Service Animals in Emergency Situations

How does the ADA apply to disasters, weather emergencies, or other emergency response situations?

Title II of the ADA covers state and local governments and their third-party contractors. The goal of Title II is to make sure that individuals with a disability have equal access to participate in or benefit from a public entity's aids, benefits, and services, including emergency response services. This also includes shelters, either temporary or permanent, operated by state and local governments.

One of the ways that covered entities can ensure that individuals with a disability have equal access to shelters and emergency response services is to develop plans that accommodate these individuals. Different kinds of disabilities require different strategies. A notification system that depends on warning sirens will be inadequate for an individual who is deaf. An evacuation plan that depends on people gathering at specific public locations will be inadequate if the location is not wheelchair accessible. An emergency shelter that is completely accessible to wheelchairs will be inadequate (and in violation of the ADA) if it refuses to allow service animals.

Another way that covered entities ensure equal access is by making reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures when necessary.  Emergency managers, shelter operators, and other covered entities need to be ready to make these modifications to avoid discrimination.  One example is modifying a “no pets” policy to welcome individuals with a disability who use service animals.

As an individual with a disability with a service animal, what should I do to be ready in an emergency?

Being prepared for emergencies of any kind often comes down to planning and anticipating your needs when daily life gets disrupted. As a disaster can dramatically affect your activities, personal emergency preparedness is essential. For an individual with a disability who relies on a service animal, it is critical that you have a plan and supplies.

Need to learn more about service animals?

Start with Service Animal Basics.

And, then if you still have questions, check out these Service Animal FAQs.

  • Be ready to explain to first responders that you have a service animal and that you have the legal right to be evacuated with your service animal.
  • Be prepared with food, extra water, ID tags, veterinarian records, and other supplies for your service animal.  Do not rely on shelter to provide food for your service animal.

Check out the ADA National Network checklist, Emergency Supply Kits, designed to help you be ready, just in case.

As an emergency manager, shelter operator, or first responder, what do I need to know or do in an emergency?

KNOW how to identify a service animal by asking these two simple questions.

DO adopt procedures to ensure that individuals with a disability who use service animals are not separated from their service animals when sheltering during an emergency, even if pets are normally prohibited in shelters.

KNOW that an individual with a service animal may not be segregated from others.

DO make a plan to have extra food and supplies to accommodate the needs of service animals.

KNOW it is not ok to deny a service animal even when shelter staff or volunteers can provide the same assistance and support provided by the animal.

DO make reasonable modifications to security screening procedures so that individuals with a disability are not repeatedly subjected to long waits at security checkpoints simply because they have taken their service animal outside for relief.

What about homeless shelters?

Homeless shelters are another emergency response service for those without stable housing. If the shelter is a service of state or local government, it is covered under Title II. As with all Title II covered services and programs, the individual with a disability has a right to their service animal.

What if the individual with a disability is hospitalized suddenly?

Hospitals must allow the service animal to remain with the individual with a disability whenever possible. If it is not possible, due to whatever circumstance, the individual must first be allowed to make arrangements for someone else to care for the animal.  If that is not possible, due to the individual’s health condition – for example, maybe they are too sick or incapacitated – the hospital can arrange board at a nearby facility until the individual is well enough to make other arrangements. In this situation, the individual is responsible for the cost of boarding the service animal.

More Emergency Preparedness Resources

Be ready for a fire evacuation. Check out the National Fire Protection Association Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide.

Is your office ready for an emergency? Take a look at the US Department of Labor’s article about service animals in an emergency: Aiding Individuals with Service Animals During an Emergency.

The Research and Training Center on Independent Living has created a service animal preparedness and identification formthat can be used during emergencies to provide helpful information to first responders, shelter staff, and community volunteers.

Check out the ADA National Network’s comprehensive emergency preparedness resource list.

Service Animal Resource Hub Main Page