Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS)

6 03 2011

In November of 2010, I had the opportunity to hear Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, speak at the IAEM Conference in San Antonio.  He really focused on one message more than all others——–the concept of the emergency management doing a better job of serving individuals with disabilities during disasters.  Very pointedly, he impressed on all that were in attendance that FEMA would be working to change the guidance and standards for sheltering those Americans with disabilities.

He spoke to the attendees of the development of the Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) in General Population Shelters.  A Texas-based organization, Baptist Child & Family Services (BCFS), was contracted by FEMA to put together this important Guidance.

In a general sense, FNSS planning guidance will provide standards for the sheltering of those with disabilities; in the past, those with disabilities were treated differently— as a separate population group.  Fugate noted that treating individuals differently was a direct violation of the American with Disabilities (ADA) Act.  The guidance will ensure that those with functional and access needs will receive equitable and adequate care in shelters during disasters.

The following article was published on the Texas Emergency Management Online recently; specifically 2011, Volume 58, No 3.  It is written by Kari Tatro, Executive Director of BCFS’ Emergency Services Division.  It is very timely.  It provides more background on FNSS; and it explains the steps being taken by Chief Nim Kidd and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to ensure compliance with the new Guidance.  Please take the time to read the article.

Our communities are changing. Many individuals with disabilities are living independently. People with chronic illnesses are living longer. And the fastest growing age group in the United States is 85 years of age and older. Emergency managers have a legal, as well as an ethical, obligation to put plans in place to meet the needs of all members of their communities during disasters. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is leading this charge.

More than a year ago, FEMA tapped Texas’ own BCFS to develop a nationwide Guidance on Planning for Integration of Functional Needs Support Services (FNSS) in General Populations Shelters. This guide is based on existing law and applies to all general population sheltering plans. At its core is an effort to help state and local sheltering operations understand what planning is necessary to comply with federal key non-discrimination concepts and equality statutes.

Persons who may require FNSS in general population shelters include children, the elderly, adults with physical, sensory, mental health, cognitive and/or intellectual disabilities affecting their ability to function independently without assistance. It includes women in late stages of pregnancy, and people needing bariatric services. The list is not intended to be limited to these populations, and could include non-English speaking individuals, the homeless, persons from different cultures, and those with pharmacological dependency.

While the Fair Housing Act and the American with Disabilities Act have been on the books for years, it’s a fact that individuals who fit the above descriptions have not always received the same treatment as others during sheltering operations.

The FEMA guidance clarifies requirements for providing FNSS in general population shelters, ensuring that all individuals in the community, with or without disabilities, have equal access to services in disasters. Complying with this directive requires strategic planning and coordination among state agencies, local governments and community partners.

The Texas Division of Emergency Management is working toward this goal along with BCFS, State Mass Care, the Department of State Health Services, the Department of Aging and Disabilities Services, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, the Texas Department of Licensing Regulation, the American Red Cross, several local Emergency Management Coordinators, as well as other state and voluntary agencies.

This work group will lead the effort to ensure that the state and local jurisdictions will be in compliance with the new FEMA guidance, and that they have tools to assist this process.  During the Texas Emergency Management Conference, BCFS will present a workshop providing a brief overview of the guidance describing those planning considerations that will need to be addressed in local jurisdiction general population shelter plans.  Additionally, the workshop will present the findings of the TDEM FNSS stakeholder group, including recommendations and tools to support local government in the integration of FNSS into their shelter plans. Jurisdictions should plan to attend one of the workshops in order to ascertain the State of Texas recommendations for the Federal Guidance Implementation. 

If your jurisdiction would like more information about FNSS or how BCFS can assist you in effectively and efficiently adopting and implementing recently released federal requirements, please contact us at 1-800-830-2246 or