Inclusive Emergency Strategies: How Californians Can Prepare for Accessible Evacuations


When disasters strike, vulnerable populations are often disproportionately affected. That’s why it’s imperative to have an emergency plan in place and a go-bag packed and ready in case of an evacuation or disaster. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) is dedicated to ensuring that the Access and Functional Needs (AFN) community can promptly respond to emergency orders.

Different Needs Demand Different Plans

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., reliant on public transit)
  • In late stages of pregnancy

Disaster preparedness for AFN community members begins with a trusted support network that can facilitate a safe environment for any circumstance. Below are ways to prepare for an emergency that everyone can benefit from.

Create an emergency plan for you and your household so everyone can be prepared during an emergency.

Within your emergency plan, be sure to include:

  • A contact list of friends and family members who can help you evacuate.
  • Designated emergency meeting places to reunite with your support network.
  • Evacuation routes that include all accessible transportation options.

Pack a go-bag with critical items you will need if you are ordered to evacuate. Within your go-bag, include:

  • Important documents
  • Cash
  • Keys, wallet and phone
  • Medications
  • First-aid supplies

Be sure to include any items needed for your individual needs as well.

Items/Tips for Individuals Who Require Medications

  • Try to maintain at least a week’s supply of prescription medicines.
  • Keep a list of all medications, dosage, and allergies.
  • Keep a copy of your medical information including a list of your prescriptions and prescribers.

Items/Tips for People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Keep extra batteries for hearing aids.
  • Pack pen and paper to communicate with someone who does not know sign language.
  • Consider carrying a pre-printed copy of key phrases, such as “I speak American Sign Language (ASL) and need an ASL interpreter” or “If you make an announcement, please write it down for me.”

Items/Tips for People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision

  • Mark emergency supplies with Braille labels or large print.
  • Keep communication devices in your emergency supply kit.
  • Consider your service animal or pets and plan for food, water, and supplies. Some shelters only allow service animals.
  • If you use a cane, keep extras at work, home, school, etc.

Items/Tips for People with Speech Disability

  • Carry an instruction card on how to communicate with you if your equipment or assistive devices are not working. This may include laminated cards with phrases and/or pictograms.
  • If you use augmentative communication devices, plan how you will evacuate with them.
  • Keep a pen and paper or whiteboard and marker.

Items/Tips for Individuals with Sensory Disabilities

  • A small pop-up tent can be used to decrease visual stimulation in a busy room or to provide privacy.
  • Pack headphones to decrease auditory distractions.
  • Keep a pair of dark glasses to assist with visual stimulation.