Contributor: Ginni Melton, CFM
When determining whether a natural event will be categorized as a disaster, emergency managers and responders need to know who and what is at risk. Jurisdictions often know where natural events, such as floods, may occur and sometimes have estimates of impact for certain frequency events, but they rarely know who is going to be impacted. Using social vulnerability assessments, emergency managers and first responders have access to important data to understand who is going to be impacted and how best to communicate risk to that population. Tailoring Response to Specific Populations
Emergency response efforts can be tailored to target the needs of these populations before, during, and after an event. If an area has a large foreign language speaking population, they may want to ensure warnings go out in multiple languages and translators are available in shelters. If the affected county has a large elderly population, emergency managers and responders may want to develop outreach programs where neighbors check in on the elderly, or develop transportation services for evacuation efforts for those not able to drive. Social Vulnerability Assessments Improve Response
A natural event only becomes a disaster when it impacts human life, property, or livelihood. The greater the number of vulnerable populations living in an at-risk area, the more likely an event will be categorized as a catastrophe. By identifying at-risk populations through a social vulnerability assessment, more lives can be protected by preparing specific emergency response efforts and performing targeted risk communication during the event. By better characterization of vulnerable populations, the human impacts of natural events can be reduced.
Hazard mitigation plans are beginning to incorporate social vulnerability assessments. At Dewberry, we’ve incorporated these assessments into the West Virginia and Maryland State Hazard Mitigation Plans. By recognizing the vulnerable populations in each county, emergency managers were able to tailor mitigation strategies to best serve the populations that live there by reducing impacts.
Taking the extra step to identify potentially affected populations through social vulnerability assessment can support more comprehensive planning, preparedness, and response techniques.