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Access and Functional Needs

People with Access & Functional Needs

For the millions of Americans who have physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and other access and functional needs (AFN), emergencies present a real challenge.

Individuals having AFNs may include – but are not limited to – individuals with disabilities, seniors, populations with limited English proficiency, limited access to transportation and/or limited access to financial resources to prepare for, respond to and recover from the disaster. 

  • No diagnosis or specific evaluation is required for an individual to be considered AFN.
  • The term AFN describes those who may need access to additional resources to function during a disaster or emergency event.

Be prepared to adapt this information to your personal circumstances and make every effort to follow instructions received from authorities via telephone, email, cell, media, or those who are on scene.  Above all, stay calm, be patient and think before you act.  With these simple preparations, you can be ready for the unexpected.

Please check out the following two resources for more information:

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Know the Basics

Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as putting together an emergency supply kit, are the same regardless of the type of emergency.  It is important to be informed about what might happen and know what types of emergencies are likely to affect your area. 

Start by learning what kinds of risks your community faces:
  • Do you live near a lake, stream, or river?
  • Do you live near the forest or where trees and grasses are not maintained?

If disasters that strike with little or no warning (such as flood or wildland fire) are a risk where you live, you’ll want to know exactly what your first response should be.  Test your readiness by asking yourself the following basic questions:

  1. If there were a mandatory evacuation order, what is the recommended route from where you live?
    • If you don’t drive, what are your options?
    • Have you discussed your options with your caregiver or service provider?
  2. Where are the shutoff valves for your household utilities (gas, electric, water)?
    • Do you know how to use them
    • If you need special tools, do you keep them handy?
    • Do you have easy access to their location?
  3. In an emergency, local cell service may be down for quite some time.
    • Have you designated someone out of the area as your emergency contact?
    • Have you conveyed this to your local emergency support network?
  4. Neighbors helping neighbors can be critical in an emergency.
    • Do you know your neighbors?
    • Do they know what special needs you have?

Make A Plan

The reality of a disaster situation is that you will most likely not have access to everyday conveniences.  Think through every detail of your daily routine and plan alternative procedures.

Communications:  Make sure you can receive communications, such as alerts, warnings, and other information, and in your language of choice.  Also, make sure you can clearly communicate in your language to be understood.

Maintain Health:  If you depend on life-sustaining equipment or treatment, such as a dialysis machine or a respiratory machine, talk to your medical provider about emergency plans.  Identify backups or alternate places for treatment in your area or areas you might evacuate to. 

Independence:  If you need specific tools or aids, plan how you might cope without them.  For example, if you use a mobility aid or rely on a service animal (dog or miniature horse), what will you do if it is not available?

Safety and Security:  If there are people who assist you daily, list who they are and how you will contact them in an emergency.

Transportation:  Think about the types of transportation you use and what alternatives could serve as backups. 

Conduct a Self-Assessment

All of us need people we can count on during a crisis.  Plan ahead and consider how a disaster may affect your abilities.

  • During a disaster, there may be conditions, such as flooding or debris, that make it more difficult than usual to move around your neighborhood.
  • You may need to walk long distances and carry supplies.
  • You may become fatigued, hungry, overheated, or cold, which can negatively affect your mobility.

These circumstances can create a need for more support than you require regularly.  Evaluate your capabilities and limitations to determine what help you will need, for example:

  • Can you use a fire extinguisher? Have you practiced?
  • Will you be able to carry your own evacuation kit?
    • What would you need to do in order to carry it?
    • How much can you carry regularly?
  • How will you evacuate?
  • Be aware of possible hazards and barriers to clear an exit path. Have you secured objects in your home or workplace that might block your path if they were to fall?

Keep copies of your plan in your emergency supply kit and share your plan with your family, friends, caregivers, and anyone in your personal support network.

Service Animals and Pets

Plan in advance for your service animal (Dog or Miniature Horse) and/or pets.

REMEMBER:  what’s best for you is typically what’s best for your animals.

  • If you must evacuate, take your service animal and/or pet(s) with you
  • Public Shelters are obligated by law (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) to permit service animals in public shelters.
  • Other companion animals will be accommodated in a pet shelter co-located with or close to the human shelter location during a disaster event.

Create a Personal Support Network

If you know that you will need help to cope in an emergency, you must set up a personal support network ahead of time. 

