Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities

Evacuation chair photoIntroduction 


The Mayor's Office on Disability (MOD) has been actively engaged in disaster planning since 2005. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an advance notice natural disaster where seniors and people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the local, state, and Federal government's lack of planning, the Mayor's Disability Council (MDC) convened a series of hearings focusing on emergency preparedness, response, and recovery as it affects people with disabilities.  The MDC created a committee staffed by MOD called the Disability Disaster Preparedness Committee (DDPC), made up of a group of disability advocates and City staff who met monthly to identify policy needs and propose concrete recommendations. The DDPC continues to meet every other month and we welcome members of the community, and community based service providers who work with people with disabilities.

Some of the first recommendations made by the DDPC were that the Mayor's Office on Disability needed to become an active part of the City's overall disaster planning efforts. MOD started by surveying all of the City's potential shelter sites to evaluate them for accessibility and then rating them with a priority system so accessible shelters would be opened first in the event that San Francisco needed to activate a Care and Shelter Plan.

Other early initiatives included the City's Evacuation Chair Project where the CCSF purchased and installed over one hundred evacuation chair devices in City owned  or leased buildings that were more than two stories high. Evacuation chairs allow the safe evacuation of people with mobility disabilities from multistory buildings when elevators cannot be used due to fire, power outages, or other safety considerations. And the chairs can be used by either emergency responders or trained co-workers, as demonstrated by the successful evacuation of multiple people during the 9-11 World Trade Center event.

Under the MOD's advocacy, the City's Department of Emergency Management subsequently started funding a half time emergency planner position at MOD in 2008. MOD has been an active participant in planning, exercises, and policy development ever since.