Significantly more needs to be done to improve disaster response for people with disabilities, a new federal report finds.

Despite the lessons of Hurricane Katrina four years ago — when emergency personnel struggled to evacuate and assist those with disabilities — this population still remains largely ignored in emergency planning. Further, people with disabilities are rarely consulted when emergency management officials make disaster preparedness plans, the National Council on Disability report indicates.

“Instructions relating to the unique needs of people with disabilities have typically been limited to a few lines in an emergency plan, if they are mentioned at all,” says the report, titled “Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities.”

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When people with disabilities are considered, they are often lumped into one large group without plans for the specific communication needs of a person who is hearing impaired, for example, or the evacuation needs of a person with a physical disability.

Even after the disaster is over, those with disabilities aren’t out of the woods. Lack of accessible transportation, disruption of caregiver networks and difficulty getting insurance or federal assistance to pay for disability-specific needs are just some of the many reasons those with disabilities have trouble returning home following a disaster.

“It is time to act,” said Pat Pound, vice chairperson of the National Council on Disability. “The lives of people with disabilities hang in the balance.”

The report recommends action on the federal, state, local and individual levels. Federal emergency managers should work to improve emergency communication, consider service animals in planning and hire regional disability coordinators for emergency management. States should establish a point person for coordinating disability disaster preparedness and work with local disability groups and state disability offices in planning. Local governments should review all emergency plans keeping in mind the needs of those with disabilities and train emergency responders accordingly.

Meanwhile, the report recommends that individuals should create their own personal disaster plans bearing in mind medication, service animals and any other assistance needed.