Understanding the needs of a community is imperative in order to effectively plan for natural disaster emergency response. As Hurricane Florence continues to impact the Southeast coast, national, state and local community emergency planners are working to evacuate and shelter thousands of people who are fleeing their homes.
People with disabilities are one of many vulnerable groups especially at risk during natural disasters. In times of emergency, people will evacuate with their households, and will need to shelter with their households. It is not acceptable to separate families and households in times of crisis. Many family members are caregivers, so shelters need to be accessible so that people with disabilities and their families and caregivers can stay together.
People with disabilities: About 41 million, or 13%, of Americans have at least one type of disability. The vast majority (38 million) live in households with other people and a significant number of people with disabilities live in group quarters, which includes dormitories, nursing homes, and prisons.
People without disabilities: Approximately 78 million people without disabilities live in households with a member who experiences a disability. This means that nearly 25% of the US population lives in a household with a member with a disability.
(See Prevalence of Disability: Individual and Household Context for more about this research).
In the areas at most risk from Hurricane Florence, there are particularly high rates of disability at the county level. This map shows disability rates by county across the U.S.
These next two maps show disability rates in the counties that are in the path of Hurricane Florence, as well as the number of people with disabilities in the path of Hurricane Florence.
The map above shows the percent of people, by county, estimated by the ACS to have disabilities in the Southeastern region of the United States. Disability rates are broken into four levels: 4.7-12.8%, 12.9-15.5%, 15.6-18.9%, and 19%-36.9%. Darker purple indicates a higher rate. The map shows counties just inland from the coast in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia as having high rates of disability (19% -36.9%).
The map above shows the number of people, by county, estimated by the ACS to have disabilities living in the Southeastern region of the United States. Population is broken into four levels: 13 – 1,788 individuals, 1,789 – 4, 289 individuals, 4,290 – 10,134 individuals, and 10,135 – 984,716 individuals. Darker purple indicates a higher population. The map shows counties with large populations of people with disabilities (10,000 and more) throughout North and South Carolina, and the northern coast of Florida.
In order to ensure that needed accommodations are provided at shelters, emergency planners need to know the functional needs of the populations who may be coming to their shelters, not just that needs are present. The resources required for a person who is Deaf/hard of hearing are not mutually exclusive with the resources required for a person who uses a motorized wheelchair or for a person who is blind/low vision.
Our Disability in America map series breaks out this information. We have created maps that show rates of impairment type at the county level for the U.S. We use data from the American Community Survey (ACS), which does not directly measure disability. Instead, it uses questions related to difficulty and functional impairment to identify individuals who may experience a disability. The ACS asks six questions related to functional limitation:
- Hearing difficulty: deaf or having serious difficulty hearing (all ages)
- Vision difficulty: blind or having serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses (all ages)
- Cognitive difficulty: because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem, having difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions (ages 5+)
- Ambulatory (i.e. mobility) difficulty: having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs (ages 5+)
- Self-care difficulty: having difficulty bathing or dressing (ages 5+)
- Independent living difficulty: because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem, having difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping (ages 18+)
See Rural Matters: The Geography of Disability in Rural America for more information about the ACS and our work on disability demographics.
Our maps break out each of these functional limitations:
We also have created maps that show the disability rate in rural counties, among veterans, by gender, and the poverty rate among people with disabilities, each broken out by county across the U.S. All of these maps can be viewed and downloaded here: Geography and Rural Disability Maps
FEMA works with national disability groups to make sure that emergency plans and shelters are inclusive and accessible. FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination created a document titled Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services in General Population Shelters to help emergency and shelter planners meet access and functional needs in general population shelters.
For more FEMA resources and information, see:
- FEMA news release: Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities, April 13, 2018
- FEMA Hurricane Florence resources and information: Hurricane Florence
For more information on people with disabilities and emergency disaster response, see:
- RTC:Rural blog post: Resources for inclusive emergency prep and response, Sept. 6, 2017
- Organization: Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies
- Rooted In Rights article: Why Involving Disabled People in Disaster Planning Saves Lives, Oct. 2, 2017
- Temple Collaborative on Community Inclusion trainer’s guide: Helping People with Mental Health Conditions Prepare for Disasters
- PolicyMap (interactive maps): Vulnerable Populations in the Path of Hurricane Florence, Sept. 9, 2018
- CityLab article: Mapping the Unequal Burden of Hurricane Florence Sept. 12, 2018