Disaster & Emergency Planning
A disaster or emergency can strike at any time - sometimes without warning.
Floridians, especially Floridians with disabilities who may need assistance with evacuation or while in a shelter, should plan ahead. Preparing while things are safe and calm will help you cope better when disaster or emergency happens.
Planning ahead includes learning about your rights and responsibilities as well as your options for shelter.
- Download our Are You Prepared for an Emergency? brochure (PDF). Other languages are available on our Publications page.
- Listen to our You First podcast on Special Needs Shelters - Your Life Raft in an Emergency.
- Evacuate or Stay?
- Shelters & Accessibility
- Special Needs Shelters & Registries
- Pet & Service Animals
- Your Emergency Kit
Evacuate or Stay?
Whether to evacuate or stay in your home or at your current location is a very important decision. Your disaster plan should include options for both situations - evacuating or staying.
Consider your unique circumstances and the nature of the emergency. Use local officials and news outlets to learn if the danger is immediate. Use your best judgment - no one knows your needs as well as you do. If you are specifically ordered to evacuate, do it.
If your daily activities require additional travel time or transportation assistance, your disaster plan should include prior travel arrangements.
For additional information on making your decision and developing your plan go to the www.FloridaDisaster.org Disability Disaster webpage.
Also be aware that providers who care for people with disabilities are required to have their own plans. They must:
- designate an emergency coordinating officer,
- develop a procedure to contact the people they care for who need assistance and sheltering because of disabilities,
- assist people with disabilities to register with the Special Needs Registry,
- implement a dispatch system, and
- prepare for how to continue to provide esential services before, during and after a disaster.
Shelters & Accessibility
One of the most important roles of State and local government is to protect people from harm. This duty includes helping people obtain food and shelter during major emergencies.
Adequate public shelter is the responsibility of the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Management Services, the Department of Health, local emergency management agencies and other agencies. Voluntary organizations such as the American Red Cross play a vital role.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that general shelters, Special Needs Shelters and emergency services and supports must be accessible to people with disabilities. Visit the ADA Accessibility Checklist for Emergency Shelters on the Division of Emergency Management's website to learn more about accessibility and building code requirements that apply to shelters. To learn more about the ADA generally, visit the U.S. Department of Justice ADA website and the U.S. Access Board's ADA Standards website.
If you are concerned that a shelter or Special Needs Shelter that you need to use is not accessible to you, you may request assistance from Disability Rights Florida.
Special Needs Shelters & Registries
Florida laws and rules provide for the operation and staffing of Special Needs Shelters and Registries. Visit the Links tab to access these laws and rules.
Under Florida law, a person shall be eligible for access to a Special Needs Shelter if they are a "person with special needs", they need more than the basic first aid provided at general population shelters, they are medically stable and their level of health can be maintained by the shelter's capacity, staffing and equipment. Special Needs Shelters may also accept persons who have greater needs. Additionally, the law requires that when a person with special needs who is not on the Special Needs Registry arrives at a Special Needs Shelter, that shelter must assess them for eligibility.
A "person with special needs" is defined as someone, who during periods of evacuation or emergency, requires sheltering assistance, due to physical impairment, mental impairment, cognitive impairment, or sensory disabilities.
The Department of Health, local health departments, American Red Cross chapters and local emergency managers have specific roles and responsibilties for various aspects of staffing, medical management, and operations.
The Special Needs Registries are required by Florida law to help identify individuals with disabilities who may need assistance during an emergency. Florida law requires all appropriate agencies and community-based service providers, including home health care providers, hospices, nurse registries, and home medical equipment providers, to assist individuals and collect their Special Needs Registry information as part of their program intake processes. Agencies and providers are required to educate their clients about the Special Needs Registry and procedures that may be necessary for safety during disasters.
Individuals who are clients of state or federally funded service programs and who have physical, mental, cognitive impairment, or sensory disabilities are required to register if they need assistance in evacuating, or when in shelters.
Special Needs Registries must maintain the confidentiality of people's information except when a local emergency manager decides it is necessary to share a person's information with an emergency response agency such as the fire department or local law enforcement.
To develop a plan for your family, visit www.FLGetAPlan.com. The Special Needs Registry is now maintained by the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management. To register with the Florida Special Needs Registry, visit https://snr.floridadisaster.org/Signin?ReturnUrl=%2f
If you are having problems registering, you should ask a state agency or one of your service providers to assist you with the process. If the problems persist, you may also contact Disability Rights Florida to request assistance.
Pet & Service Animals
Whether you have a pet or a service animal, you need to understand your rights and responsibilities.
Federal and Florida law require that the Division of Emergency Management and local emergency managers develop strategies for the evacuation of people with pets as part of their shelter plans. Therefore, today many shelters do allow pets or make accommodations for pets. While every shelter is not required to accept pets, every county shelter plan must have a strategy in place to address the need. Visit the Links section to access these laws.
Preparing for your pet's health and safety during a disaster is part of responsible pet guardianship. Consider all of your options including relatives and friends outside of the evacuation area. For more information about planning and preparing for your pet during a disaster, visit the PetsWelcome.com Pet-Friendly Hotels in Florida page.
Service animals are not pets and must be allowed in all shelters. Visit the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section's website explaining the 2010 Revised ADA Service Animal Requirements to learn more about your rights and responsibilities regarding your service animal.
