Environmental Home Safety

Disaster Preparedness in Black Neighborhoods

Disaster preparedness and relief are critical services provided by most governments, but emergency management practices have produced varying results. June is National Safety Month, a timely reminder for all of us about the importance of being prepared for emergencies. Whether facing natural disasters, medical emergencies, or other unforeseen events, having a robust plan can make a significant difference. This is particularly crucial for the Black community, where bias, and historical and socio-economic factors often contribute to disparities in emergency preparedness, especially for hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, or earthquakes.

In the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 2023 National Household Survey on Disaster Preparedness, fewer than 60% of Black respondents stated that “preparing can help in a disaster and were confident in their ability to prepare.” Sadly, fewer than 17% of respondents were community-minded, and less than 25% performed emergency exercises or drills. This discrepancy underlines the necessity for coordinated Black community disaster planning and resilience measures to be put in place.

Disasters and calamities frequently harm marginalized groups and families. For instance, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 devastated the Black community in New Orleans, serving as a terrible example. Over 1,800 people died during the incident, which may have been avoided with better preparation, thus lessening the engineering failures of the levee within this predominantly Black community—which ultimately was the root reason for the flood.

 This tragedy highlights the disproportionate effect of calamities on the most disadvantaged, and minority who are often undervalued in comparison to others. Unfortunately, even now, poverty, oppression, and institutional racism still exist that prevent Black people from receiving equal assistance as others.

Research also indicates that Black individuals are frequently less prepared for emergencies compared to other groups. This disparity arises from several factors, including economic constraints, limited access to resources, and a lack of targeted communication from emergency planning agencies. These challenges can significantly impede the ability to respond promptly when disaster strikes.

Factors Affecting Black Communities’ Emergency Preparedness

1.      Economic Constraints

Economic constraints significantly impact the emergency preparedness of black communities. Many Black households face financial hardships, making allocating funds for emergency supplies challenging. Essentials like nonperishable food, medical supplies, and emergency kits can be costly, and for families already struggling to meet daily needs, these expenditures can seem out of reach. This economic disparity often results from systemic issues such as wage gaps, higher unemployment rates, and limited access to high-paying jobs. Consequently, many Black individuals and families may find themselves unprepared when disaster strikes, lacking the necessary resources to sustain themselves during emergencies.

2.      Limited Access to Resources

Limited access to resources is another critical factor affecting the emergency preparedness of Black communities. For example, many Black communities and other highly vulnerable groups are place-bound in disaster-prone places, with limited resources to move out of harm’s way. Many Black neighborhoods are situated in areas with fewer public services and amenities, including healthcare facilities, grocery stores, and emergency shelters. This disparity in resource availability means that Black individuals often have to travel farther and expend more effort to obtain essential services and supplies, which can be particularly challenging in an emergency. Moreover, these communities might not have the same level of access to educational programs and materials about emergency preparedness, further contributing to their vulnerability.

3.      Lack of Targeted Communication from Emergency Planning Agencies

The lack of targeted communication from emergency planning agencies further exacerbates the unpreparedness of Black communities. Emergency planning and response strategies often do not consider our communities’ unique needs and circumstances. Standard communication methods may not effectively reach or resonate with black neighborhoods, which might be skeptical of government agencies due to historical mistrust and systemic inequities. This disconnect can lead to a lack of awareness about available resources and the steps needed to prepare for emergencies.

Apart from the government intervention, communities must take the bull by the horns and prepare for emergencies. Below are five ways to prepare for disaster in Black communities.

5 Ways for Disaster Preparedness in Black Communities

1. Create a Family Emergency Plan

Creating a family emergency plan is a crucial first step in disaster preparedness. This plan should be comprehensive, detailing each family member’s actions before, during, and after a disaster. Start by compiling a list of emergency contacts, including family members, friends, and local emergency services, and ensure that everyone in the family has a copy. Establish multiple evacuation routes from your home and neighborhood, and practice these routes regularly with all family members to ensure everyone knows where to go. Designate safe meeting points where family members can reunite if separated during a disaster, selecting one location near your home and another outside your neighborhood. Additionally, develop a communication plan to ensure family members can stay in touch if phone lines are down, using text messages, social media, or a designated out-of-town contact person.

2. Build an Emergency Kit

Building an emergency kit is essential for ensuring you and your family have the necessary supplies to survive a disaster. An emergency kit should be easily accessible and contain enough supplies to last at least 72 hours. Begin by including essentials such as water, with a recommendation of one gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation, and non-perishable food items like canned goods, dried fruits, nuts, and energy bars. Additionally, include a supply of prescription, over-the-counter, and any necessary medical equipment. The kit should also include basic first-aid supplies, such as bandages, antiseptics, and pain relievers. Equip your kit with tools and supplies, including flashlights, extra batteries, a multi-purpose tool, a whistle, and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio. An idea could be to prepare an Emergency kit (ie, backpack or dufflebag) and offer them as birthday or holiday gifts.

3. Stay Informed and Educated

Information is power, and staying informed about potential hazards and understanding how to respond to different types of disasters is crucial for effective preparedness. As a community member, you can begin by signing up for local emergency alert systems and notifications to receive real-time information about potential threats and disasters. It would be best to keep yourself updated with information from reliable sources, such as local government agencies, emergency management offices, and trusted community organizations, that can provide critical guidance on preparing and responding. Participating in disaster preparedness workshops, seminars, and training sessions offered by local organizations, schools, or community centers can further enhance your knowledge and skills. Online courses and webinars are valuable resources for disaster preparedness and response.

4. Engage with the community

Community involvement is vital for building collective resilience and ensuring everyone is prepared for disasters. Engaging with your community peers can enhance the effectiveness of preparedness efforts and provide a support network during emergencies. You can start by participating in or forming community groups focused on disaster preparedness and mutual aid. These community groups can organize training sessions, share resources, and support members during disasters. Collaborating with local leaders, including religious and civic leaders, can help develop and promote disaster preparedness initiatives tailored to your community’s needs.

5. Advocate for Policy and Resource Allocation

Advocating for equitable policies and resource allocation is essential to ensure that Black communities receive the necessary support for disaster preparedness.

As individuals within the Black community, we must join advocacy organizations and coalitions focusing on disaster preparedness, environmental justice, and community resilience, amplifying our efforts and achieve a more significant impact. Some good examples are the diversity preparedness organization, the fulcrum, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh (UGLP), and many others. Also, contact the local Department of Health who will have a disaster or emergency preparedness department. These organizations, with one thing in common, help provide better outcomes and give a voice to Black communities in disaster response. Collaborating with such groups can help promote awareness and drive change on a larger scale. More importantly, raising awareness about the importance of disaster preparedness within your community through social media, community events, and local media can go a long way to encourage others to get involved and advocate for better preparedness. By taking these steps, we can play a vital role in ensuring our community receives the support it needs to build resilience and effectively respond to disasters.

Disaster preparedness is a pressing public health concern in the Black community due to historical inequalities, socioeconomic disparities, and limited access to resources. These factors leave Black populations more vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters, necessitating targeted efforts to improve access to healthcare, emergency services, and community resources to build resilience and promote equitable preparedness and response. Elevate Black Health advocates for you to be proactive, seek more information yourself, and educate your neighbors and loved ones to remain prepared.

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About the author

Adeoluwa Agunlejika

Adeoluwa is an accomplished professional blog writer with a deep passion for health and wellness. His expertise spans a comprehensive range of well-being topics, including nutrition, fitness, and mental health strategies. Outside of his writing endeavors, Adeoluwa is an avid football fan, often found enjoying matches during his leisure time.

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