Evacuations & Accessibility: Meeting the Needs of All Californians During Disasters


Wildfire, earthquake, drought, or tsunami. When you live in California, you constantly hear about the types of disasters threatening the state. While emergencies are challenging, each Californian has different needs when preparing for a disaster.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) wants to ensure the access and functional needs (AFN) community can respond quickly to emergency orders.

Different Plans for Different Circumstances

You, or someone you know, could benefit from planning ahead for disasters so the experience is safe and comfortable for everyone. AFN refers to individuals who are/have:

  • Physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities
  • Chronic conditions or injuries
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Older adults
  • Children
  • Low income, homeless and/or transportation disadvantaged (i.e., dependent on public transit)
  • In late stages of pregnancy

Disaster preparation for AFN community members begins with trusted family members, friends, or healthcare providers who can make sure their needs will be met under any circumstance. Identify at least four people who can assist during a crisis and make sure you talk through a plan with everyone.

Below are some safety guidelines to help prepare Californians in the AFN community:

People with Developmental Disabilities

  • Identify reliable allies
  • Create a plan together
  • Practice the plan so everyone feels safe

People with Mobility or Physical Disabilities

  • Plan for transportation
  • Have a plan if ramps and rails are damaged
  • Evacuate as soon as possible to give extra time

People with Communication Disabilities

  • Carry a card with how to communicate
  • Carry communication devices, phrase cards, or picture boards
  • Know how to replace assistive devices if lost or damaged

Plan for All Possible Scenarios

Californians are encouraged to coordinate with neighbors or community groups if transportation could be an issue during an evacuation.

Ideal Scenario: the person has their own car and a trusted ally who can help

Alternate Scenario: the person will need to rely on someone, transportation might be uncomfortable, and accessibility devices, like a wheelchair, may be left behind

Third Scenario: the person must rely on strangers, law enforcement, or first responders to get out of a danger area

Cal OES AFN Office

In 2008, California established the Office of Access and Functional Needs (OAFN) within Cal OES. The purpose of OAFN is to identify the needs of individuals with disabilities and others with access or functional needs before, during, and after disasters and integrate them into the state’s emergency management systems.

L. Vance Taylor
Chief, Cal OES Office of Access and Functional Need

OAFN utilizes a whole community approach by offering training and guidance to emergency managers and planners, disability advocates, and other service providers responsible for planning for, responding to, and helping communities recover from disasters. OAFN plans for the realities of disasters by integrating access and functional needs into everything Cal OES does, including partnership development, outreach, training, guidance, and technical assistance.