Skip to main content

Emergency Preparedness in Socially Vulnerable Communities

Overview: 

Disadvantaged households--such as low-wealth families, children and older adults, people with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities--suffer disproportionately during major disasters, be they hurricanes, floods, or industrial accidents. Before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and focused the nation's attention on the suffering it inflicted, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was launching the Emergency Preparedness Demonstration to understand the barriers that prevent disadvantaged communities from being aware of and prepared for disasters. FEMA entered into a cooperative agreement with MDC to manage this project in partnership with the University of North Carolina's Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) and Texas A&M University's Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.

The project went into seven areas affected by Hurricane Isabel in 2003 (Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia). Working in individual communities, we listened to residents' needs, found ways to connect them with emergency managers and private resources, and developed a set of tools that communities and emergency managers anywhere can use to nurture connections and understanding. FEMA later expanded the project to areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the small fishing community of Bayou La Batre, Ala.--where 30 percent of the residents are Southeast Asian immigrants mostly working in the seafood industry--was selected.

Below is a compendium of disaster preparedness, response and recovery principles and practices we developed based on insights gained during the EPD and from resources collected across the country. Although these practices are often termed ''best'' practices, we've defined them as promising practices. Promising Practices captures the unique circumstances of each community and the special context that help make these practices successful. It is up to local residents, government agencies, faith-based organizations and nonprofits of any community to develop disaster response services that fit their particular needs and priorities. These promising practices should serve as a source of inspiration--and as a reminder of the potential promise and hope that communities depend on after enduring the disabling desperation and despair of natural disasters.

Resources addressing the basics of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery are available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov. Selections for this manual are intended to provide information beyond the basics. Creative, cost-effective, and community-based components were key criteria for programs to be included in this manual.

MDC Connects South Alabama's Asian Communities to Emergency Preparedness

The small fishing village of Bayou la Batre, Alabama, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in late 2005. However, nearly 30 percent of residents of the surrounding areas are Southeast Asian immigrants working in the fishing industry, and many of their needs were unmet by responses to Hurricane Katrina. By working with the community to identify their needs, MDC helped connect the four Asian communities - Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cambodian - to local emergency management agencies and to the Community Foundation of South Alabama, as well as helping each community complete projects on emergency preparedness. This video documents MDC's work in south Mobile County after Hurricane Katrina, and the results for the Asian communities.

Go Deeper:

For more information on MDC and Emergency Preparedness in Socially Vulnerable Communities, contact: Richard E. Hart.