Access and Functional Needs Planning

FEMA Issues New Guidance to Support People with Disabilities During Disasters
Wed, 03 Nov 2010 10:16:10 -0500

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today announced new guidelines on emergency sheltering to help state planners and non-profit organizations ensure that people with access and functional needs receive lawful and equitable assistance in the aftermath of a disaster. Read more here.

FEMA - Office of Disability Integration and Coordination - Integrating and coordinating emergency preparedness, response and recovery for children and adults with disabilities and others with access and functional needs before, during and after a disaster.

Functional Needs Support Services Guidance - (pdf download) The purpose of this document is to provide planning guidance that can be incorporated into existing shelter plans to State emergency managers and shelter planners to meet access and functional needs in general population shelters. This document provides guidance to assist emergency managers and shelter planners in understanding the requirements related to sheltering children and adults with functional support needs in general population shelters. Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) and the guidance provided are designed to assist in the planning and resourcing of sheltering operations whether government, NGO, faith- or private-based to meet the access and functional needs of children and adults. These guidelines identify methods of achieving a lawful and equitable program through the delivery of FNSS for children and adults.

In January 2008, the California Emergency Management Agency formerly the Governor's Office of Emergency Services created the Office for Access and Functional Needs (OAFN). The purpose of OAFN is to identify the needs of people with disabilities before, during and after a disaster and to integrate disability needs and resources into all aspects of emergency management systems.

According to the U.S. Census of 2000, there are approximately six million Californians over the age of five years who identify as having a disability. OAFN was created to strengthen the method and planning of emergency management for people with disabilities.

The new model includes the following:

  • Inclusion of people with disabilities and service organizations
  • Inclusion of accessible transportation providers
  • Integration of needs and resources in emergency preparedness plans
  • Prepared to address functional needs
  • Expert assessments
  • Meet essential needs 
  • Wheelchair accessible vehicles incorporated in evacuation plans
  • Durable medical equipment, consumable medical supplies and standard accessible cots in cache
  • Sheltering people with disabilities and activity limitations in General Population shelter 
  • Language will reference functional needs rather than “special needs” and people with disabilities and activity limitations rather than “vulnerable populations”
  • Facilities and temporary structures required and/or retrofitted to become accessible

The projected outcomes will include:

  • Improved ability for people with disabilities to maintain independence, health and safety, during disasters
  • People with disabilities and activity limitations will be recognized as a significant part of the population and will be active participants in planning and responding
  • Communication, facilities, materials and services will be accessible to comply with civil rights laws

Change will occur with a commitment by those responsible for emergency management planning and disability service organizations and departments to integrate their cultures and develop a collaborative working relationship on the issues. Integration will ultimately change emergency management in California.

We hope the information provided is useful and increases preparedness for supporting the needs of people with disabilities, in disasters and recovery. Please provide us with any feedback and share resources that others can benefit from. 

Cailfornia Emergency Management Agency Office of Access and Functional Needs

Additional Resources:

Lessons Learned Information Sharing

National Council on Disability

National Disability Organization and page on emergency preparedness

Nobody Left Behind

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Emergency and Disaster Preparedness

Ready America