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Annex 2: Legislation, Regulations, and Policy

As outlined in Chapter 2, there are many existing laws, regulations, and policies related to special needs populations. This annex provides more detailed information on those subjects introduced in Chapter 2.

Disaster Preparedness in Federal Legislation, Regulations, Policy

Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended, 1988)

The Stafford Act amended the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 and established the Presidential Disaster Declaration system, which triggers federal financial and resource assistance to eligible states and local authorities through FEMA. Through the Stafford Act, FEMA is the designated coordinating agency during federally declared disasters. Although part of the DHS since 2003, FEMA remains the federal agency that establishes guidelines and grants for state and local emergency management. However, the state often administers guidelines and grants to local jurisdictions; and local jurisdictions are expected to carry out the guidelines.

Historically, special needs issues have fallen under the purview of disaster human services within the emergency management system. This changed after the events of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as the Stafford Act was amended and special needs issues were fully integrated into all phases of emergency management.

Pet Evacuation Transportation Standards Act of 2006 (P. L. 109–308, 2006) (PETS Act) [89]

The PETS Act of 2006 was enacted following the events of Hurricane Katrina. PETS amends the Stafford Act to include requirements for jurisdictions to include planning for people with animals. The legislation specifically states that all cities and states must have a pet plan in place to receive FEMA funding. This law is meant to address the problematic issue of people refusing to evacuate because they do not want to leave household pets behind as witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. FEMA funding eligibility will be dependent on compliance. Although service animals are mentioned in the legislation, household pets should not be confused with service animals, which are protected under the ADA. Service animals are not considered household pets. Regardless, all emergency evacuation plans must include policies and procedures for evacuating both service animals and household pets.

HHS, Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (P.L. 109-417, 2006) (PAHPA) [90]

In 2006, the PAHPA was passed, which focuses on public health and medical bioterrorism preparedness as well as all hazard medical surge capacity. The Act addresses special needs or “at risk populations” including children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and other individuals who have “special needs.” Under the provisions of this law, the needs of “at-risk” individuals should be taken into account in managing preparedness initiatives such as the SNS and grants to states.

Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, 2005 (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) [91]

The SAFETEA-LU Act continues the requirements for MPOs and state DOTs to address the needs of environmental justice and Title VI populations in their systems planning processes (as codified under 23 CFR Part 450). SAFETEA-LU added a security requirement to these transportation planning processes, which, by inference, requires state and local agencies to address special needs populations in their long-range transportation plans and their transportation improvement programs.

Executive Order 13347: Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness (2004) [92]

On July 22, 2004, President Bush signed Executive Order 13347 to strengthen emergency preparedness with respect to individuals with disabilities. This Executive Order directs the federal government to address the safety and security needs of people with disabilities in emergency situations including natural and man-made disasters. To this end, the Executive Order created a Federal Interagency Coordinating Council of Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities [93] chaired by the DHS and comprised of several federal agencies.

ADA of 1990 (P.L. 101-336) [94]

The ADA of 1990 does not specifically address the issue of compliance in emergency planning and response. However, it does mandate that all public and private sector facilities come into and remain in compliance, provide reasonable accommodations, and be accessible. [95] Essentially, special needs populations cannot be excluded because of disability with regard to emergency plans. “While not specifically articulated within many of the authorities mentioned [ADA], in a post-September 11 United States, the interpretations are now shaped by a ‘big picture’ approach and extend the rights of people with disabilities to share in access to services and programs, to include emergency preparedness planning and response.” [96] Access must be both physical (e.g., architectural barriers) and programmatic.

In the last few years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has aggressively held broadcasters responsible for not complying with emergency information accessibility requirements in place under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (P.L.104-104 ), Section 79.2—Accessibility of Emergency Programming. [97]

The events of September 11, 2001, prompted emergency management policy changes for the special needs population including landmark lawsuits about the ADA and emergency evacuation planning, which ruled that, under the ADA, public facilities should consider the needs of people with disabilities in emergency evacuation planning. [98]  

Older Americans Act of 1965 (OAA) (P.L. 89-73) [99]  

The OAA of 1965 has undergone subsequent revisions with the most recent reauthorization in 2006. Although the OAA is not a disaster-specific piece of legislation, much like the ADA, it can be used to authorize funds to assist older Americans in the recovery process primarily because the act provides grants to states for community planning and services. The OAA is an anti-discrimination law that classifies older Americans as a legally protected class.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (P. L. 104-191)

HIPAA of 1996 addresses the issue of health privacy for patients. The law requires uniform federal privacy protections for individually identifiable health information. HHS issued final regulations implementing the privacy provisions of HIPAA and provided a new tool called Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness—A Decision Tool (available at

Animal Welfare Act of 1966, (P. L. 89-544)

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 [100] governs humane treatment of animals during transportation and other emergency situations. According to the act, all handlers should keep detailed records to ensure compliance and proof of such treatment. This applies to all animals including household pets, service animals, livestock, and institutional animals. [101] The act covers specific issues such as transporting animals when separated from owners. In this case, if animals are separated from owners, it is important to work with “second parties” such as veterinarians and animal rescue volunteers to assist with matching owners and animals after the disaster. The legislation addresses other concerns regarding vaccinations, special medical needs, aggressive animals, and safety of drivers and handlers. [102]

Federal Guidance Documents on Special Needs and Emergency Management

National Response Framework [103]

The NRF, presents the guiding principles that enable all response partners to prepare for and provide a unified national response to disasters and emergencies—from the smallest incident to the largest catastrophe. The NRF establishes a comprehensive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident response. It evolved from the Federal Response Plan and its successor, the National Response Plan. The NRF incorporates roles and responsibilities for various response and support functions and under certain planning scenarios and provides best practices and procedures from professional emergency managers and responders. The NRF provides a basis for how the federal government coordinates with state, local, and tribal governments; voluntary agencies; and the private sector during emergencies and disasters.

