Designating Shelters

Shelters need to be physically accessible and equipped with the assets and resources necessary to ensure that the needs of individuals with access and functional needs are met in a timely, inclusive and dignified manner. This does not happen unless sheltering plans are developed in close partnership with the whole community.

In addition to ensuring that shelters are accessible and equipped with the proper assets and resources to meet the needs of all survivors; it is critically important to make sure survivors are not separated from their support systems (e.g. care provider, service animal, etc.).

Although a shelter should be able to accommodate all members of the community, it is important to remember that a shelter is not a hotel. For detailed guidance on sheltering, visit the Sheltering section of the AFN Library.

Sheltering Facilities

Facilities designated as shelters should comply with the requirements established under the Americans with Disabilities Act Architecture Guidelines (ADAAG). Locations that do not meet the ADAAG, such as older school buildings and religious establishments, can often be made compliant or useable by obtaining portable units to increase accessibility (e.g. ADA compliant porta potties, showers, etc.) – many such units can be located via the OAFN California Access and Functional Needs Web Map.

When identifying shelter locations, consider the following:

  • Does the area of the facility being utilized for sheltering comply with the ADA Checklist for Emergency Shelters?
  • Can the location become useable by obtaining portable units that are accessible?
  • When providing evacuation locations, ensure that those locations that are physically accessible are highlighted and clearly stated in press conferences, news broadcasts, press releases, etc.
  • Communication access (i.e., sign language interpreters, Language Translation services, Braille/Large Print materials, readers, etc.) needs to be available at shelter locations and should be highlighted and clearly stated at shelters, in press conferences, news broadcasts, press releases, etc.

Sheltering Management Considerations

Shelters should be managed in a manner that considers, addresses, and meets the access and functional needs iof all clients, evacuees, and survivors within the general population area of the site. To ensure a successful, inclusive sheltering operation, it is vital for local jurisdictions to engage in a continuous dialogue with their whole community stakeholders and remember that no two persons are the same.

Below are some important considerations:

  • A variety of accessible cots should be available including raised cots, bariatric cots and cots with side rails.
  • Some people are non-vocal but still capable of thinking and making their needs known.
  • Shelter staff should be aware, patient, and creative.
  • Shelter personnel should know how to use the California Relay Service and Voice Options Program to communicate with individuals with hearing and speech disabilities.
  • Give individuals with mobility-related disabilities the option of going to the front of lines.
  • Shelter staff should know how to contact accessible transportation providers, American Sign Language interpreters, local Independent Living Centers, and mental health providers.
  • Self-determination is an essential right.

General Population Sheltering

California takes an integrated approach to sheltering operations. Shelters should be physically and programmatically accessible in order to meet the needs of everyone in the community, including individuals with access and functional needs. In rare cases, individuals may arrive at shelters with complex medical needs and may need transportation to a higher level of care. However, that is the exception, not the rule, as even acute medical needs can and should be addressed at General Population Shelters.


In collaboration with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the Western University of Health Sciences, the American Red Cross, and the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI) developed the Functional Assessment Service Teams (FAST) program, which trains staff to evaluate the needs of older adults, individuals with disabilities, and survivors with access or functional needs at shelters.

In addition to assessing individual needs, FAST members evaluate the essential functional needs that can be supported within a given shelter. FAST members, comprised of trained government employees, representatives from community-based organizations (CBOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGO), can deploy to shelters before, during, and after disasters.

FAST members have an in-depth knowledge of the populations they serve, support services and resources including housing programs, benefit programs, and disaster aid programs. FAST members work side-by-side in support of shelter personnel and emergency response workers to assist in meeting the essential functional needs of survivors in shelter enviroments.

More information on FAST can be found on the CDSS FAST web page.

Concept of Operation

Support for essential functional needs will be provided to individuals at shelters. Accommodations include, but are not limited to, providing assistance in:

  • Replacing essential prescribed medications
  • Obtaining essential durable medical equipment (DME) and essential consumable medical supplies (CMS)
  • Providing assistance with activities of daily living
  • Providing ASL interpreters and other language support to ensure effective communication for the whole community
  • Providing assistance to individuals with chronic but stable respiratory conditions (heart disease, asthma, emphysema, allergies, etc.)
  • Providing assistance to individuals with temporary conditions (post-surgery, accident injuries, pregnancy, etc.)
  • Management and coordination of processes to address the requirements to maintain functional/medical support operations


It is recommended that agreements be established and/or the following equipment/resources be obtained to ensure they are available at general population shelters. Equipment/resources include but are not limited to:

  • Accessible cots-recommended criteria: Height – 17″-19” (without mattress), width – minimum 27”, weight capacity – 350+ pounds. Flexible head and feet positions. Rails, if any, must be positioned, or moveable, in such a way to allow for wheelchair access.
  • Toilet chairs
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Shower chairs
  • Wheelchairs (multiple sizes)
  • Wheelchair battery chargers
  • Walkers
  • Walking canes
  • White canes for people who are blind (46”-60”)
  • Crutches
  • TTY equipment
  • Wireless communication devices
  • Visual translators (picture, symbols & words)
  • Magnifiers
  • Hearing aids (batteries)
  • Height adjustable tables


To ensure individuals with access and functional needs have accessible transportation resources available to meet their needs (e.g. getting to/from work, medical appointments, etc.) while at shelters, jurisdictions should develop MOU agreements with local vendors in advance of disasters.