Emergency planning and people with disabilities: Massachusetts’ lessons learned


  • Erin McGaffigan, MSW, MS, Public Policy
  • Chris Oliveira, BS
  • Diane Enochs, BA, MA




special populations, vulnerable populations, planning, policy design, inclusion, stakeholders, disability, elderly


Continued challenges responding to large-scale emergencies are recognized in the aftermath of events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Elders and people with disabilities often included under the label of “vulnerable” or “special populations,” are especially hard hit given communication and accessibility barriers often faced even prior to an emergency. Approximately 15 percent of those living within our communities have disabilities, which jumps to 41 percent for those 65 years or older.1 The prevalence of functional limitations due to age or disability indicates the need for these factors to be accounted for in planning, response, recovery, and mitigation efforts at the national, state, and local level to ensure a truly effective emergency response system that meets the needs of all residents. To achieve this effort emergency management, public health, disability and elder stakeholders within Massachusetts joined together to identify the existing planning gaps and to explore potential solutions to support emergency preparedness so that emergency management systems are responsive to all individuals in the community, regardless of age or disability. The Commonwealth’s process and lessons learned are discussed later.

Author Biographies

Erin McGaffigan, MSW, MS, Public Policy

E.K. Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Massachusetts.

Chris Oliveira, BS

Department of Mental Retardation, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Diane Enochs, BA, MA

Department of Mental Retardation, Waltham, Massachusetts.


US Census Bureau: American community survey: S1801 disability characteristics, 2006. Available at http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-qr_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_S1801&-geo_id=01000US&-ds_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_&redoLog=false. Accessed January 10, 2008.

United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS): Working conference on emergency management and individuals with disabilities and the elderly. Available at http://www.add-em-conf.com/. Accessed March 3, 2008.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: New freedom initiative. Available at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/NewFreedomInitiative/ 01_Overview.asp. Accessed March 4, 2008.

Lomerson N, O’Connor D, McGaffigan E, et al.: When CPIGs fly—Meaningful consumer involvement in systems change. University of Massachusetts Medical School, Center for Health Policy and Research. Available at www.hcbs.org/moreInfo.php/doc/ 1867. Accessed March 4, 2008.



How to Cite

McGaffigan, MSW, MS, Public Policy, E., Oliveira, BS, C., & Enochs, BA, MA, D. (2009). Emergency planning and people with disabilities: Massachusetts’ lessons learned. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 8(2), 39–46. https://doi.org/10.5055/ajrt.2009.0013