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Addressing Community Needs in Emergency Preparedness and Response

Public health emergencies and disasters can have severe, devastating, and ongoing impacts. In particular, rural communities are vulnerable to disasters because of resource, infrastructure, and capacity constraints. These vulnerabilities and limitations can make it challenging for rural communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters. For more information on emergency preparedness and response considerations for rural communities, see the Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response topic guide.

Planning can help rural communities more effectively deal with and mitigate the negative effects of emergencies and disasters, both in the short and long term. Developing a response plan can minimize the effects of an emergency and expedite response and recovery efforts. See Rural Community Planning for Emergency Preparedness and Response for more information on developing a response plan.

Addressing Needs of Populations at Increased Risk of Adverse Outcomes

Within rural communities, certain populations may be at increased risk of adverse outcomes from an emergency due to “their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact.” The following factors may contribute to an individual being disproportionately affected by an emergency:

  • Socioeconomic status, including employment status, income, housing, and education level
  • Age, particularly older adults and young children
  • Gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • English language proficiency
  • Medical issues and disability, including populations with access and functional needs

It is important to identify and plan to meet the needs of population groups that may be at greater risk of adverse outcomes following an emergency or disaster. This assessment is the first step to ensuring that all people in the community receive the information and support needed during an emergency.

See Population Considerations for Emergency Preparedness and Response, for more information about specific population considerations. For additional planning information and resources, see Rural Community Planning for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Ensuring Equity in Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs

Rural communities have historically experienced challenges and health disparities that contribute to health inequities. Contributing factors to rural health disparities include, for example, underinvestment and limited access to healthcare services.

It is important that rural emergency preparedness efforts ensure an equitable response for all community members. In particular, racial and ethnic populations are more likely to experience adverse outcomes before, during, and after an emergency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health's Guidance for Integrating Culturally Diverse Communities into Planning for and Responding to Emergencies: A Toolkit offers guiding principles and recommendations for ensuring equity and meeting the emergency preparedness and response needs of racially and ethnically diverse populations. The guiding principles offer practical steps for preparedness planning and response. These are:

  • Principle 1: Identify community needs and assets of racially and ethnically diverse populations within the community, focusing on culture, language, and trust.
  • Principle 2: Establish community partnerships to build trust and engagement with racially and ethnically diverse populations.
  • Principle 3: Engage community representatives in developing and implementing strategies for risk communication with racially and ethnically diverse populations.
  • Principle 4: Develop training and education that explicitly addresses the needs of diverse populations.
  • Principle 5: Build capacity to respond to the needs of diverse populations by improving individual and organizational cultural competency.
  • Principle 6: Measure and evaluate emergency plans and involve participants from diverse populations to ensure understanding and adherence to emergency plans and actions.
  • Principle 7: Coordinate and share information, resources, and actions across organizations and with diverse populations.
  • Principle 8: Ensure there is funding to develop services, programs, and policies that strengthen preparedness, response, and recovery among diverse populations.

Effective emergency preparedness and response can only be achieved by actively engaging community members, partners, and collaborators from diverse backgrounds on an ongoing basis. Doing so ensures that racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic considerations are integrated into response plans. Response plans should ensure culturally competent and accessible communications during an emergency, for example. The National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care are intended to improve the quality of services delivered to all people and advance health equity.

In Module 2, Frameworks for Rural Preparedness Planning, Response, and Recovery, read more about how to use a health equity framework when developing preparedness plans.

For more information on addressing health equity in rural programs, see the Rural Health Equity Toolkit.

Resources to Learn More

A Practical Guide to Implementing the National CLAS Standards: For Racial, Ethnic and Linguistic Minorities, People with Disabilities and Sexual and Gender Minorities
Provides information, tools, and resources to support organizations in implementing the national culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) standards with the goal of improving health equity.
Organization(s): National Committee for Quality Assurance, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
Date: 12/2016

Cultural Competency Curriculum for Disaster Preparedness and Crisis Response
Provides free, online cultural and linguistic competency courses designed for emergency medical technicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers responding in disaster situations.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health

Ready or Not: Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism
Discusses state-specific preparedness levels, capabilities, and priorities.
Organization(s): Trust for America's Health (TFAH)
Date: 2020