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We Must Care for the Vulnerable in Disasters

When you talk about vulnerability in the emergency management context, it is defined as the diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard. Vulnerability is most often associated with poverty, but it also refers to other areas, including those who are isolated, insecure and defenseless in the face of risk, in shock or stressed.[1]

An individual’s level of vulnerability is closely associated with things such as culture, their social group, gender, ethnic or other identity, age and other factors. Vulnerability may also vary in its forms: poverty, for example, may mean that housing is unable to withstand an earthquake or a hurricane, or lack of preparedness may result in a slower response to a disaster, leading to greater loss of life or prolonged suffering. To determine people’s vulnerability, you need to ask yourself two questions.

  • What threat or hazard are they vulnerable to?

  • What makes them vulnerable?

To recognize and ultimately counteract vulnerability, one should follow 2 basics rules, that if followed could lessen the impact on individuals and communities. First, reduce the impact of the hazard itself. This can be done in any of the phases of emergency management. Taking time to train the community on what to do, or even gathering community contacts pre-event can go a long way. Second, invest in the communities by building the capabilities to withstand and cope with hazards. I would have never thought that facilitating a reading program would be considered an emergency management role, but it can have a direct impact on someone’s ability to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard.

There is much to do in the emergency management field to make sure that areas are prepared for and able to respond to whatever sort of hazard they encounter, but the sad reality is that some groups are impacted at a greater rate. Our number one priority is always life safety, and the reality is, some lives are at a greater risk than others due to the multitude of reasons we refer to as vulnerabilities. We emergency managers need to be deliberate about identifying vulnerable populations and making sure they are cared for.


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