LINCROFT, N.J. – The challenges that present themselves in the aftermath of a disaster can be formidable for everyone involved, but maintaining independence and support systems is a unique challenge for people with access and functional needs (AFN).
This population may have disaster-related needs in the areas of communication, transportation, supervision, medical care or maintaining independence. Not only can they increase their chances of surviving a disaster – and their level of safety and comfort when disaster strikes, but the good news is that they don’t have to do it alone.
Following the enactment of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, FEMA created a team of disability integration specialists/advisors, who ensure recovery assistance is accessible and inclusive.
FEMA provides information, outreach and access to disaster assistance specifically designed for people with access and functional needs as well as for those with limited English proficiency.
Extensive resources are available online to help families and individuals with special needs develop a plan that will provide the protection they need should a disaster occur. Information can be accessed on the web at www.ready.gov/individuals-access-functional-needs. The site includes a downloadable brochure titled, “Prepare for Emergencies Now, Information for People with Disabilities,” which is available in both English and Spanish.
Who are the people with access and functional needs? Examples include:
- Those who are deaf or hard of hearing and need to make special arrangements to receive emergency warnings
- People without vehicles who may need to make arrangements for transportation
- Those with physical limitations that may affect their ability to care for themselves in an emergency
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management website also features information regarding AFN planning for consumers, emergency managers, and providers of services to older adults and people with disabilities. The site – www.ready.nj.gov/plan/special-needs.html – includes a monthly bulletin dedicated to preparedness for specific disabilities and oxygen users as well as for those with chronic illnesses such as autism and diabetes.
In the event of a presidentially declared disaster, FEMA assistance can include American Sign Language Interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing, and devices to help people with a range of needs for mobility, sensory, physical or other impairments.
The most important step that a family or individual with special needs should take is to plan ahead. Consider what you or a family member may need to maintain health, safety and independence during and immediately after a disaster. Here are a few steps you can take now:
- Build a disaster preparedness kit with your specific needs in mind. It may be a few days before you have access to a hospital. If you undergo routine treatments at a hospital or clinic, or if you receive health care services at home, talk to your service provider about planning for an emergency.
- Consider registering with “Register Ready – NJ’s Access and Functional Needs Registry for Disasters.” The NJ AFN Registry is designed to help emergency responders locate and safely evacuate people who could find it difficult to help themselves in the event of a major disaster. Register online at www.registerready.nj.gov or call 2-1-1 for assistance with registration.
- Sign up for FEMA RSS feeds.
- Sign up for information from the NJOEM at www.ready.nj.gov. “Like” the NJOEM on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReadyNewJersey or follow it on Twitter at @READYNJ. This site also contains a link to New Jersey’s 21 County Offices of Emergency Management with county websites, social media tools and county alert and warning system listed as well. Sign up, opt-in or connect to receive important alerts.
For more information and tools related to emergency preparedness for people with disabilities, visit the FEMA Office of Disability, Integration and Coordination online at www.fema.gov/office-disability-integration-coordination.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.