Your Emergency Kit
When a disaster strikes, or is about to strike, it is likely you will not have time to shop for essential items. Whether you are sheltering in place or need to evacuate, there are a number of basic items you will need at your disposal. That is why it is critical that every household assemble an emergency kit ahead of time and keep it current. You should review the contents of your kit at least once a year and refresh any expired or outdated items. Below is a list of basic items to include in your emergency kit, as well as items Floridians with disabilities should consider including.
This list can also be found on the FloridaDisaster.org Create an Emergency Kit website.
Large Storage Container - to keep all of the supplies of the kit in one spot
Water - at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
Food - at least enough for 3 to 7 days, including:
- any special food needed for dietary purposes
- non-perishable packaged or canned food / juices
- snack foods
- non-electric can opener
- cooking tools / fuel
- paper plates / plastic utensils
Written instructions regarding care and medication
- list of all medications and their dosages
- list of all doctors
- list of the types, specific model names and/or numbers, and the serial numbers of medical devices you use
First Aid Kit - medicines / prescription drugs including:
- an extra supply of required prescription medications (you should have medication for at least two weeks)
- extra oxygen if necessary
- adhesive bandages
- bug repellent
- burn cream
- pain relievers
- rubbing alcohol
- hydrogen peroxide
Extra Set of Eyeglasses and Hearing Aid Batteries
Blankets / Pillows, etc.
Clothing - seasonal /rain gear/ sturdy shoes
Toiletries - hygiene items / moisture wipes
Flashlights - each family member should have their own flashlight
Radio - a hand-cranked or solar powered radio is ideal; if using a battery operated radio, buy at least seven sets of batteries for the kit
Telephones - fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set
Cash and Credit Cards - banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods; make sure cash is in small bills
Extra Set of Keys - home and car
Toys, Books and Games
Important documents - in a waterproof container or watertight re-sealable plastic bag
- extra copies of medical insurance documents and Medicare/Medicaid cards
- other insurance records (home, car, etc.)
- medical records
- bank account numbers
- Social Security card, etc.
Tools - keep a set with you during the storm; gather together sheets of plastic, tools, nails, duct tape and paint
Vehicle fuel tanks filled
Pet care items
- proper identification / immunization records / medications
- ample supply of food and water
- carrier or cage
- muzzle and leash
People with mobility disabilities should consider including the following in their emergency kit:
- Pair of heavy gloves to use while wheeling or making your way over glass and debris
- Extra battery for your motorized wheelchair or scooter
- Jumper cables or specific recharging device to be connected to an automobile's cigarette lighter
- Patch kit or can of "seal-in-air product" to repair flat tires
- Spare cane or walker
- Food, medicine, favorite toy, and other care items for your service animal
- Plastic bags, disposable gloves and other items for the animal's care
People with sensory disabilities should consider including the following in their emergency kit:
- Pad of paper with pens or pencils for writing notes
- Extra batteries for tape recorders, portable TTYs, etc.
- Extra pair of eye glasses
- Extra pair of dark glasses, if medically required
- Extra set of hearing-aid batteries
- Folding mobility cane
- Food, medicine and favorite toy for your service animal
- Plastic bags, disposable gloves and other items for the animal's care
People with developmental or cognitive disabilities should consider including the following in their emergency kit:
- Alternate power source or spare batteries for communication device
- Paper and writing materials
Make sure your Emergency Kit includes a list of all your medications, including your prescribed medications. List the name of the doctor who wrote the prescription, the name of the drug or medication, the amount to take and the name and location of your pharmacy. It is important to have your prescription medications in your Emergency Kit, but what if your insurance company says it is too early for a refill?
Florida's Emergency Prescription Refill law guarantees you access to a refill during a disaster if your county:
- Is currently under a hurricane warning issued by the National Weather Service
- Is declared to be under a state of emergency in an executive order issued by the governor, or
- Has started its emergency operations center and its emergency management plan
The Emergency Prescription Refill law also allows individuals elsewhere in the state to access an emergency 72-hour refill.
Please talk with your doctor and pharmacist in advance about how the Emergency Prescription Refill law can help you.
Visit these websites for more information and resources:
- Florida Division of Emergency Management - also known as www.FloridaDisaster.org
- Find Your Local American Red Cross Chapter
- Florida Statute Chapter 252 - Emergency Management
- Florida Statute Section 252.355 - Registry of Persons with Special Needs
- Florida Statute Section 252.356 - Emergency and Disaster Planning Provisions to Assist Persons with Disabilities or Limitations
- Florida Statute Section 252.3568 - Emergency Sheltering of Persons with Pets
- Florida Statute Section 252.357 - Monitoring of Nursing homes and ALFs During Disaster
- Florida Statute Section 252.358 - Emergency Preparedness Prescription Medication Refills
- Florida Statute Section 381.0303 - Special Needs Shelter - Online Sunshine website
- Florida Administrative Code Department of Health Rule Chapter 64-3 - Special Needs Shelter - Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services Florida Administrative Weekly and Florida Administrative Code website
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA Watch
- National Weather Service All Hazards NOAA Weather Radio
- Florida Department of Elder Affairs Disaster Preparedness
- Florida State Courts Emergency Preparedness
- Are You Prepared for an Emergency? Brochure (other languages are available on our Publications page)
- Prescription Medications During Emergencies & Disasters Flyer