People with disabilities living in the path of Hurricane Dorian

August 30, 2019


Understanding the needs of a community is imperative in order to effectively plan for natural disaster emergency response. As Hurricane Dorian heads toward the Florida coast, national, state and local community emergency planners are working to evacuate and shelter thousands of people who are fleeing their homes.

People with disabilities are one of many vulnerable groups especially at risk during natural disasters. In times of emergency, people will evacuate with their households, and will need to shelter with their households. It is not acceptable to separate families and households in times of crisis. Many family members are caregivers, so shelters need to be accessible so that people with disabilities and their families and caregivers can stay together.

People with disabilities: According to the American Community Survey, about 41 million, or 13%, of Americans have at least one type of disability (ACS 2015). The vast majority (38 million) live in households with other people and a significant number of people with disabilities live in group quarters, which includes dormitories, nursing homes, and prisons.

People without disabilities: Approximately 78 million people without disabilities live in households with a member who experiences a disability. This means that nearly 25% of the US population lives in a household with a member with a disability.

(See Prevalence of Disability: Individual and Household Context for more about this research).


Map: People with Disabilities in the path of Dorian

Map of the US showing people with disabilities in the path of Hurricane Dorian (2019). Text description below.

The map above shows the number of people, by county, estimated by the American Community Survey to have disabilities living in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Puerto Rico. Population is broken into five levels: 105-12,000 individuals, 12,001-34,000 individuals, 34,001-78,000 individuals, 78,001-160,000 individuals and 160,001-272,830 individuals. Darker maroon indicates a higher population. The map shows counties with large populations of people with disabilities (78,000 and more) throughout southern Florida where Dorian is expect to make landfall and cause the most significant damage.

While the counties with the highest number of people with disabilities are on the southeastern coast, there are also many people with disabilities who live in the more rural counties of central Florida who will also be affected by Hurricane Dorian.


Rural emergency prep and response

Emergency preparedness and response in rural areas puts an added stress on already often resource-scarce communities, especially when combined with meeting the needs of people with disabilities. See the Rural Health Information Hub’s Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response for more information on emergency prep in rural areas.  

In order to ensure that needed accommodations are provided at shelters, emergency planners need to know the functional needs of the populations who may be coming to their shelters, not just that needs are present. The resources required for a person who is Deaf/hard of hearing are not mutually exclusive with the resources required for a person who uses a motorized wheelchair or for a person who is blind/low vision.

Our Disability in America map series breaks out this information. We have created maps that show rates of impairment type at the county level for the U.S. We use data from the American Community Survey (ACS), which does not directly measure disability. Instead, it uses questions related to difficulty and functional impairment to identify individuals who may experience a disability.

We also have created maps that show the disability rate in rural counties, among veterans, by gender, and the poverty rate among people with disabilities, each broken out by county across the U.S. All of these maps can be viewed and downloaded here: Disability in America Map Series.

Emergency Prep Resources

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works with national disability groups to make sure that emergency plans and shelters are inclusive and accessible. FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination created a document titled Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services in General Population Shelters to help emergency and shelter planners meet access and functional needs in general population shelters.

For more FEMA resources and information, see:

Dorian Links and resources:

  • Get Ready for Tropical Storm Dorian. Information on emergency preparation from the American Red Cross.
  • Florida Division of Emergency Management website with information about Dorian. Options for Florida residents to sign up for emergency alerts, and has emergency prep plans and information. There is also a special needs registry, where Florida residents can register with local emergency management agencies to receive assistance.
  • National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center: up-to-date news, key messages, and advisories on Hurricane Dorian from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.
  • Emergency Preparedness: 2019 Hurricane Dorian: information from the U.S. Census Bureau about Hurricane Dorian, including information on states and counties potentially impacted.  
  • OnTheMap for Emergency Management: Access the U.S. population and workforce statistics, in real time, for areas being affected by Dorian.
  • The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies Disaster Hotline: Phone: (800) 626-4959 ; Email: The Partnership’s Disaster Hotline provides information, referrals, guidance, technical assistance and resources to people with disabilities, their families, allies, organizations assisting disaster impacted individuals with disabilities and others seeking assistance with immediate and urgent disaster related needs.

For more information on people with disabilities and emergency disaster response, see: