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Civil Rights in Emergencies and Disasters

The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) supports individual and community resilience to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other emergencies. Through guidance, planning and coordination, CRCL works to ensure that civil rights and civil liberties are integrated into disaster-related policies and procedures. In addition, prior, to, during, and following a disaster, CRCL engages representatives of impacted communities and disseminates information to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to ensure the protection of individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, and racially and ethnically diverse communities, including those with limited English proficiency.

Information Related to COVID-19

For information and resources on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted many helpful resources to assist individuals in protecting themselves.

Selected Federal Civil Rights Resources Related to COVID-19

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The HHS, Office of Civil Rights' COVID-19 page compiles links to many helpful resources, including the following:

  • HHS Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • CDC Multilingual Content on COVID-19
  • CDC Videos in American Sign Language (ASL)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

National Council on Disability (NCD)

DHS Statement on Safety and Immigration Enforcement During Emergency Events

Recommendations for Emergency Managers for Improving the Delivery of Disaster Assistance to Disaster Survivors with Disabilities

Following DHS listening sessions in many communities heavily impacted by natural disasters in 2017 and 2018, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties makes the following recommendations to state, local, territorial, and tribal emergency managers to improve the delivery of disaster assistance to disaster survivors with disabilities. The recommendations are grouped by major areas DHS covered in the listening sessions, which are: preparedness, evacuation, effective communication access for people with disabilities, sheltering, and long-term recovery.

Civil Rights Listening Sessions with Disability Stakeholders in Disaster Impacted Areas

The purpose of these listening sessions was to hear about concerns and experiences related to the impact of the disasters on individuals with disabilities. Participants also shared effective practices for serving individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. By better understanding these experiences, and in partnership with state and local entities, including non-profit organizations, DHS can work to improve preparedness, response, and recovery for persons with disabilities in future disasters.

Civil Rights Laws

Federal laws prohibit discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal aid to ensure that actions, both intentional and unintentional, do not exclude anyone based on race, color, national origin (including limited English proficiency), disability, sex, religion, economic status, or familial status in the preparation, response, or recovery phases of emergency and disaster management.

Resources for Ensuring Nondiscrimination in Disaster Preparation, Response, and Recovery

CRCL and Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Joint Letter to State and Local Emergency Managers

Race, National Origin, Limited English Proficiency/Language Access


Request Technical Assistance

CRCL engages with community organizations and emergency managers to provide technical assistance on ensuring equal access to individuals with disabilities, diverse racial and ethnic communities, and those who are limited English proficient in disaster. Send requests for technical assistance to: or call 202-401-1474 | 1-866-644-8360 (toll free).

File a Complaint

CRCL reviews and investigates civil rights and civil liberties complaints made by the public regarding U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies and activities as well as programs and activities of recipients of federal of financial assistance (e.g., grantees). For more information about filing a complaint with CRCL, visit: Make a Civil Rights Complaint.

Training Materials and Webinars

For more information, to request technical assistance, or to report concerns, contact CRCL at:

Last Published Date: September 1, 2020

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