According to the U.S. Census of 2000 there are almost six million people in California who identify as having a disability. By 2010 the number of individuals with disabilities may exceed eighteen percent of the population. More people with disabilities and activity limitations live in the community independently, with partners and children. Lessons documented in recent disasters concerning the integration of people with disabilities into community living and the growing aging population have shown that the existing paradigm of emergency planning and implementation must change.

The lessons documented from the years of assisting individuals with diverse disabilities and older adults (hereinafter referred to as access and functional needs) in disasters show three areas that are repeatedly identified as most important. They are 1) communication (alert, warning, notification), 2) evacuation (transportation) and 3) sheltering. The diversity of disability groups and its leadership, and established emergency management systems, brings natural confusion for both as to who are the leaders to engage and how to make meaningful change in planning, systems and operations. To learn more about lessons learned review:
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (hereinafter the California Emergency Management Agency) established the Office for Access and Functional Needs (OAFN) which identifies needs of people with disabilities before, during and after a disaster, and integrates disability elements and resources into all aspects of emergency management systems. The OAFN offers guidance to emergency managers and planners, and disability and older adult service systems, for planning and responding, during disasters and recovery.