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How to Include Diverse, Vulnerable Populations in Emergency Preparedness

April 12, 2011 Comments off

How to Include Diverse, Vulnerable Populations in Emergency Preparedness
Source: Emergency Management

The United States is home to more than 308 million people, comprising many cultures and subpopulations — such as diverse and vulnerable groups of people — who may interpret messages differently or distrust the government. Perhaps no disaster has illustrated the need for emergency planning and preparedness with these communities to the extent that

Hurricane Katrina did. Almost six years ago, the nation watched as more than 1,800 perished, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded and nearly 100,000 citizens remained in the water-ravaged city rather than evacuating.

A study of 1,089 people affected by the hurricane in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama found that 28 percent of those who didn’t evacuate couldn’t leave because of limited means, according to the nonprofit Fritz Institute. Of those who couldn’t evacuate for this reason, 71 percent said they had nowhere else to go, 37 percent didn’t have a car, and 36 percent couldn’t leave their homes without assistance. What’s more, 84 percent of those with limited means had household incomes of less than $50,000; 58 percent were African-American; 66 percent were women; 57 percent said their highest level of education was a high school diploma or less; and 32 percent had a physical disability.

When preparing residents for disasters, officials must think not only about the different cultures within their community, but also about the vulnerable populations — the disabled, very young, elderly, homeless and people who speak limited or no English. Emergency managers and public health officials have wrestled with developing relationships with these groups for decades, and it’s still a challenge for many.

Luckily there are resources for officials to use; examples of successful initiatives can assist state and local agencies with their plans, helping them to reach as many people as possible in ways that create positive relationships and changes.

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