Make a list of family, friends, caregivers, and others who will check on you to make sure you are safe and help you if it is needed.  Include a relative or friend in another area who would not be affected by the same emergency and one or two who could assist you locally.

Do not depend upon one person only – try to work out support relationships with at least three people everywhere you regularly spend a significant amount of time, such as at home, work, or another place you frequent.

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Ahead of time:

  • Share copies of your evacuation plans (e.g., home, work, or frequently visited places), relevant emergency documents, and your emergency health information card
  • Make arrangements for your support network to check on you immediately following a disaster and to offer assistance
  • Exchange keys and/or door/gate codes
  • Show your support network where you keep your emergency supplies
  • Teach your support network how to use any lifesaving equipment or administer medicine
  • Show your support network how to use wheelchairs, oxygen, or other medical equipment you require so they can move you and assist you with evacuation
  • Practice your plan with your support network regularly. Practice contacting one another without relying on telephones (chat, text, etc.)

This relationship can be mutual – learn about the needs of the people in your support network and how you might help them in an emergency.

For example, you could be responsible for food, supplies, and/or preparation.

Think carefully about who could help you:

  • Does he or she have the physical stamina to provide physical assistance (e.g., lifting, helping with transfers, pushing your wheelchair, etc.)
  • Is it convenient for them to help (how many children, animals, etc., do they have…is there room in their car to support you and your evacuation kit?)
  • If you need accessible transportation, would they be available to stay behind with you until assistance arrives?
  • Mark it on your calendar to touch base with your support network once every three months to see if their circumstances or ability to help has changed. Be sure to keep them updated with your contact information as well.

Deciding to Stay or Go

  • If you’re specifically told to evacuate, do so immediately, by any means.
  • If you require additional travel time or need transportation assistance, make these arrangements in advance.
  • If an opportunity to evacuate arises during the mandatory evacuation, do so and alert your support team that you have already evacuated. They may need to support you while you are evacuated. 

**During a mandatory evacuation, no one will be allowed within the perimeter for any reason** 

Ultimately, if you feel unsafe, evacuate – don’t wait to be told to do so!

Sheltering in Place

  • Whether you are at home or somewhere else, there may be situations when it’s simply best to stay where you are and avoid any uncertainty outside.
  • Consider what you can do to safely shelter in place alone or with friends, family, or neighbors. Also consider how a public shelter would meet your needs.

Tips for people with:

  • Mobility Impairments: If you typically rely upon elevators, have a back-up plan in case they are not working. 
    • Practice using alternate methods of evacuation
    • There will be times in which you will need to leave your wheelchair behind to evacuate safely. If you cannot use stairs, discuss the lifting and carrying techniques that will work for you with your doctor and support network.

  • Visual Impairments: If you have some vision, place security lights in each room of your home to light paths of travel.  Select lights that plug into wall outlets – these will illuminate for a period of time during a power outage.  After a major disaster, you may lose the auditory clues you usually rely upon

  • Cognitive & Intellectual Disabilities: Practice what to do during and after a disaster, for example, evacuate the places where you spend time (e.g., home, work, school, etc.) until you feel confident that you will know what to do under duress.

Disaster Shelters and AFN: 

If you have no alternative, government-operated disaster shelter may be set up in schools, churches, municipal buildings, etc. but should be your last choice.  If possible, bring what will be necessary to make you comfortable (e.g., disaster supply kit with medical support items, medications, food, etc.).  Every effort will be made to keep you comfortable and informed.  Keep in mind, during a disaster, resources are always limited.

  • Remember, shelters will not have special equipment such as oxygen or mobility aids, bring that with you, if at all possible.
  • Service Animals (Dogs & Miniature Horses) are considered an extension of their owner and are allowed in shelters.
  • Service Animals may become confused, panicked, frightened, and/or disoriented during and after a disaster. Be sure to keep yours confined or securely leashed or harnessed. 
  • Be prepared to use alternative ways to negotiate your environment.
  • If possible, have someone in your support network accompany you to the shelter.

If you need extra time evacuating due to an AFN, please register for the Access and Functional Needs Registry and Signing Up for CODERED by Scanning the appropriate QR Code below or Clicking the provided link.

Access and Functional Needs Registration:

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CODERED Registration/Update Profile:

codered registration qrcode