Integration of Social Determinants of Community Preparedness and Resiliency in 21st Century Emergency Management Planning

By Biedrzycki, Paul A.; Koltun, Raisa | Homeland Security Affairs, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Integration of Social Determinants of Community Preparedness and Resiliency in 21st Century Emergency Management Planning


Biedrzycki, Paul A., Koltun, Raisa, Homeland Security Affairs


INTRODUCTION

The recent release by the Obama Administration of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD 8), also referred to as the National Preparedness Directive, highlights a key imperative that speaks strongly and encourages the adoption and practice of a more comprehensive as well as community-oriented focus toward strengthening national emergency preparedness and resiliency.1 Furthermore, the recent release of the Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) underscores federal commitment in promoting the inclusion and engagement of diverse stakeholders in the overall community preparedness and planning process, recognizing the role of inherent and unique community-based social dynamics, networks, and informal leadership that can be leveraged to strengthen community resiliency.2

Both of these initiatives provide the opportunity and conceptual framework to establish a more community-focused approach to emergency management by willingly inviting to the table a wide array of key stakeholders, including citizens as legitimate and equitable partners and assets in the process. In essence, both PPD 8 and FEMA's whole of community philosophy represent an emerging trend and new modality for the emergency management discipline in incorporating socioeconomic conditions and more meaningful community participation at the planning and preparedness core. As such, it will also demand a fundamentally new emphasis on re-establishing or improving community relationships and most importantly, an authentic and genuine trust between government and citizenry.

This essay will outline this new modality in two interrelated parts - the concept of examining various social determinants of preparedness and community resiliency and the importance of fostering better community inclusion and trust. Three case studies are presented to exemplify the need for this shift in approach. The purpose of this essay is to advance these concepts and advocate inclusion into modern emergency management practice. This can only enhance preparation and nation-wide resiliency in the twenty-first century given the breadth and scope of natural and man-made threats to the country and global community as evident by recent historical events such as Hurricane Katrina, the British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill, and the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic.

What Are Social Determinants of Community Preparedness and Resiliency?

Social determinants of emergency preparedness and resiliency can best be thought of in the context of those dynamics or factors that influence the vulnerability of a community as it responds to and recovers from an emergency. Such factors are unique and vary greatly between communities but can be categorized into several domains. This variation in community social dynamics is not randomly distributed and is largely due to inequities in the ownership and distribution of resources, wealth, and opportunity. These in and of themselves can account for many disparities in outcomes between communities that are often seen and indeed magnified in the aftermath of a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Identifying social determinants of emergency preparedness and resiliency then can be viewed as a function of the socio-economics of a community (e.g., mean income, percent savings, education levels, unemployment rates); environmental infrastructure (e.g., housing availability, crime rates, suboptimal geographic locations); and other intangible but nevertheless important community attributes (e.g., degree of social cohesion, predominance of family/neighborhood structure, and level of community engagement). Communities with high levels of poverty become the most vulnerable to the impact of disasters in terms of lacking adequate preparedness and being at highest risk for adverse consequences. This is primarily due to government and related system failures in addressing appropriate and timely response and recovery necessary to seed and foster a culture of resiliency within this population. …

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