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J Public Health Manag Pract. 2014 Sep-Oct;20 Suppl 5:S79-82. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000096.

Disaster planning for vulnerable populations: leveraging Community Human Service Organizations direct service delivery personnel.

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  • 1National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University, New York.



Given the variability, complexities, and available resources for local vulnerable populations, it is clear that preparing effectively for catastrophic events cannot be accomplished with a single, simple template. Inclusion of Community Human Service Organizations' (CHSO's) direct service delivery personnel ensures that emergency disaster planning efforts for vulnerable populations are effective and responsive to unique needs and constraints. By leveraging existing local resources, it extends the preparedness system's reach to the whole community.


CHSO personnel already perform community-based services and directly engage with vulnerable and special needs populations; typically they are on the front lines during an emergency event. Generally, however, the CHSOs, staff, and clients are neither adequately prepared for disasters nor well integrated into emergency systems. To address preparedness gaps identified during Hurricane Sandy, regional CHSO and local health department partners requested that the Columbia Regional Learning Center provide preparedness trainings for their agencies and staff responsible for vulnerable clients.


Evaluation of this initiative was begun with a mixed-methods approach consisting of collaborative learning activities, a function-based assessment tool, and a 5 Steps to Preparedness module.


Results from a survey were inclusive because of a low response rate but suggested satisfaction with the training format and content; increases in awareness of a client preparedness role; and steps toward improved personal, agency, and client preparedness.


Direct service delivery personnel can leverage routine client interactions for preparedness planning and thus can contribute significantly to vulnerable population and community disaster readiness. Trainings that provide preparedness tools can help support this role.


CHSO personnel are knowledgeable and have the expertise to assist clients in personal preparedness planning; yet, there are challenges around their ability and willingness to take on additional responsibilities.

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