Nobody Left Behind
Briefing Paper: Objective One
March 30, 2005
Focus Area: County Programs, Policy, and Practice


"Each disaster compounds the day-to-day difficulties of the seniors, persons with disabilities, and special needs populations" (Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], 1998c). "With every disaster, persons with disabilities are overlooked," states Mike Collins, Executive Director, California State Independent Living Council (Nobody Left Behind Web sites, retrieved March 9,2005). Even in recent disasters, including the California 2004 Wildfires and the 9-11 terrorist attack, there were shortcomings reported in preparation, notification, evacuation, sheltering and recovery that adversely impacted persons with disabilities (California State Independent Living Center [CSILC], 2004; Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY [CIDNY], 2004). This was despite the fact that many of these problem areas had been repeatedly identified before these events (CIDNY, 2004).

Traditionally, disaster planning, prevention, and safety precautions have been designed for the non-disabled. Although disaster preparedness education and safety tips for people with mobility impairments are represented in publications of the major organizations in disaster preparation, the information is not always practical or feasible (Fox, White, Rooney, & Rowland, 2005). Furthermore, "... most planning related to emergency measures for people with disabilities consists of lists of things that consumers and their advocates should do - a practical first step, but one that clearly requires additional substantial support by emergency responders who have incorporated into their planning and operations an appropriate strategy for ensuring equitable access to response and recovery services" (CIDNY, 2004, p.3).

Many of the local emergency plans do not specifically address the transition needs back to pre-disaster conditions that are required for persons with disabilities. According to McCampbell, "When the support system of a person with a disability or senior is disrupted, the person's ability to live independently changes dramatically" (2003, p. 4).

According to the United States Fire Administration, "... a scarcity of fire safety knowledge exists within both the mobility-impaired community and the fire service. Both groups must work to educate each other; thus decreasing losses and injuries" (1999, p.3). This would appear to be true as well in the other areas of the emergency preparedness and response field.

According to Alan A. Reich, National Organization on Disabilities, "It is critical that all plans for emergency preparedness consider the special needs of people with disabilities. We strongly advocate that individuals with disabilities themselves be included in the planning process at all levels" (FEMA & United States Fire Administration, 2002).


This research is designed to provide empirical data on whether the local emergency management systems in the United States are engaged in addressing the needs of disaster preparedness and emergency response for persons with mobility impairments. For purposes of this research, a person with mobility impairment is defined as someone who has moderate to complete difficulty in walking or moderate to complete difficulty moving around using equipment (World Health Organization).


A random sample of 30 FEMA disaster declared sites in the United States was conducted. The disasters included natural and man-made. The emergency manager of each of the sites was surveyed through an over-the-phone interview. (For specific details on methodology refer to "Progress Report # 1: Methodology, January 17, 2005.") This paper looks at objective one of the research design and the corresponding research questions to address the objective.

Objective One

To determine whether counties that have experienced a natural or man-made disaster between 1998 and 2003 have systems in place for disaster preparedness and emergency response for residents with mobility impairment.

Research Questions

1. Have FEMA-declared natural or man-made disasters facilitated changes for

persons with mobility impairments? If so, how.

2. Have the disaster preparedness and emergency response planning process

included community stakeholders representing people with disabilities? If so,

what has been their involvement and outcomes?

Almost half the sites (43%) required emergency rescues and 10% (or approximately 246) of the rescued people had mobility impairments. Seventy percent of these rescues were at small assisted living centers. These rescues were precipitated by an ice storm, a severe winter storm with high winds and freezing temperatures, and a tropical storm with tornadoes. Thirty-one percent of the sites were not aware if any of the rescued persons had mobility impairments.

A wide range of disaster types were represented in the study, everything from severe storms to wildfires and the 9-11 terrorists attack. Although a majority of the sites (90%) were not aware of any injuries or deaths related to the disaster occurrences, there were a total of 400 injuries and eight deaths from non 9-11 disasters occurrences. One of the deaths involved a person with mobility impairment.

There were 10,000 injuries and 2,749 deaths resulting from 9-11. No breakdowns on how many persons with mobility impairments were involved are available. However, several publications since 9-11 have reported on individual stories of wheelchair users surviving or perishing in 9-11 (Mobility, 2001; CIDNY, 2004; McCampbell, 2003).

Question 1: Have FEMA declared natural or man-made disasters facilitated changes for persons with mobility impairments?

