Year of Publication



Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

Date Available


Executive Summary

Emergency management consists of four phases—mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Sheltering is an aspect of the response phase. Response involves activities from many different organizations—local, volunteer, state, and federal. The initial response to a disaster is from local emergency management organizations. The American Red Cross, as chartered by the federal government, is primarily responsible for providing initial shelter and food to the affected population during a disaster.

Planning shelter capacity for individuals with disabilities has been historically problematic. It continues to be an issue as claims of inaccessible shelters occur with each new major disaster. Shelters can be accessible or inaccessible to individuals with disabilities, depending on the type and severity of disability. Access to emergency shelters and services is a right to all individuals in the community, including individuals with disabilities.

In Kentucky, 16.8 percent of all non-institutionalized people are individuals with disabilities. 1 Predicting disability data for each county presented an unexpected complication early in the project. Approximately half of the county-level disability data was obtained from the Census and the other half was determined through a regression analysis of data from the Census, and data from SSI blind and disabled and OASDI disabled workers beneficiaries.

Each of Kentucky’s 120 counties is at risk for a variety of natural and human-made disasters. Noted risks for this study are earthquakes affecting the New Madrid seismic zone and tornadoes.

Capacity levels for each county were determined by analyzing capacity information from shelter listings in the American Red Cross National Shelter System. Using a capacity benchmark of 14.7 percent, capacities were examined statewide, and by dividing the counties into areas of analysis. The areas of analysis include rural and urban; New Madrid seismic zone and counties not located in the New Madrid seismic zone; and counties with high tornado risk and counties with lower tornado risk.

In terms of accessible shelter capacity related to the number of individuals with disabilities, urban counties are better prepared than rural counties. Counties not in the New Madrid seismic zone are better prepared to shelter individuals with disabilities than those counties that would be most affected by a major earthquake along the fault line. Counties at lower risk for tornadoes are better prepared than counties at high risk for tornado as related to accessible shelter capacity. Adequate shelter capacity for the total population and for individuals with disabilities must be part of disaster response plans across Kentucky.

The limitations of this study were related to the quality of the data available. Thirty-three counties were excluded from analysis due to the lack of shelter listings or capacity information for shelters listed. It is likely that there are shelters in those counties, but one cannot make that determination from the data available. Additionally, over half of the shelter listings were classified as “unknown” for accessibility.

Quality planning for disaster response requires reliable information. Kentucky’s American Red Cross chapters need to work on updating shelter records to accurately reflect shelter capacities. Inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the planning process is also recommended. Further studies should be conducted to examine additional risk areas, and to further analyze capacities in relation to demographic composition of counties. An in-depth study of preparedness and response plans as related to individuals with disabilities would be helpful for a specific county or city. Based on the available information, Kentucky is unprepared to shelter its total population and individuals with disabilities in American Red Cross shelters.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.