The Benefits of Supporting Vulnerable Populations in Healthcare Disaster Planning

In 2009, the Institute for Business & Home Safety published a whitepaper on the topic of disaster-related loss prevention in which it was noted that, due to age, disability, and/or socioeconomic status, vulnerable populations are less likely to prepare for disasters and respond to warnings; and therefore are more likely to suffer physical injury, psychological trauma, and material loss.

The whitepaper references reports compiled in the wake Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Hugo, and the 2008 Californian wildfires – disasters in which vulnerable populations were disproportionally impacted – and notes that senior citizens, the disabled, and low-income families, were less able to undertake self-protective actions, before, during, and after each of the disasters.

Since the publication of the whitepaper, further disasters – such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Harvey, and the Californian Camp wildfire - have also disproportionally impacted vulnerable populations. Again, the impact on vulnerable populations has been attributed to senior citizens, the disabled, and low-income families being less well prepared and less able to respond to warnings.

Related Blog: What are Vulnerable Populations?

The Consequences for Healthcare Providers

The lack of preparedness and inability to respond to warnings creates obstacles for public health agencies during disaster responses and increases the pressure on healthcare providers – not only in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but also during the months following due to “secondary surges” and Increased hospital length of stay caused by aggravated health needs.

The provision of healthcare to vulnerable populations in the aftermath of a disaster also puts pressure on healthcare providers´ finances. Six months after Superstorm Sandy it was calculated uncompensated care cost New Jersey providers $46 million. Since then, uninsured rates have increased significantly as a consequence of job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some states, more than a quarter of the adult population do not have healthcare coverage.  

In order to mitigate these consequences, the solution is to better prepare vulnerable populations and ensure as many as possible are able to respond to warnings. The question is how. Ever since the role of emergency preparedness planning was initially assigned to the National Security Resources Board in 1947 (which was subsequently absorbed by the Office of Emergency Preparedness and then FEMA), various agencies have tried – and failed – to address the challenge of vulnerable populations.

Addressing the Challenge of Vulnerable Populations

Returning to the Institute for Business & Home Safety´s whitepaper, one of the biggest challenges the organization identified in disaster planning is communicating with vulnerable populations. The organization notes that the Internet and other technologies that make disaster awareness information available to many Americans are often inaccessible to vulnerable populations.

A second issue is that 18% of the population live in a household in which English is not the first language, with higher percentages in states where disasters most often occur – i.e., Florida (23%), Texas (31%), and California (39%). Therefore, even though these populations may be warned of an imminent disaster via the Emergency Alert System, it may often be the case these populations – especially senior citizens in these populations – do not understand the warnings.

The solution is for healthcare providers to communicate disaster preparedness measures to vulnerable populations via SMS text. Even in poorer communities, 95% of the population owns a mobile device capable of receiving an SMS text message; and, using a platform such as Rave Alert not only gives providers the option of multi-modal communications, (i.e., SMS text, email, social media, etc.), it also gives end-users the option to select their preferred language of communication.

Why Healthcare Providers Rather than Public Health Agencies?

As mentioned above, public health agencies have been trying – and failing – to address the challenge of vulnerable communities for almost a hundred years. By comparison, healthcare providers send trusted community nurses into vulnerable populations every day, and – because of the level of trust in nurses - there is nobody better to explain why vulnerable populations should opt-in to receive disaster preparedness communications and disaster warnings.

Community nurses can also help individuals create Smart911 safety profiles and organize the choice of language, or – if individuals are sight impaired – organize disaster preparedness communications and disaster warnings to be communicated by voice broadcast to the user´s mobile device. The processes for creating Smart911 profiles and organizing users´ preferences are simple to learn, and while they may increase the management overhead, the return on investment is incalculable.

To find out more about the benefits of supporting vulnerable populations in disaster planning, do not hesitate to get in touch and speak with our team of safety experts. Our team will be happy to demonstrate how healthcare providers can quickly and easily set up the Rave Alert platform in order to better prepare vulnerable populations for disasters and send emergency warnings that vulnerable populations will understand and respond to.

Universal - State & Local At-Risk Vulnerable Population Guide

Terri Mock
Terri Mock

Terri Mock is Rave's Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, overseeing strategy, product, and marketing. She is an executive leader with achievements in delivering revenue growth, driving go-to-market, innovating products, and scaling operations from high-tech startups to global companies.

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