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Money often dictates response equality

Study of disaster response in diverse communities finds quality of results revolve around the availability of money.

BY STEPHANIE BACKUS | WASHINGTON, DC | May 25, 2009


"Ultimately, it's respect; it's honoring, building trust with these diverse communities and if you don't do it in an effective way, you'll never be effective in achieving any kind of preparedness to response or recovery goals"

—Dennis Andrulis, Center for Health Equality


With one of the most diverse populations in the U.S., California is a melting pot of nationalities, molded into communities. Climate along the coastal state is as different as the communities it affects and disasters are common, ranging from wildfires to mudslides.

How well are these diverse communities prepared for disasters? A study at the Center for Health Equality at Drexel University examined the preparedness of diverse communities and Dr. Dennis Andrulis, director for the center, shared his findings recently at the 2009 National Emergency Management Summit.

"The study in California came up because of national work we'd done," he said. "We identified the need for a review of actions around response, recovery and what is done before (a disaster) occurs."

According to Andrulis, after the national study was completed, there was a need to look deeper at some of the issues surrounding diverse communities.

"A representative from California said it would be great if we could do what turned out to be the first comprehensive review of where a major state with a diverse population is wtih the ability to meet the needs of that diverse population," he said.

And the findings of the study reaffirmed what they discovered in the national examination, according to Andrulis.

"They include the importance of looking carefully statewide as well as looking at areas within the state," he said. "It's not just one state level of preparation for diverse populations. There are major regional differences. There are resources that are substantial in some areas and others are lacking significantly in resources."

So what can states do to even out the resources? Well, Andrulis said it's a matter of money.

"The study pointed out that while some dollars are available, dollars need to be more flexible for application. The engagement of communities is essential. And they must engage communities at their level in a way that builds trust and promotes empowerment," he said. "That means reaching them at their level -- at places they are."

To Andrulis, that means being at community centers, churches and mosques and other settings that give people a level of trust and comfort.

"Ultimately, it's respect; it's honoring, building trust with these diverse communities and if you don't do it in an effective way, you'll never be effective in achieving any kind of preparedness to response or recovery goals," he said.

How do the communities come together? Andrulis explained it's important to have collaboration to make sure the communities become prepared for a disaster.

"You need to bring agencies together instead of having people who are supposed to be your reference points in a time of disaster, speaking in a different language (than the community) themselves."

For Andrulis, faith-based organizations can play an important part in responding to diverse communities.

"The faith-based organizations are a lynch pin, if not the go-to reference point for where people go for information, to congregate, to link to services, to identify needs and fears and to lay those fears," he said. "So I see faith-based organizations as one of those cordray of essential service organizations to perform vital roles at times of disasters."

And coming together before a disaster strikes is also important for the communities, according to Andrulis.

"What's important is this engagement and collaboration and integration of faith-based organizatiosn into a broader strategy can't occur only at times of disasters. It must be happening now, before something happens. They need to be part of a broader approach," he said.

And according to Andrulis, that approach can create a two-way street that allows the government and voluntary disaster response teams to learn from the community as much as the community learns from them.


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