Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Evacuating Populations With Special Needs

Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series

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by Jeffrey A. Lindley, FHWA Associate Administrator for Operations

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proudly presents this primer, Evacuating Populations with Special Needs , as the third in the Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning primer series. This installment focuses on evacuating people who need assistance in leaving an area, particularly people with disabilities, aging populations, people living in congregate or residential care facilities, and those with household pets. We developed this primer to assist transportation agencies, emergency managers, first responders, and special needs service organizations understand applicable legislation-including new legislation passed after the Hurricane Katrina response-and develop and implement evacuations of special needs populations. We hope this primer helps planners and responders better understand the needs of people with disabilities, the aging population, and others with special needs.

FHWA recognizes that evacuation operations are primarily a State and local function; therefore, State and local authorities are the most knowledgeable in this area. Evacuating people with disabilities and individuals with medical conditions requires specific consideration of their needs. We are all too familiar with the tragic events of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Sadly, people with disabilities, the aging population, and people with medical conditions were disproportionately affected. People who did not have access to transportation or who were unable to understand emergency communications were also left behind.

That tragedy, as well as other disasters, clearly indicated to the Nation that we need to strengthen transportation evacuation plans and responses specific to the needs of people with disabilities, the aging population, and people with medical or other conditions that hinder their movement during an evacuation. Evacuation of people with special needs has not only been a matter of keen interest and scrutiny on the part of many within government, academe, private sector groups such as the Red Cross and other groups representing this population, but it has also been an area of rapid and constant change as more about it has been learned and understood. In this spirit, FHWA has dedicated a primer to these important issues. The chapters that follow focus on specific issues related to evacuating those with special needs and provide the reader with a better sense of how communities can plan and work with the special needs, emergency management, first responder, and transportation communities to ensure a safer evacuation of the special needs population. We include checklists to help agencies consider what needs to be in place before, during, and after an evacuation.

We encourage readers to contact FHWA’s Office of Operations to comment on this document, share experiences, and offer suggestions to improve this primer. Comments and inquiries should be directed in writing to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Operations, Emergency Transportation Operations Team, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590, or via email to For an electronic version of this document or other evacuation planning tools, please visit the Evacuation Planning Knowledge Management Center at the Emergency Transportation Operations Web site and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Lessons Learned Information System ETO Channel or the Content Specific page on mass evacuations.

Jeffrey A. Lindley

Associate Administrator for Operations, FHWA

April 2009