Sadie Martinez posed against a navy blue Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management backdrop

Keep Eating the Elephant: Integrating Access and Functional Needs into Emergency Management

CONSTANT Senior Associate, Mona Bontty, and Business Development Analyst, Nicole Christensen, are honored to have had the opportunity to interview Sadie Martinez, the Access and Functional Needs (AFN) Coordinator for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and the Access and Whole Community Inclusion Caucus Chair for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).


She provides a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the integration of AFN and emergency management. In this interview, we sat down with Sadie, whose innovative contributions to the field are invaluable, to learn more about her background, her work with DHSEM and IAEM, and her call-to-action for emergency managers across the country.


  1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How were you called to advocate for AFN?

I’ve always had a passion for emergency preparedness. In my early career within human services, child development, and hospitality, I developed plans, trainings, and exercises for various threats. Due to industry licensing requirements, I was required to craft emergency plans for various programs and to train to and exercise them accordingly.


During a portion of my career, I left the emergency preparedness realm to work with an NFL agent. As part of the agent’s nonprofit, we ran a youth football camp. This brought me back into the emergency preparedness space as the camp’s insurance requirements stipulated that we needed to have an emergency plan for campers and volunteers.


The next step in my career brought me to a Center for Independent Living as an Emergency Program Coordinator. This role brought together aspects of my experience focused on development and empowerment, but was ultimately an advocacy role. In this role, I was the partner who worked with emergency management. Thus, I tried to find a shared language between these lanes. Instead of being focused on enforcement of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), for example, I emphasized being a champion and a partner for helping people look at solutions tied to the problem.


This position started in 2012 following the Waldo Canyon Fire. The Center for Independent Living CEO noticed that there was a plan for people with disabilities but not a plan with people with disabilities – which was problematic in alignment with the mantra “there is nothing about us, without us.” Building from this recognition, a position for an Emergency Management Program Coordinator was then created in 2013 which I eventually filled in 2016. I was able to work with emergency management to come together and work to fix communication problems, media interactions, etc., recognizing that emergency managers didn’t know what they didn’t know. This grew and we started seeing successes.


The State of Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management then started seeing a need for an AFN Coordinator or a Disability Integration Coordinator who could actually be at the table and have discussions between emergency management and community groups. In 2018, the AFN Coordinator position opened, and I was encouraged to apply. I began the role in a start from scratch program, but I have been able to leverage my background with program/program development and management, community liaisoning, and communications to lead to success.


  1. You currently serve as the State of Colorado DHSEM AFN Coordinator, a new position for the State when you were hired. Can you tell us about what this role entails?

As AFN Coordinator, I am a people resource showing and demonstrating “how to” processes that support the “must dos” associated with laws, statutes, and legislation. I am a resource to other state agencies, local jurisdictions, local emergency managers, and beyond. I also provide training opportunities and mentorship.


When I first began the role, a priority was crafting a shared language related to AFN, which I can also speak to more on the national scale. I facilitated workshops across the State and uncovered that almost all emergency managers identified AFN as people with disabilities. This left out everyone else who doesn’t identify as someone with a disability which is problematic because at one time or another, we could all need access to a resource, whether we identify as someone with a disability or not.


From these findings, we started to change Colorado’s AFN Resource Framework to identify what resources the community needs to function before, during, and after disasters. This Framework centers on AFN encompassing anybody and everybody who needs access to resources. We look at the resources that save lives and cost lives. I went back to research conducted by June Isaacson Kailes and Alexandra Enders and they identified that the resources people needed were communication resources, maintaining health and medical resources, independence resources, support services and safety resources, and transportation resources (CMIST).


I am leaving out self-determination. June and Alexandra didn’t look at it from a resource framework but saw it as things that people needed to have their lives maintained and property saved. I looked at it from a resource lens, which means posing questions such as, “What are the communication resources that are needed in our community? What different languages or alternative formats are required? What mediums need to be used to disseminate information?.” From this stance, I didn’t need to identify that I am deaf, have a disability, come from a different culture, etc. Instead of identifying with a condition or a disability, identifying with a resource need allows emergency managers to know what gaps they need to bridge.


When I first came to Colorado, we had a large blizzard that shut down the State. At the time, we activated, and a report came from field operations identifying 900 people with AFN. I was in the Plans Section and they asked me to start getting resources to accommodate needs of people with AFN. However, I didn’t know what CMIST resources were needed and expressed this. Speaking with the Field Operation Manager, this discussion became an “aha” moment. The need, which in this case was translation of information for a refugee community, was then identified and the adequate resource provided.


Colorado DHSEM has now created a program flyer that provides shared language on what AFN is and why it is important. It reinforces that there are resources that everyone needs access to in order to function during emergencies regardless of who we are. That is the message that is helping us break through barriers across various circumstances.  


  1. You also serve as IAEM’s Access and Whole Community Inclusion Caucus Chair. Can you describe what initiatives you have participated in?

Nationally, I have helped us come together to create a shared language. AFN is really an emergency management language, and public health and human services have questions about what that means for them. Public health and human services tend to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion when it comes to meeting the needs of the whole community. They do this on a regular basis, and they are always looking for those who are under resourced, underserved, vulnerable populations, etc. – all these different titles.