FEMA and DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Planning

As a result of the 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5441) [104], FEMA and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Planning are developing guidelines for accommodating individuals with disabilities in disaster mass care, housing, and human services. Some recent developments include:

  • National Incident Management System (NIMS) [105] —The DHS is revising NIMS to include the role of a special needs adviser within the command structure. There is also emphasis being placed on the accessibility of outreach, education, and communications with special needs populations.
  • Homeland Security Target Capabilities Lists (TCL)—The DHS and several of its partners worked at the national level to develop target capabilities for state and local emergency management to accompany the National Preparedness Guidelines. “Target capabilities describe the capabilities related to the four Homeland Security mission areas: Prevent, Protect, Respond, and Recover. It defines and provides the basis for assessing preparedness. It also established guidelines for preparing the Nation for major all-hazards events. The current version of the TCL contains 37 core capabilities.” [106]
  • Accommodating Individuals with Disabilities in the Provision of Disaster Mass Care, Housing, and Human Services Reference GuideFEMA released Accommodating Individuals with Disabilities in the Provision of Disaster Mass Care, Housing, and Human Services Reference Guide, which states, “Federal civil rights in Section VI of this Guide require equal access for, and prohibit discrimination against, people with disabilities in all aspects of emergency planning, response, and recovery. To comply with Federal law, those involved in emergency management should understand the concepts of accessibility and nondiscrimination and how they apply in emergencies.” The guide outlines key nondiscrimination points for emergency management including:
    1. Inclusion—People with disabilities have the right to participate in and receive the benefits of emergency programs, services, and activities provided by governments, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Including people with various types of disabilities in planning, training, and evaluating programs and services will ensure they are given appropriate consideration during emergencies.
    2. Integration—Emergency programs, services, and activities typically must be provided in an integrated setting. Providing services such as sheltering, information intake for disaster services, and short-term housing in integrated settings keeps individuals connected to their support system, including caregivers, and avoids the need for disparate service facilities.
    3. Physical Access—Emergency programs, services, and activities must be provided at locations that all people can access, including people with disabilities. People with disabilities should be able to enter and use emergency facilities and access the programs, services, and activities provided. Facilities typically required to be accessible include parking, drop-off areas, entrances and exits, security screening areas, toilet rooms, bathing facilities, sleeping areas, dining facilities, areas where medical care or human services are provided, and paths of travel to and between these areas.
    4. Equal Access—People with disabilities must be able to access and benefit from emergency programs, services, and activities equal to the general population. Equal access applies to emergency preparedness, notification of emergencies, evacuation, transportation, communication, shelter, distribution of supplies, food, first aid, medical care, housing, and application for and distribution of benefits.
    5. Effective Communication—People with disabilities must be given information comparable in content and detail to that given to the general public, as well as the information being accessible, understandable, and timely. Auxiliary aids and services may be needed to ensure effective communication. These may include pen and paper or sign language interpreters through on-site or video interpreting for individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, or have speech impairments. Individuals who are blind, deaf-blind, have low vision, or have cognitive disabilities may need large print information or people to assist with reading and completing forms.


[89] PETS Act, Public Law 109-308, “Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006,” October 6, 2006.

[91] SAFETEA-LU (2005).

[95] Davis & Sutherland, 2005

[96] Davis & Sutherland, 2005, p.13

[97]   P.L. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996); US DOJ. This is codified in 47 CFR  79.2.

[98] On December 28, 2004, a landmark settlement in Montgomery County, Maryland, involving the national retail store Marshall’s was decided in favor of employee Katie Savage, who has a disability and was trapped in the store during an emergency evacuation. During the evacuation, Ms. Savage was instructed to proceed to an underground area where she was unable to evacuate because the elevators were shut down, thus trapping her for the duration of the emergency. Ms. Savage filed a suit under the ADA challenging Marshall’s lack of emergency planning for people with disabilities. Under the ruling of Judge Debelius, the Circuit Court of Montgomery County found that, “the ADA requires places of public accommodation to consider the needs of people with disabilities in developing emergency evacuation plans.” This extends to all public places indicating that evacuation plans need to include people with disabilities as well as the general public. Those in the disability advocacy community saw this case as a critical step toward mandating inclusion of special needs issues into all levels of emergency management. (Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, 2005)

[101] The State of Maine (Maine “SMART”) has a planning template online that serves as a comprehensive example for local planning, and has guidance addressing a variety of animal types and situations.

[102] LSU Emergency Animal Shelter Disaster Response Manual.