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Vulnerable Populations and Emergency Management

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

When disasters happen, a common misconception about those affected is they simply did not prepare. They did not understand the consequences of the disaster and, as such, they’re left with nothing.

While there certainly are individuals who do not prepare nor understand the grave consequences associated with a lack of preparedness, there are others who simply can’t prepare in a way that would be beneficial for them. These individuals fall into the category of vulnerable populations within communities and because of this, they find it difficult to prepare. As such, emergency managers must be keenly aware of what constitutes vulnerable populations in their respective communities and their needs.

Social Equity

Community programs must be offered equally to all. What does that mean exactly? Concepts of social equity emerged in the 1970s, thanks to University of Kansas professor of Public Policy H. George Frederickson‘s groundbreaking articles and presentations. Since then, social equity has become an important factor of government administration.

In essence, individuals must have access to resources equally. Concepts such as healthcare disparities and personal issues like medical concerns or mobility, for example, prevent some people from having access to healthcare because of where they live in the United States. In short, this is why handicap parking spaces and wheelchair ramps are so important. They provide access to buildings and places that might not otherwise be open to people with limited mobility. So the U.S. government must provide equal access for all to resources wherever they are.

Offering Equal Access to Resources to Individuals in the Community

If we expand on this concept, emergency managers need to apply emergency management principles — mitigation, preparedness, response, and other principles — to all individuals in their community. Deaf people, for example, can’t hear tornado warning sirens, and people with sensory issues might not be able to get to a community shelter during a disaster. 

Emergency managers can’t just educate the community about preparedness efforts. They need to understand what they can do specifically to help their communities with overall emergency management programs.

Like other areas of government and public administration, social equity is an important facet of emergency management. So offering equal access to all resources is critical.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C., and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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