2006.

New Internet Video Course: Ready, Willing, & Able Assisting People with Disabilities During Disasters

Ready, Willing & Able is now available as a free, professional, 2 hor, introductory, online training course offered for independent study and for continuing education. It is designed for public health and hospital staff, health professionals, disaster preparedness managers, emergency response workers, and personnel working with people with disabilities.

To get on board, first create an account at The course name Ready, Willing, & Able and course number 1010882 are necessary to get to the course and register.


For help developing an inclusive disaster plan of any size, or for additional information on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities, click on the links below:

I Am Citizen Prepared: a publication for people with disabilities and the people who support them regarding emergency preparedness.

The National Organization on Disability has an Emergency Preparedness Initiative which has a brochure specifically focused on preparedness for folks with cognitive impairments.

Effective Emergency Preparedness Planning: Addressing the Needs of Employees with Disabilities

Web Sites

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

FEMA: Individuals with Special Needs

Evacuating Wheelchair Users

U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Ready America – People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs

National Organization on Disability – Emergency Preparedness Resources and Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI)

Special Populations: Emergency and Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Preparedness Resources for People with Disabilities

MyDisasters – Disability Preparedness

The Inclusive Preparedness Center

Disability Preparedness Resource Center

Employers' Guide to including Employees with Disabilities in Emergency Evacuation Plans

Administration on Developmental Disabilities – Disaster Preparedness


Emergency Evacuation Guide for People with Disabilities – from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs (PDF) – from the American Red Cross

Principles for Preparedness (PDF) – A Guide for First Responders, Relief Organizations and Government Agencies from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

An ADA Guide for Local Governments (PDF) – Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities, from the U.S. Department of Justice

Emergency Preparedness: Taking Responsibility for Your Safety – Tips for People with Disabilities and Activity Limitations, from the Emergency Survival Program

Tips For First Responders In Assisting Persons With Disability (PDF) – The Center for Development and Disability

Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities - The U.S. Department of Education

ADA Best Practices Toolkit:
Chapter 7, Emergency Management under Title II of the ADA (HTML) | (PDF)
Chapter 7, Addendum 1: Title II Checklist (Emergency Management) (HTML) | (PDF)
Chapter 7, Addendum 2:The ADA and Emergency Shelters: Access for All in Emergencies and Disasters (HTML) | (PDF)
Chapter 7, Addendum 3: ADA Checklist for Emergency Shelters (HTML) | (PDF)
Introduction to Appendices 1 and 2 (PDF)

Emergency Preparedness Checklists – The Ohio Legal Rights Service provides usual information for anyone with a disability planning for an emergency:
Readiness Checklist – Emergency Plan for Home (PDF)
Shelter Checklist – Be Prepared to Go to a Shelter (PDF)
Yellow Checklist – Important People and Places (PDF)

Create Your Own Checklists – these guides make it easy to create your own emergency preparedness checklist, from the Ohio Legal Rights Service:
Readiness Checklist: Emergency Plan for Home
Shelter Checklist: Be Prepared to Go to a Shelter
Yellow Checklist: Important People and Papers

IPAS Emergency Planning Guide (PDF)