FAST Help for Disaster Shelters

Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 1:44pm

When a hurricane or winter storm moves through an area and emergency shelters are opened, Functional Assessment Support Teams (FAST) help those with access and functional needs to find a safe place to stay and provide the resources  they need. NCEM recently held the second of three regional trainings to help ensure those teams are ready to serve in North Carolina.

Disability Integration Specialist Sheri Badger with North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) manages the state’s FAST program.  Badger stepped into the role of managing North Carolina’s FAST program in February 2018, after she developed a similar program for Pierce County Emergency Management in Washington in 2012. NCEM initiated its FAST program in 2017, in part by using funding from a three-year grant from the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities designed to help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities better prepare for emergencies. Though the first FAST training was held in 2018, the state hadn’t built a team by the time Hurricane Florence had impacted the state. Instead, utilizing an Emergency Management Compact (EMAC), the state brought in three teams from California and one from Pennsylvania for that event. During the recent Hurricane Dorian, North Carolina received three requests for teams from shelters in the state.

Badger explains that a general population shelter isn’t necessarily equipped to meet everyone’s needs. However, a FAST can come in and assess those needs and determine the type of support, resources and services needed to maintain people’s individual independence and safety in the shelter.

“FAST helps people in shelters get what they need to function, such as wheelchairs and other assistive devices,” Badger said. “However, this can also include interpreters, personal care assistants, communication devices or other mobility devices that aren’t readily available in or around the shelters.”

Badger adds that when a disaster occurs and general population shelters are opened, individuals with access and functional needs must be accommodated with appropriate support. FAST provides recommendations and coordinates resources to provide these needs through government, nongovernmental, faith and community-based organizations, and private sources.

FAST members can assess individuals for a range of needed supports including geriatrics needs, chronic health conditions, developmental or other cognitive disabilities, hearing or vision loss, behavioral health and physical concerns. They can also help with communication needs, transportation, maintaining independence and personal safety.

“Many of the people looking to become FAST members work in human and social services and are motivated to help people but may not currently have a role in (emergency) response,” Badger explained. “FAST provides them an opportunity to assist during a disaster when people need the most help.”

Teams usually consist of two to six members, with a team lead who communicates with the shelter manager or their designee to get briefings, establish a resource request process, find a location to set up within the shelter, and provide a general overview of the shelter operations. They will also receive information on individuals that during registration identified as having access and functional needs or other disabilities. In addition to deploying to shelters, a FAST may also be stationed at other sites such as a Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) to help those applying for state and federal assistance. They may go to Points of Distribution (PODs), which are areas where emergency relief supplies are delivered. Their services also may be needed at sites such as  family assistance centers and reunification centers.

The final regional training for FASTs is set for Dec. 10 in Charlotte. More information about this training and FAST can be found online at

Brian R. Haines