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Learning from Katrina: Health Disaster Preparedness in Minority Communities

When it comes to major disasters, it seems some communities are harder hit than others. So, representatives from more than 30 organizations signed a consensus statement to ensure that all Americans are prepared.

When it comes to major disasters, it seems some communities are harder hit than others.

And with the belief that future emergencies can lead to replays of Katrina-like results, representatives from more than 30 organizations have banded together to make sure that in the case of widespread emergencies, all Americans can be prepared.

"Our nation has made strides since Katrina in preparing for public health emergencies," said the Assistant Secretary for Health for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. "But, sadly, we know from experience that minority Americans, particularly those who are lower income, bear a disproportionate toll of injury, disease and death from emergencies."

In order to help people who may be in bad shape before a disaster and in worse shape afterwards, the National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Diversity released its plan Wednesday, June 11 to include more racially and ethnically diverse communities throughout varying stages of emergency preparedness.

The plan [PDF, 172KB], as proposed by the Center for Health Equality Exit Disclaimerat Drexel University 's School of Public Health , relies on four principles and a website to prevent minority Americans from being disproportionately affected by disasters.

Contributing factors, according to Nadia Siddiqui health policy analyst at Drexel University , included low literacy levels, poor housing, language barriers, distrust of emergency messengers and service providers, a lower perceived personal risk, lack of preparation and a reliance on informal sources of information.

These factors not only hinder efforts to alert community members before a disaster, but can magnify existing problems, said the Dr. Garth Graham, HHS deputy assistant secretary for minority health. Graham highlighted the fact that the consensus statement complements the efforts of the National Resource Center on Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities Exit Disclaimer, including its work to develop a cultural competence curriculum for disaster personnel.

In order to circumvent possible problems, said Dennis Andrulis, director for Drexel's Center for Health Equality, the groundwork must be laid.

"If you strengthen the precontext of a community before a disaster you make sure the effects are less severe after the storm," said Andrulis during the National Emergency Preparedness Summit in early February. "You can't do this unless you create a relationship that can be sustained over time. Unless you do that your words are going to fall on fallow ground."

Strong relationships built on trust require time and a willingness to put community needs first and address what the community may see as the problem, Andrulis said.

And that's where the four principles are utilized.

By identifying minority communities and getting to know their needs and challenges, creating partnerships with community reps and public health officials, utilizing community reps to disseminate emergency messages and having drills, the panel expects to decrease to possibility of negative effects.

Through the emergency preparedness website Exit Disclaimer, an online clearinghouse that also allows users to post successful strategies, information is available to help reduce disparity rates for emergency preparedness.

Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, praised the panel for their work, but didn't shy away from noting that it will be the translation of the work into reality that will determine the true success of their efforts.

"The proof will be in our actions," he said, "whether we are true to our words and do right by minority communities, recognizing that all individuals, not just some, are entitled to basic safety and protection when the unimaginable strikes."


Drexel University School of Public Health's Center for Health Equality Exit Disclaimer

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Content Last Modified: 6/11/2008 11:44:00 AM
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