March 14, 2023

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Visit CDC Emergency Preparedness & Response for more information.  

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Previous disasters have shown that certain groups of people face greater risk during and after disasters. This includes those who may have difficulty accessing or receiving standard resources before, during, or after an emergency. Understanding the barriers that exist and how you can support the resilience of the whole community can help save lives during an emergency.

Barriers Contributing to Disparities and Vulnerability in Disasters

  • Government mistrust. Mistrust of government and institutions is a deep-seated barrier that has historic roots and can be difficult to change. Diverse communities often do not feel respected and may not have necessary resources.
  • Layered disasters. Hazards tend to harm populations that were at risk before a disaster. Access to services and resources is impacted by where people live, work, and play.
  • Organizational resilience. Organizations providing day-to-day needs for people with lower incomes are themselves vulnerable during a disaster. If an emergency response depletes their budget, organizations may not be able to provide critical resources for populations they serve.
  • Misconceptions. In the past, people with disabilities and other impairments may have been wrongly perceived as unable to care for themselves, unable to function in daily activities, and unable to make decisions about their health and welfare. Such misconceptions have led to exclusion from the social environment.

Examples of Populations Facing Increased Risk 

Some groups of people frequently experience higher risk from emergencies and other public health threats due to barriers getting information and other resources.

  • People with Disabilities or Mobility Challenges: Emergencies and disasters can strike quickly and without warning, forcing people to quickly leave or be confined in their home unexpectedly. For the millions of Americans who have disabilities, emergencies, such as fires, floods, and acts of terrorism, present a real challenge.
  • People Experiencing Homelessness: People experiencing homelessness usually have a history of trauma and are more likely to experience psychological distress during a public health emergency or disaster. A trauma-informed approach to emergency response helps protect the health of persons who are not securely housed.
  • LGBTQIA+: Consideration for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and have other diverse gender and sexual identities (LGBTQIA+) is important in disaster and humanitarian responses. A whole community approach results in better health outcomes for all and improves community resiliency.

Barriers often also exist for people of some races and ethnicities. The same is true for people with lower incomes, limited English proficiency, and some kinds of medical conditions.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion During a Disaster

Addressing the needs of populations facing barriers in emergencies includes improving day-to-day life and harnessing the strengths of these groups. People are more likely to receive information and act on it when the message comes from a trusted source they view as credible. By engaging with the whole community during nonemergency times, organizations can develop relationships over time and become trusted messengers for all populations. Community engagement and collaboration is crucial to inclusive emergency planning. Some best practices for building trust in disaster planning and response include the following:

  • Lead with humility. Go into every encounter with an open mind and an understanding that survivors may be experiencing trauma and hardship. It’s also important to understand the historical trauma experienced by the communities you are serving, their resilience, and the environmental injustices they may be facing.
  • Use a mix of outreach strategies and channels. To engage and build rapport with multicultural populations, use a variety of communication methods so that survivors are more likely to become aware of your program. Communications should be culturally appropriate and use language familiar to your audiences.

Additional Resources

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