In contrast, emergency managers who come from a resource coordination management system have trouble identifying populations who fall within these groups. Rather, they want to know what the resources are that a community needs to function before, during, and after disasters.


When I was first further involved with IAEM, it appeared that there was a stance of admiring the problem without a solution. I thought that we could admire the problem all we want, but if we are able to come in with shared language, how tos, etc. with local emergency managers and relate to them, we can foster better buy-in.


An example of this is the National AFN Symposium. The Symposium has seen a lot of success as there is hunger from communities who are looking for how tos to be able to know how to build solutions. There was a record-breaking 2,800 participants registered this year. We are seeing ignition across the country because we are asking people to do something about gaps in AFN integration.


  1. What has been most exciting or inspiring about your role within DHSEM or IAEM?

It has been exciting to be part of a culture shift and contribute to “aha” moments. These give me chills.


When I first came to Colorado, I was asked for a list of people with AFN and thought, “I have a lot of work to do.” When we make a list of people, we become our own worse enemy. People with AFN are those who need access to CMIST resources.


I had an initial meeting with the Director to go through my list, because it only had five things, CMIST. I was able to provide him with examples to show that, AFN does not mean that you identify a certain way or fall into a certain demographic, but rather it is characterized by you needing access to resources to function. Helping others come to this realization is monumental and rewarding.


On the national scale, being highly requested to be the IAEM Access and Whole Community Caucus Chair was an incredible accomplishment. First, I was Vice Chair of the Caucus, which had a different name at the time. There were debates about the rename of the Caucus, and they were going to rename it the Disability Caucus. I reinforced that we need to encompass whole community inclusion within the name, and that was a pivotal moment for me. Our membership now keeps growing to this day.


  1. Can you explain what defines an AFN, and provide examples of assistance that may need to be provided during a disaster?

People who need access to resources in order to function. Anybody who needs access to resources in accordance with CMIST.


This could include, for example, the person staying at a hotel in a city that they are not used to. This could include those who are under resourced or underserved, such as someone who doesn’t trust government or community, someone who experiences economic challenges, etc. To emphasize, one does not need to identify under any demographic to have an AFN, rather they could need access to a resource.


In some of our trainings and workshops, we play a “Have I Ever” game to reinforce what AFN is and why it is important. I do not ask any intentional questions about a disability, specific condition, etc. That way, when an “aha” moment hits, one can realize that they may have been a person with an AFN at some point. It could be that the only thing that one needed access to was a resource. Individuals didn’t have to label or identify themselves as someone with AFN, rather they just had to identify that they needed a resource.


  1. We recently passed the 33-year anniversary of the ADA, a law which historically protects the rights of people with disabilities. As we reflect on this legislation, what do you think are some of the biggest hurdles still facing the emergency management community in providing equitable services for people with disabilities?

This goes both ways for the community member as well as the emergency manager. For many, the hurdle is that we don’t know how to implement the ADA, yet it is a law and we must do it. Ultimately, we don’t know what we don’t know. We need to better come together to continue to understand how to implement the ADA. CMIST, for example, is an actual resource that helps identify what AFN one or more may experience. If one goes to a shelter, for example, they are someone with an AFN and they need access to the safety resource of sheltering.


Being able to take away labels of “special needs,” “vulnerable populations,” “disabilities,” and other demographics, and rather looking at the actual resource need is the area that is the biggest hurdle that is needing to be overcome. CMIST helps us meet our legal obligations as it demonstrates how we can comply with the laws of protected classes. We can learn “how to” and get to the commitment required to meet compliance.


However, there has been a huge cultural shift in individual community preparedness and emergency management mindsets. Local emergency managers are now seeing that CMIST partners can help raise funds for a people resource by working with partners to fill gaps. By having a “how to” person and program available, they see hope. There is no longer the mentality of, it is “too hard.”


  1. In your role with DHSEM and IAEM, how do you support continued strengthening of emergency management’s ability to address AFN? What kind of initiatives are being fostered at the national, state, and local levels?

As mentioned earlier, IAEM has the National AFN Symposium. Additionally, here in Colorado, we have a road show where we offer a seminar workshop and a tabletop exercise drill across the State. We also have a “use it so you don’t lose it” training schedule so that we do not wait for training requests, but rather continuously offer courses.


Locally, we are helping jurisdictions establish CMIST Response Teams and/or identifying a ‘somebody’ to guide the emergency management lifecycle (before, during, and after disasters). The CMIST Response Team was inspired by Functional Assessment Service Teams (FAST) Teams, however, FAST Teams don’t work in Colorado because we don’t have shelters that stand up on a regular basis.


The CMIST Response Team is broken up into four areas that support individuals. A few of these areas include an onsite and environmental assessment, which is completed before a shelter, disaster assistance center, etc. is opened to the public to ensure a facility/location is accessible to the public and a functional needs assessment, which, during a check-in/screening/interview process, identifies needs along the CMIST framework that one may need.


  1. For those who may experience an AFN, what should they be doing on an individual level to prepare for a disaster? What resources are available to them on the national, state, and local levels to support this preparation?

