Public Health Perspective
In many communities public health is the lead organization for managing health and medical response during times of disaster. Serving vulnerable populations is an integral part of this charge. To help guide jurisdictions of all sizes, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) also provides guidance for defining, locating and reaching special, vulnerable and at-risk populations in an emergency. See Resources below.
The demographics of Public Health – Seattle & King County’s jurisdiction provides some context from which this Toolkit was built. King County is comprised of 39 cities plus unincorporated areas. Over 130 special purpose districts provide a variety of critical services including fire suppression and EMS response, water and sewer service, and schools.
King County is home to the most diverse zip code and the most diverse school district in the nation. Immigrants and refugees from all over the world, including Asia, the Horn of Africa, Central America and the former Soviet Union, reside in King County. 2010 Census data show more than 1 in 3 residents is a person of color, increasing to almost half among children. The county, especially the southern suburbs, includes several cities and school districts in which racial minorities are now the majority population. Twenty-three percent of residents speak a language other than English, and 19% are foreign-born. The County is also home to two Tribal Nations, the Snoqualmie and the Muckleshoot.
Over the last two decades, three dramatic demographic changes have taken place in our county, particularly in suburban cities. Because those areas of our county lack adequate systems, policies, and supports to meet challenges, we have experienced an increase in health inequities that make King County’s among the worst of the 15 most populous metropolitan counties in the US. If certain communities are experiencing an increase in health inequities before a disaster, we can assume they will be more vulnerable after a disaster.
One out of every five residents (over 420,000 adults and children) now lives below 200% of the federal poverty level. Today more people in poverty reside in the suburbs than in the urban core. (See Public Health poverty data for more details). These changes contribute to the high and rising prevalence of chronic disease and risk factors in the suburban cities of northern and southern King County. Those suffering from chronic disease are more vulnerable before, during and after a public health emergency.
CDC Workbook: To help guide jurisdictions of all sizes, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) also provides guidance for defining, locating and reaching special, vulnerable and at-risk populations in an emergency.
Guidance for Integrating Culturally Diverse Communities into Preparedness and Response: Based on recommendations of the National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Diversity, this toolkit was developed to provide preparedness planning and response agencies, organizations, and professionals with practical strategies, resources and examples of models for improving existing activities and developing new programs to meet the needs of racially and ethnically diverse populations.
Vulnerable and At-Risk Populations Resource Guide: One of the most challenging tasks when planning for at-risk groups is deciding how to define “at-risk.” The North Carolina Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center (NCPERRC) at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has developed a quick online resource guide to provide a customized list of resources with accompanying jurisdictional maps to aid local health departments preparedness planning for vulnerable and at-risk populations.