Introducing the Emergency Preparedness Demonstration

The Emergency Preparedness Demonstration is a joint project of FEMA and MDC, with the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center

Research and experience have demonstrated that disadvantaged or marginal populations (including children, the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income, and non-English speaking groups, etc.) suffer disproportionately during disasters. The most basic explanation for this is that many are unaware of risks they face, and even if aware, many lack sufficient resources or ability to escape them. Consequently, to better understand the barriers preventing disadvantaged communities from being more aware of and better prepared for disasters, FEMA entered into a cooperative agreement with MDC, Inc. (see description below) to launch the Emergency Preparedness Demonstration (EPD). To support the design and implementation of the EPD, MDC called on researchers from the University of North Carolina’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) and The Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University.

By the end of the EPD it will have been carried out in eight (8) states (AL, DE, MD, NC, PA, TX, VA, and WV) and Washington, DC, with intent to:

    Learn why disadvantaged communities are typically less prepared for disasters and what preparation strategies have and haven’t worked.

    Test ways to engage disadvantaged communities in helping with disaster planning and preparedness.

    Reduce community and household vulnerability to harm from disasters while positioning the community to undertake coordinated, comprehensive, and equitable disaster recovery in the future.

In each local site MDC and partners worked with the local office of emergency management and a trusted community-based organization to identify community leaders, agency heads, and other advocates, as well as members of our target population, who could be part of a community planning team. Each team participated in a facilitated process that required reflection on its history of disasters, an informed examination of the extent to which disadvantaged groups remain vulnerable to disasters, and the consideration of promising strategies for increasing disaster awareness and preparedness among disadvantaged groups. Local teams were provided with resources to support planning efforts, including staff support, meeting expenses, coaching, technical support, and small implementation grants. At the conclusion of the planning phase, each team sent delegates to a peer summit where sites could share information and lessons learned.

In each site the EPD sought to ensure representation, authentic participation, and leadership from disadvantaged communities, while conveying the knowledge and capacities necessary for raising disaster awareness and preparedness. This deliberate effort has resulted in new or improved relationships between emergency management, CBOs, and citizens, and helped communities identify resources/capacities internal and external to the community that could be marshaled to meet community preparedness goals. We have also produced a set of useful tools for increasing the extent to which disadvantaged groups are accounted for in local emergency management programs and compiled a list of promising practices from around the country focusing on reducing the impact of disasters on disadvantaged groups. In future articles I’ll share more information about those tools and a few of the stories from places the EPD has touched.

About MDC: MDC is a private nonprofit headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC. Founded in 1967 to identify and help remove barriers to progress for the South, MDC has been publishing research and developing programs and policies focused on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and building inclusive civic communities in the American South and across the United States for the past 40 years.

About CURS: The Center‘s mission is to conduct high-quality applied research on urban, regional, and rural planning and policy issues.

About Texas A&M: Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center was founded in 1988 to conduct research on hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, emergency response, and disaster recovery. The HRRC serves as one of two United Nations Collaborative Centers in the world.

John Cooper is a Program Director at MDC Inc., where he directs a $2.5 million FEMA supported effort to understand barriers to increased emergency awareness and preparedness in disadvantaged communities.