They need to start preparing for life-saving CMIST resource disruption. When I think of resources, they are people, places, and things. If I am preparing for CMIST resources, whether people, places, or thing, I can identify how much I have of it and when a gap could occur. If I have a gap, I need to speak up and say “on a bad day, this is where the gap is.” Emergency managers, when building a community profile, then need to identify how many of those people, place(s), or thing(s) need to be brought in, and accordingly, are able to prepare.


This is personal preparedness and emergency management preparedness coming together to find solutions to gaps. Then, this needs to be trained and exercised so that we can keep identifying when gaps may be filled, who can fill gaps, etc.


  1. As the emergency management practice continues to strengthen AFN integration, what do you think are some of the biggest opportunities for improvement?

It is a huge effort. In Colorado, we provide monthly meetings locally and nationally. I also have the Homeland Security Advisory Council AFN Subcommittee that steers and guides the program in Colorado. We also provide training and a newsletter. These meetings and information show people that if they don’t know where to start, here is a starting point. We coordinate in that matter and help people figure out what they need to know if they don’t know it.


For the emergency manager who doesn’t know what they don’t know, I help them design a “use it so they don’t lose it” practice. For example, right now, I help design a six-part series “to eat it like an elephant.” This is a message that is working well as I cannot eat an elephant in one bite. I have to keep biting and nibbling. As a testament to some of the smaller, but important initiatives we have undertaken in Colorado, we’ve now started integrating inclusive meeting practices with proper accommodations. This is an example of something that was supposed to be happening already but wasn’t.


  1. What are some examples of initiatives that local emergency managers are undertaking in Colorado to support AFN integration within emergency management?

In Colorado, we have a Colorado Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA) that looks at the 32 core capabilities like the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) does. We train emergency managers to tie CMIST to Planning, Organization, Exercise, Training, and Equipment (POETE) across each core capability. We look at CMIST in the “P,” CMIST in the “O,” and so on and provide associated training. We have a supplementary guide as well.


We are in the second round of this in Colorado. After seeing the first round of data, we have supplementary guidance available to put into place. First and foremost, this guidance is put in the CEPA guidance tied to the POETE.


We are also asking local jurisdictions to find AFN community champions to help coordinate with CMIST resources. The CMIST Response Team is also part of this as well. They are not a one and done training, they are mentored and supported and not left on their own. We want to make sure we are always aligning with the same message.


  1. What is a final mantra, quote, or saying that you want to leave readers with as they continue to strengthen the integration of AFN in emergency management in their local, state, or federal programs?

My life philosophy, which is how I lead all my programs, is “to not know and do nothing about it is forgivable, to know and do something about it is admirable, and to know and do nothing about it is unforgivable.” After I speak at a training, workshop, exercise, etc., I believe that you now know what you didn’t know in the past. I am expecting you to force multiply the knowledge learned and lead with the same commitment that I do when it comes to emergency management. I want people to do something about the gaps in AFN integration, even if it is just one small step. Keep eating the elephant until it is eaten and we will have it right.


It is bullseye management. I am not sure we will ever hit the bullseye but if we keep striving, the things that sometimes get in the way won’t bring us down.


About Sadie Martinez


Sadie Martinez is the Colorado State DHSEM AFN Coordinator. Her role focuses on coordinating the development and operations of a statewide network of local partners focusing on AFN integration emergency planning. She supports state agencies and local jurisdictions in the development of inclusive, whole community emergency operations plans that adequately account for people with AFN, emergency preparedness workshops and serves as the AFN subject matter expert during state-level planning initiatives. Sadie is using the AFN Framework using the CMIST memory tool to support whole community inclusion in emergency management lifecycle resource planning in the functional needs of Communications, Maintain Health, Independence, Safety, Support Services, Self-Determination, and Transportation from a resource standpoint, rather than a special need or vulnerability. Helping Colorado emergency managers better understand what capabilities to acquire before, during, and after a disaster by approaching AFN from a resource perspective.


About Mona Bontty


Mona Bontty is an emergency management professional who currently serves as a Senior Associate with CONSTANT. She has over a decade of service with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), engaged in emergency management response efforts, operations, exercises, training development, and whole community planning. She directed a Region Emergency Management Program for one of the nation’s largest populated areas in Southern California, complicated by urban development, catastrophic hazards, and wide-reaching economic impacts. Mona is also an accomplished trainer and facilitator, having served, during her tenure at the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI), as a subject matter expert and project manager in the instructional design and delivery of emergency management courses. Mona specializes in community outreach, crisis communication, and engagement of vulnerable populations.




CONSTANT is an award-winning consultancy focused on executing our mission of making the world a safer place. We are an 8(a)-certified and Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned Business (EDWOSB) with a long history of helping clients across all levels of government and the private sector prepare for catastrophic disasters and emerging threats. Our core areas of expertise include emergency management, counterterrorism, health security, and healthcare preparedness. Across those areas, we provide planning, training, exercise, outreach and staffing services. We are deeply committed to delivering superior customer service, providing a platform for our team members to thrive and prosper, and embodying our signature entrepreneurial spirit and core values. Learn more about CONSTANT here.