How to Reach the ‘Hard to Reach’ Communities During Disasters
As Hurricane Sandy ripped through New England, thousands were without power, heat, or water in the cold. Disasters can devastate anyone, but the impact on individuals with special needs can be catastrophic. While the Government, Non-Government organizations (NGOs), and the private sector are communicating with vulnerable populations better than ever before, this is where the Government can have a significant impact on those who need it most.
Senior citizens. Children. Institutionalized. Pregnant. Disabled. Drug Dependent.
These individuals need the most help in disasters.
Government agencies and NGOs continue to tackle this complex challenge. To help these individuals, it is important to understand and identify barriers, and look for innovative ways to fill in those gaps.
According to a 2009 article in American Journal of Public Health, communications must “successfully instruct, inform, and motivate appropriate self-protective behavior, update risk information, build trust in officials, and dispel rumors.”
Effective communications can increase trust, awareness, understanding, and responsiveness. Here are some suggestions:
- Establish trust. Some prefer information from within their communities than from outside sources
- Tailor language to cultural values (e.g., messages to senior citizens are significantly different than to parents)
- Engage community organizations that regularly work with 'hard to reach' groups. Involve trusted community members to deliver messages
- Use different organizations (e.g., hospitals, schools, assisted living centers, credible companies or charities) to relay communications to the group they serve
- Provide clear, consistent, and positive messages
Applying these suggestions, Government officials and other involved organizations will enhance existing emergency preparedness and response plans, while building national community resiliency!