Public Health Preparedness for Special Needs Populations

“Special Needs Populations” are generally understood to be populations with some physical or mental disability that limits their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.  However, the nature and demands of emergencies may make otherwise self sufficient individuals vulnerable in unforeseen ways; in these situations, the term “special needs population” can easily expand beyond our common understanding to include populations such as children, vacationers, the healthy elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, the illiterate, the non-English speaking, the homeless and the poor.  The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) recognizes that unique considerations must be made to accommodate special populations during emergencies. The Department is engaged in a number of activities which aim to improve response plans and operations to accommodate the needs of those most vulnerable during an emergency event.

Special Needs Advisory Panel (SNAP)

CDPH has partnered with the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) to develop the Special Needs Advisory Panel, or SNAP. Recent emergencies have made the public more aware of the need to be prepared in case of an emergency. However, only 35% of people nationally believe their community has an adequate emergency response plan.[1] This concern is even more severe for special, vulnerable, and at-risk populations, also referred to as ‘at-risk populations.’ According to the National Organization on Disability, 53% of people with disabilities do not know who to contact about emergency plans in their community.[2] State and local health departments have been charged to ensure their communities are prepared to the greatest extent possible for a public health emergency. Both CCDPH and CDPH strive to collaborate with organizations to address the needs of at-risk populations before, during, and after a public health emergency or disaster.  The SNAP consists of agencies who routinely serve the needs of at-risk populations, can works to provide CCDPH and CDPH guidance and expertise on factors to consider for at-risk populations when planning for a public health emergency.

LTC Planning and Training

CDPH is actively engaged in efforts to assist Long-Term Care Facilities (LTCs) in developing and enhancing their emergency response plans. CDPH has implemented the Collaborative Healthcare Urgency Group’s (CHUG) Evacuation Plan for all Long Term Care and Assisted Living Facilities in Chicago. CDPH has selected the CHUG plan because of its success in Illinois and Indiana as well as its ability to significantly address gaps in Long Term Care preparedness, response and recovery planning for evacuations and other emergencies.

 The CDPH-CHUG Plan is designed to integrate with existing organizational, local, regional and statewide plans. The CDPH-CHUG plan is National Incident Command System (NIMS) compliant, providing organizations with the tools and resources to effectively evacuate, transport and relocate residents and patients. The most critical component of the plan is the intent to maintain the health and medical continuum of care of each patient by utilizing a systematic triage process and then transporting the patient via the appropriate level of transport to the appropriate level of receiving facility.

The CDPH-CHUG plan is a comprehensive system that utilizes Standard Operating Guidelines, Job Action Sheets and NIMS compliant forms for Triage, Patient Tracking and Resource Utilization. The plan also includes an activation/notification system, communication plan and resource management component.

The CDPH-CHUG Plan is a time tested and proven plan, having been implemented on several occasions. The CDPH-CHUG Plan is continually revised and upgrade following major events, and large scale exercises. The CDPH-CHUG implementation and training program provides participating organizations, with the education, training and confidence to safely and effectively execute the plan when needed.

If you are an administrator at a long-term care facility and need more information on how to obtain assistance with emergency planning and training, please contact Darnell Thomas at or via phone at 312.747.9762. Current course offerings include: Emergency Operations Planning, Evacuation Planning, Family Emergency Planning, Awareness Level Training, and Pandemic Influenza/SNS Planning.


[1] National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University,, 2003.

[2] National Organization on Disability, “Guide on the Special Needs of People with Disabilities for Emergency Managers, Planners & responders,” 2004.

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