How to Include Diverse, Vulnerable Populations in Emergency Preparedness

All-inclusive preparedness can be challenging for governments, but examples of resources and successful programs can help.

by / April 11, 2011
Photo courtesy of

Photo: American Sign Language interpreters are an example of FEMA utilizing a diverse work force to serve the wide range of needs of a community after a disaster. Photo courtesy of Mike Moore/FEMA.

Before the workshops began, participants evaluated the resources the department was interested in using, which included tools from the nonprofit organization Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters (CARD). Jaramillo said the department asked questions including: Would this meet your need? Is it something you find interesting? Is it outside your scope?

“Having the opportunity to pre-sample those things in a small setting and hearing their feedback generates lots of buy-in,” she said. “They took ownership of the project.”

To determine the program’s effectiveness, participants were surveyed beforehand to find out if they had an emergency plan in place and if they felt confident that they could execute it. Jaramillo said most of them were starting from scratch and some acknowledged that their plans needed improvement — others didn’t know if their organization had an emergency plan.

Three workshops were held over seven months and covered different objectives and ideas. Examples were given of emergencies that other local agencies had faced, like a blood bank that caught on fire in the middle of the night. “When we talk about emergencies and disasters, we’re not talking about apocalyptic events that you may not think are ever going to happen to you,” Jaramillo said. “We’re talking about day-to-day things that happen to us in every organization.”

Twenty-six of the organizations then received individual mentoring in which a department representative helped draft an action plan where they identified steps to take toward preparedness, like hanging evacuation maps in the building or compiling an after-hours contact list. The mentors took notes and created a plan with the steps needed to complete the actions. They also tracked the organizations’ progress. “Having someone follow up really motivated them,” she said.

At the end of the project, the department collected the completed plans and surveyed the
accomplishments. “When you’re going from zero, even just putting two or three things in place is a humongous change,” Jaramillo said. But, she added, about 65 percent of the participants accomplished at least 10 activities toward preparedness.

Though the program isn’t ongoing, Lane County has been helping other governments in the region start similar programs to expand the idea of mentoring toward community preparedness.

The following three examples demonstrate resources governments and nonprofits can use when working with diverse and cultural populations.

Community Advocates

When the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is activated in Alameda County, Calif., government officials have a direct link to community- and faith-based organizations in the area through representatives from CARD. They have a seat in the EOC during emergencies and advocate for the community agencies and clients they serve. “If the San Bruno fire had happened in Alameda County, if our EOC activated, we would be the ones looking at a map and pulling up our county database and saying, ‘Look, there’s a senior center here,’ or ‘This is a deaf resource agency,’” said Ana-Marie Jones, executive director of CARD.

The organization identifies communities that will be the most adversely impacted by an emergency and acts as their advocates. Created during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, CARD
attempts to ensure that vulnerable people aren’t overlooked during disaster response. “We’ve always been earthquake prone, but [during the earthquake] we fell flat on our faces in terms of serving people with disabilities, anyone who didn’t speak English,” Jones said. “We were
really unprepared for the people who live here.”

Following the ’89 quake, nonprofits and community-based organizations in the Bay Area formed CARD “to address the preparedness and response needs of service providers,” according to its website. Since a majority of the time, the area isn’t in disaster mode, CARD works on making preparedness easy, fun and sustainable, Jones said. “We create tools for agencies so they can embrace preparedness inside their budgets, inside their cultures,” she said. Many resources are available on its website,, and require only a printer and a piece of tape — Potty Posters inform a captive audience and safety signage uses images to instruct where emergency tools are located and how to evacuate.

CARD conducts emergency preparedness training with community- and faith-based organizations using divergent learning. “In convergent learning, which is the norm, it’s all about teaching you the right answer,” Jones said. Using the divergent model, CARD encourages people to be creative — to think of how they can be resourceful during an emergency instead of telling them to buy certain resources. “We focus on teaching people a million and one things they could do with a fork or a Ziploc bag,” she said.

The organization also focuses on not using fear to make people prepare. Jones said telling people that they should prepare for disasters because horrible things will happen to them doesn’t elicit positive responses. “If you look over the course of the last 100 years, it has not actually worked. We are still a grossly unprepared nation.” Instead of using threats or disaster imagery to encourage preparedness, CARD seeks to empower community-based organizations to be prepared to prosper because staying open during and after an emergency is the best way they can help the people they serve.

A Wealth of Information

The imagery from Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s disproportionate impact on blacks raised questions for many in the emergency management and public health realms; it led some to wonder what information was available for connecting with different cultures and groups of people in a community. Jonathan Purtle, a program manager and health policy analyst at Drexel

University’s Center for Health Equality, said the resources around this topic were fragmented across different fields and sectors because it’s a complex issue that spans multiple domains.

“It’s not just language, culture or income — it’s all these things working together that contribute to these disparities that we see again and again,” he said.

After surveying literature that focused on emergency preparedness and diverse communities, Purtle’s colleagues determined that there was a decent amount of information available, but that it was fragmented. “What was concluded was if someone did want to engage diverse communities and really kind of move this issue forward, they would have to look in a lot of different places,” Purtle said. “And there was really no central source of information.”

After coming to that conclusion, they continued locating resources that covered any phase of an emergency and diverse populations, such as translated materials. Then they organized the resources by type and topic, and created the National Resource Center on Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities. “It’s a Web-based clearinghouse of resources that are focused on emergency preparedness and diverse communities,” said Purtle, the center’s program manager.

Anyone looking for information can browse the website,, or search by resource type, topic, community, state or language. For example, Purtle said, a search for “Vietnamese” would bring back translated materials in that language, planning guides and people’s experiences with working with Vietnamese communities.

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Emergency Management from 2008 to 2017.

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