Information obtained during the interviews revealed that one site did not have a plan at the time of the disaster, and a majority (97%) of the sites had revised their plan since the disaster. The emergency managers were asked to identify the reason(s) that prompted the revisions in the plan. Eight sites (or 28%) reported making policy or procedural changes due to the disaster itself. From these eight sites, two sites made additional revisions to address disability-related concerns. Most revisions to the plans were the result of an annual or periodic review (72%), while other changes were facilitated by federal mandates (59%), state mandates (24%), or for other reasons (34%).

Of the two sites that altered policies or procedures due to disability-related concerns, one site was considering how to better identify persons with disabilities, address electricity needs of the group, and safeguard the names of persons who are listed on the voluntary registry. The other site promoted changes in the planning process to better follow-up on service outcomes for persons with disabilities, particularly those with medical needs.

From the 11 sites that provided investigators with a section of their local emergency management plans for review, only two had comprehensive guidelines and procedures to address the needs of persons with disabilities, including persons with mobility impairments.

Question 2: Has the disaster preparedness and emergency response planning process included community stakeholders representing people with disabilities? H so, what has been their involvement and related outcomes?

Study Findings: From the 18 sites (or 80%) that did not have guidelines in place to assist people with mobility impairments, only five sites (or 28%) had any plans to develop these types of specific details or guidelines in the future. No provisions are being considered to include persons with mobility impairments in these planning efforts. Only one site is considering a representative of the Mayor's office on Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and another site a representative from the Office of Aging.

Four out of the six sites that have guidelines to assist people with disabilities consulted with advocacy organizations for seniors, or people with disabilities, or with a person with a disability during the planning stages.


To address these issues it is recommended that:

* * * * *

This report was created by the Research and Training Center

on Independent Living and does not necessarily reflect the

views of the funder or the University of Kansas. Any use of the contents of this report should be followed by this citation: The Research and Training Center on Independent Living, The University of Kansas (2005, March 30). Nobody Left Behind: Briefing Paper: Objective One. Lawrence, KS: Nobody Left Behind Project Staff. For more information, refer to


California State Independent Living Council. (2004, April). Issue brief: The impact of 2003 wildfires on people with disabilities. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved January 15,2005 from

Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York. (September 2004). Lessons learned from the W orId Trade Center disaster: Emergency preparedness for people with disabilities in new york. New York. NY: Author. Retrieved March 9,2005. From University of Kansas, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, Nobody Left Behind: Preparedness for Persons with Mobility Impairments Web sites: http://rtcil.orMesources.htm

Federal Emergency Management Agency. (1998c). FEMA: Disaster preparedness for people with disabilities. Retrieved March 20, 2002 from

Federal Emergency Management Agency & United States Fire Administration. (2002, August) Orientation manual for first responders on the evacuation of People with Disabilities. (F A-235). Unites States Fire Administration. Emmitsburg, MD.

Fox. M.H., White, GW., Rooney, C., & Rowland, 1. (2005). Power Point presentation: County level disaster preparedness and response for persons with mobility impairments: Results from the University of Kansas Nobody Left Behind study. Presented at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Preparedness Conference 2005, February 22-24, 2005: Atlanta, GA. Retrieved March 9, 2005. from Nobody Left Behind Web site: http://rtcil.orwresources.htm

McCampbell, A. (2003, April). Report to the New Mexico Department of Health: Best practices model including the needs of people with disabilities, seniors, and individuals with chronic mental illness in emergency preparedness and planning. For the Governor's Committee on the Concerns of the Handicapped. New Mexico: Author.

Nobody Left Behind Web sites (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2005, From: University of Kansas, Nobody Left Behind Web sites: http://rtcil.orwsveakoutl.htm

Rooney, C., Fox, MH., Suchowierska, M, Rowland, 1. & White GW. (2005, January). Methodology (Progress Report #1). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas, Research and Training Center on Independent Living. From: University of Kansas, Nobody Left Behind Web site http://rtcil.orwfmdings.

U.S. Fire Administration, produced by TriData Corporation under subcontract to Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide for the U.s. Fire Administration. (October 1999). Fire Risks for the Mobility Impaired. Emmitsburg, MD: Author. 16825 S. Seton Ave., Emmitsburg, MD 21727

White, G. W., Fox, MH., Suchowierska, M, & Rowland, J. (2002). Disaster response training to help disabled persons. grant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Through the Association of Teachers of Preventative Medicine, Lawrence, Kansas, TS #08040.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health Web site. Retrieved on June 19,2003, from http://www.whointlclassiflcationlicflchecklistlicf-checklist.pdf, part two: activity limitations and participation restrictions.


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