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8 Populations to Consider in Your Family Reunification Plan

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The table below summarizes specific populations and useful information to consider when developing Family Reunification plans.

Population Description Reunification Considerations
Children Dependents under the age of 18. “Displaced child” is defined in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) (Section 774) as “an individual under 21 years of age who is displaced from the habitual residence of that individual as a result of a declared event. “Missing children” is defined in the Stafford Act as children whose whereabouts are unknown to the primary caregiver. Unaccompanied minors are children who have been separated from their parents, legal guardians, and other relatives and are not cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for their care. Unaccompanied minors must be placed with those with legal authority for them until reunited with their parent/legal guardian. Some children may be unable to self-identify due to age, English proficiency, disability, and/or trauma. Determining legal custody may delay the reunification of some children with parents/guardians. Plans should include procedures for children orphaned as a result of a disaster, for those in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, and for those in the care of health facilities. The capacity of agencies with daily responsibility for unaccompanied minors and missing children may be stressed or overwhelmed by this function during a disaster.
Patients* A person under the care of a hospital or children’s hospital, urgent care or outpatient facility, nursing home, assisted living facility, home healthcare agency, rehabilitation center, or other medical facility during or immediately following a disaster. Coordination between public health and medical services and mass care/reunification is necessary to ensure patients in medical facilities and those receiving home health care services receive reunification services. Coordination between the agency evacuating/moving patients and the reunification services group can be accomplished by providing access to databases and/or manifests to specified service providers. Patients may be transported to facilities, possibly out of the area, without family notice. Patients may lack identification or be unable to self-identify if traumatized, unconscious, of minor status, or are unable to communicate due to disability or other reasons. Adults and children with ongoing home health, mental and behavioral Health needs receiving supportive services (e.g., older adults with full-time home health care and dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and psychiatric patients) may need assistance reconnecting with health care providers and/or family and guardians. Medical staff may not support reunification assistance due to perceived privacy restrictions (See Appendix G for more information on HIPAA and disasters). Patients may not wish to be reunited with seekers.
Fatalities* A person whose death resulted from a disaster. Coordination between fatality management and mass care/reunification is necessary to provide people with information about family members in a timely manner. Fatality notifications will be made in accordance with State/local laws. A clear understanding among reunification providers of legal responsibility for fatality notifications is essential. Understanding the resources that are available locally or through contracts to support the bereavement, behavioral health, and spiritual needs of disaster survivors is important. Working with families of deceased/missing either via call center or in a physical facility can cause severe emotional stress for staff. Mental health resources should be available for those workers.
People with disabilities and others with access and functional needs Those with access and functional needs may include people with disabilities, older adults, and populations with limited English proficiency, transportation, and/or limited access to financial resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the emergency.** Other access and functional needs include at-risk individuals such as children, pregnant women, those living in institutional settings, individuals from diverse cultures, individuals experiencing homelessness, individuals with chronic medical disorders, and individuals with pharmacological dependency. *** Individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs living independently in community settings may be at higher risk of losing communication with caregivers and family/guardians during a disaster. Residential facilities, including skilled nursing, assisted living, long-term care facilities, and supportive housing for people with disabilities and older adults, can ensure that staff and families of residents are familiar with emergency plans. Provision of physical, programmatic, and effective and meaningful communication access to facilitate reunification for people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Mechanisms to request accommodation for effective communication access and alternative formats should be in place for survivors and their families. Ensure that reunification messaging reaches all individuals with access and functional needs, including those most difficult to reach, by working with trusted leaders to deliver messages in the appropriate format.
Foreign nationals Individuals who are not citizens of the United States, who are permanent residents or are visiting the United States (for example, for business or tourism), or those who are undocumented and are in the area of impact. Procedures for interacting with foreign governments searching for citizens on behalf of their families may be unclear. Resources to overcome language barriers must be provided. Physical reunification of families over great distances can be challenging. Undocumented individuals may choose to avoid interaction connected with the government. International media interest can generate additional attention on reunification activities.
College students Students enrolled in a college or university who commute to classes or live on campus. Parents/guardians of college students may seek assistance looking for their children. Colleges/universities may have accountability systems that can be important reunification resources.
Employers/employees Person or entity that hires an individual to work (employer) and an individual who agrees to work for an individual or entity (employee). Employers attempting to check on employees may request reunification assistance to ensure they are safe and accounted for. Reunification may be a priority for businesses/organizations working to resume operations, particularly those that contribute to disaster response/recovery functions. Some businesses/organizations, particularly large corporations, may have the resources to launch their own reunification operations; coordination with mass care providers could be beneficial. Businesses with Continuity of Operations Plans may minimize the need for reunification services.
Household pets and service animals* Household pets and service and assistance animals are considered within ESF #6 reunification services plans. NRF includes the following categories of animals. However, these are not addressed within ESF #6 reunification plans: working dogs, livestock, wildlife, exotic animals, zoo animals, research animals, and animals housed in shelters, rescue organizations, breeding facilities, and sanctuaries. Reunifying animals separated from their owner or caretaker as a result of the disaster as soon as practical minimizes the burden on the government for containing and caring for the animals and reduces the risk of cascading effects in the disaster. Collaboration between reunification planners and organizations responsible for household pet and service animal support ensures that household pet sheltering and reunification plans are coordinated with general reunification plans. Jurisdictions will have varying plans for managing animals and animal issues during a disaster and should plan to reunite all captive animals with their owners or caretakers.

*Requires coordination with the agency responsible for Law Enforcement, Health Services, Fatality Management, Animal Control, and others.

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