Identifying Special-Needs Households That Need Assistance for Emergency Planning

August 2002 (VOL. 20, NO. 2)

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State governments are increasingly requiring state and local emergency management offices to maintain lists of persons with special needs who may require assistance in disaster situations. In addition, federal courts are beginning to apply the Americans with Disabilities Act to emergency planning. This study characterizes special-needs households that are located in the vicinity of a chemical weapons storage site in Alabama. For this study, a special-needs household is defined as a residence having at least one person with physical or mental problems, a transportation dependence, or a child who is home alone at times and requires assistance from outside the family or current circle of relatives, friends, and neighbors to take specific protective actions. The special-needs households were identified through a myriad of collection methods, including random sampling, saturation mailing/self-registration, targeted distribution/self-registration, agency and support provider lists, and referrals. Attitudes toward specific protective actions and an assessment of the ability of the special-needs household to take those actions were also sought out. Approximately 9 percent of the community’s households were identified as containing persons with special needs who require assistance during emergencies. The study also identified the highly perishable nature of special-needs population records maintained by emergency management agencies. During a data verification process conducted 3 months after the data collection effort concluded, almost half of the previously identified 3,294 individuals with special needs had their situation change or could not be reached for verification. Concurrently, 1,090 new persons with special needs identified themselves as needing assistance. Recommendations are made to the emergency planning community for addressing the support needs of special populations.