Maine Functional Needs Support Services Committee Supports and Informs Emergency Management


June 25, 2014


For many citizens living with functional needs, planning ahead for emergencies becomes difficult and stressful when they are not sure how to access emergency services during a disaster. Likewise, emergency managers are not sure how to best provide assistance to all citizens. In other states, recent law suits have taken place because people experienced communication problems with emergency responders during a natural disaster when their functional needs were not taken into consideration.

The National Response Framework defines the functional needs population as “populations whose members may have additional needs before, during, and after an incident in functional areas” including communication, transportation, supervision, medical care and maintaining independence.

However, steps have been taken over the past several years to prevent issues like this from happening in Maine. The Maine Functional Needs Support Services Committee was established by former Red Cross-MEMA liaison Eunice Mommens after being made aware of “the difficulties in providing for all functional needs during a sheltering operation” during a 2010 conference. It now serves as a collaborative effort among Maine’s government, private sector, and nonprofit sector entities that represent the interest of people with functional and access needs.

The committee, which has been active for over three years now, consists of representatives from the Maine Center for Disease Control, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, 211 Maine, the Maine Center for Deafness, and others. Its goal is “to share information and resources with each other and provide planning guidance and information on needed resources to local and county emergency managers and shelter planners to aid in meeting access and functional needs requirements in general population shelters.”

Despite the establishment of the committee, challenges with Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) still exist in Maine, though the committee is working though some solutions. At their quarterly meeting on June 19, members discussed a wide array of topics and current events that reflect such problems, as well as potential solutions.

One specific current event that was discussed at length was the November court case between the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the City of New York. In this case, the Brooklyn Center claimed that during Hurricane Sandy, it became apparent that New York City’s emergency preparedness plans failed “to sufficiently accommodate people with disabilities.” New York City ultimately lost the case, not because they purposefully discriminated against those citizens with functional needs, but because of what they called “benign neglect.” The full court case can be accessed here.

This case has caused many states to reevaluate their own emergency preparedness plans. Although Maine was no exception, committee members agreed that the state’s plans are in a “good place” right now, and they felt confident that should an emergency arise, every citizen would be well taken care of. Because of the diversity of its members, the FNNS committee is also able to pool and share resources that can be beneficial in aiding those with function needs during an emergency.

For example, one such resource is the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), a website that allows users to assess the social vulnerability in their own states with different tools, such as interactive maps, that make it possible to view which locations in the state are more vulnerable than others.

“We’re applying the knowledge of this group to our emergency operation plans,” said Richard Higgins, the State Volunteer Agency Liaison at MEMA and committee co-facilitator. “We’re making our best efforts to make some of these changes in the state of Maine.”

For more information on the committee, please contact Richard Higgins or Laurie Levine at MEMA by calling (207) 624-4400.