Emergency preparedness in a sample of persons with disabilities


  • Robyn R. M. Gershon, MHS, DrPH
  • Lewis E. Kraus, MPH, MCP
  • Victoria H. Raveis, PhD
  • Martin F. Sherman, PhD
  • June I. Kailes, MSW




disabled, disaster preparedness, personal assistant


Objective: The objective of this study was to characterize emergency preparedness in this vulnerable population, and to ascertain the role of the personal assistant (PA) and the potential impact of prior emergency experience on preparedness efforts.
Design: Cross-sectional Internet-based survey conducted in 2011.
Setting: Convenience sample.
Participants: Two-hundred fifty-three community residents with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, all receiving personal assistance services.
Main outcome variables: Emergency preparedness, operationalized as responses to a seven-item scale.
Results: The mean score for the emergency preparedness scale was 2.32 (SD = 2.74), range 0-7. Even though 62.8 percent (n = 159) of the participants had previously experienced one or more large-scale emergencies, only 47.4 percent (n = 120) of the entire sample and 55.3 percent (n = 88) of those with actual emergency experience reported preparing an emergency plan. Sixty-three percent (n = 76) of those reporting a plan had involved their PA in its development. Participants who reported such involvement were significantly more likely to have higher scores on the emergency preparedness scale (p < 0.001). Participants who had experienced a prior emergency were also more likely to score higher on the emergency preparedness scale (p < 0.001). In general, participants reported limited attention to other basic preparedness recommendations: only 28 percent (n = 70) had prepared a “go-bag” with necessary supplies, 29 percent (n = 74) had developed a strategy for communicating with their PA during emergencies, and 32 percent (n = 81) had stockpiled emergency supplies. Of particular importance, only 26 percent (n = 66) had made alternative back-up plans for personal assistance.
Conclusions: Involving the PA in the planning process and experiencing an emergency were both significantly associated with higher emergency preparedness scores in this sample of people living with disabilities. However, critical deficiencies in preparedness were noted, such as lack of back-up plans for replacing their PA. Despite a concerted national effort to improve preparedness in the population of people living with disabilities, important preparedness gaps remain. These findings highlight the need for additional study on emergency preparedness barriers in people living with disabilities so that effective strategies to reduce vulnerabilities can be identified.

Author Biographies

Robyn R. M. Gershon, MHS, DrPH

Professor, Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California.

Lewis E. Kraus, MPH, MCP

Deputy Director, Center on Disability at the Public Health Institute, Oakland, California.

Victoria H. Raveis, PhD

Research Professor and Director, Psychosocial Research Unit on Health, Aging and the Community, New York University College of Dentistry, New York, New York.

Martin F. Sherman, PhD

Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland.

June I. Kailes, MSW

Disability Policy Consultant, Playa del Rey, California.


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How to Cite

Gershon, MHS, DrPH, R. R. M., L. E. Kraus, MPH, MCP, V. H. Raveis, PhD, M. F. Sherman, PhD, and J. I. Kailes, MSW. “Emergency Preparedness in a Sample of Persons With Disabilities”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 35-47, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2013.0109.




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