Emergency preparedness for government and organizations

Are you a government agency or an emergency planner who works under one? Are you part of an emergency response team or a staff member for an emergency shelter? If so, it is important to know your responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) to make sure people with disabilities are included in your emergency planning and response efforts. A well-thought-out and inclusive plan can save time, money, and lives.

Who has responsibilities under the ADA?

  • Government agencies and staff, including an agency’s ADA Coordinator
  • Emergency response organizations (Red Cross, FEMA, etc.)
  • Emergency responders (police, fire, paramedics)
  • Emergency shelter staff and volunteers

What does the ADA require?

People with disabilities must have access to emergency programs, services, activities, and facilities. Governments and emergency response organizations must make changes to policies, practices, and procedures to provide equal access and effective communication to people with disabilities. The ADA allows exceptions to this requirement only if these changes would:

  • “fundamentally alter” the nature of a program or service; or
  • result in an “undue financial and administrative burden”

Where does the ADA apply?

The ADA applies to all stages of emergency planning and response, including:

  • Preparation and plan development
  • Emergency testing
  • Emergency communications and alerts
  • Evacuation and transport
  • Shelters
  • Housing and relocation programs
  • Disaster-related benefit programs
  • Emergency medical care and services
  • Disaster recovery program
  • Damage repair processes

Effective communication during emergencies

The ADA requires “effective communication” with people with disabilities. Written and verbal communication should be clear and easy to understand. You may also need to provide information in different formats.

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Press conferences

During an emergency, press conferences provide important information to the public. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) requires that the information shared is accessible to people with hearing and visual disabilities.

Some key ways to prepare:

  • Check the location (building, parking, restrooms) of the press conference to make sure it is accessible for all participants.
  • Hire a qualified interpreter for all press conferences.
    • Prepare the interpreter with written information ahead of time.
    • Clear space for the interpreter and keep them close to the speaker podium.
    • Inform those filming the press conference to keep the interpreter in the frame and not cover them with any graphics or other visuals.
  • Make sure the press conference is captioned.

Looking for helpful resources about press conferences? This is a checklist that can help you make sure your press conference is accessible.

Emergency alerts

State and local governments should use warning systems that are accessible to both individuals with hearing and visual disabilities.  Some examples include:

  • Both visual and audible alerts
  • Multiple electronic alert methods (phone calls, text messages, and emails)
  • Qualified sign language interpreters for TV and video announcements
  • Open captioning for TV and video announcements

Social media

Social media posts by local governments and emergency response organizations should be accessible to those who use screen readers. A few tips:

  • Use simple, shorter sentences.
  • Provide alt text and captions for photos.
  • Check your color contrast and fonts on graphics.
  • Include captioning and audio descriptions for videos.
  • Use camel case for hashtags.

Looking for helpful resources about social media? This is a website that will provide some guidelines for social media accessibility.

1-on-1 communication by emergency responders and shelter staff

Emergency responders, evacuation personnel, recovery program staff, and emergency shelter staff should be trained in communicating with individuals with different types of disabilities.

Helpful resources for 1-on-1 communication

Including people with disabilities in the emergency planning process

You should make efforts to get input from people with disabilities when making an emergency plan for your local community. Any emergency plan should take the needs and specific circumstances of the community it serves and use that information. Members of the community with disabilities can help to highlight places where an emergency plan is lacking and how to make the plan better.

Accessibility in shelters

  • Physical
  • Programmatic
  • Communication

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General helpful resources

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