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Ref: Philadelphia university partners with federal government and other org's to address minority preparedess

Phila Inquirer

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Report: Now it's an emergency




Minorities have been overlooked when it comes to disaster planning. That needs to change quickly.

By Bonnie L. Cook
Inquirer Staff Writer

The needs of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities are overlooked when it comes to planning for public-health emergencies, a new report has found.
The national study, issued by a team of Drexel University researchers, said that in the last 30 years, racial and ethnic minorities figured in programs and materials related to disaster planning just 10 percent of the time.

If unaddressed, this lapse could have a profound effect on the Philadelphia suburbs, where diverse populations live and work in increasing numbers, the study's lead author says.

Until disaster-preparedness includes all groups, everyone is at risk, warned Dennis P. Andrulis, director of the Center for Health Equality at Drexel University's School of Public Health.

"If you think you are a white person and don't need to be concerned about diverse populations being ready for an emergency, then you're fooling yourself," Andrulis said. "It can affect you."

That is because groups that tend to be left out of planning, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Arab Americans and others"don't live in silos," Andrulis said. "They live among us, and there is crisscross, and ebb and flow among populations. Emergencies don't know geographical and ethnic boundaries.

"The world of the suburbs is porous. People go back and forth. Minorities may work as landscapers. They may work in restaurants handling food."

A review of academic literature by the research team showed that minorities, when compared with others, saw less risk from disasters, were more skeptical of warnings, were less likely to evacuate, were less likely to receive disaster education, and relied more on family and TV for information.

The report cites the need to overcome language barriers, ensure that disaster education is tailored to diverse groups, coordinate government outreach to minority groups, and include minority concerns in national and state policies.

In Montgomery County, which experienced an influx of about 1,600 Hispanics from 2000 to 2006, efforts to integrate that group into preparedness plans are just starting, officials said.

The county already has a relationship with Accion Comunal Latinomericana De Montgomery County (ACLAMO), a Norristown family center for Hispanics, health department spokeswoman Harriet Morton said.

"If they ask us to come out and talk to them, we will do it," Morton said. The health department also has links to other advocacy groups that it routinely serves, and Andrulis believes such relationships are crucial for building trust.

Eddie Cruz, ACLAMO executive director, said that the county health director has informally indicated an interest in "a concerted planning effort involving Hispanics."

Cruz said there could soon be "a dialogue to assess the extent to which preparedness efforts address this vulnerable group."

Tom Sullivan, the county's public safety director, said no specific discussions had taken place on the special needs of minorities during emergencies. But he indicated he'd be open to such talks.

If there should be a widespread disease outbreak, natural disaster or terrorist event, the failure of minorities to follow instructions could have deadly consequences, the report warned.

"The cost of inaction, as evidenced by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, offers a graphic portrait of what happens when the unique needs of communities are not part of preparedness planning and execution," the study said.

The research team examined 301 Web sites that offered Americans information on emergency preparedness. Of those, only 12.6 percent provided information aimed at diverse populations, the team found.

To a small degree, though, the report charted progress at the local and state level. San Francisco's Chinatown has a culturally tailored disaster plan with drills. Minnesota has forged a network that offers disaster information in many languages.

Andrulis said his research center has launched the first Web-based national clearinghouse, identifying promising programs and resources for planners who want to include minorities.

"We'll be developing it over the next few months," he said. "By year end, or shortly thereafter, it should be fully up and running."

"We've come a short way in a short time. We're not going to correct the legacy of neglect [immediately], but now people are realizing we have to do something."

©2007 Philly.com

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