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Evacuation Methodology and Understanding Behavior of Persons with Disabilities in Disasters:  A Blueprint for Emergency Planning Solutions

A Cooperative Project Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Disability Rehabilitation Research Projects

            The VMC/Homeland Security Programs (VMC) at West Virginia University (WVU) and the Center for Disability and Special Needs Preparedness (DPC) operated by Inclusion Research Institute (IRI) have been awarded a grant by the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research (NIDRR) to identify and assess the key challenges faced by persons with special/functional needs during emergency or disaster evacuations. This assessment will allow project researchers to provide practical and usable information to service providers, emergency managers, planners, and policymakers that will allow improved planning efforts in meeting the unique challenges persons with disabilities and special needs face when emergency evacuations occur.  More broadly, the project helps advance general knowledge of the relationship between disabilities and other special needs and outcomes of emergency/disaster events. VMC and DPC will accomplish these objectives by creating three core data collection, assessment, and dissemination elements:


  • Measurement and assessment of past and future behavior of the disabilities and other special needs public in evacuation situations;

  • Measurement and assessment of current of emergency/disaster preparedness efforts by local governments and key service providers in the subject area of persons with disabilities and other special needs; and

  • Creation and dissemination of planning guidelines on how to manage the unique challenges associated with evacuating persons with disabilities and other special needs for use by local governments and non-governmental service providers.


            The project will begin with the identification of key measurement objectives by consulting with subject matter experts in the field of disabilities/special needs and emergency/disaster events.  VMC and DPC will gather data on persons with disabilities and special needs who have either recently personally evacuated from an emergency/disaster situation, have been in or proximate to a recent disaster evacuation, or who reside in an area that has not experienced a recent evacuation, but might face a type of hazard that could prompt an evacuation some time in the future. 

            Data from this study will be used to evaluate the current state of evacuation preparedness in the area of disability and special needs by local government and key non-governmental service providers across the United States.  VMC and DPC will develop guidelines that key decision-makers, governmental and nongovernmental, can use to improve existing evacuation plans to account for persons with disabilities and other special needs.  Likewise, the project will also produce guidelines for incorporating a disabilities and special needs element in emergency evacuation training and exercises along with delineating future emergency preparedness educational needs within the disabilities community.