The impact of a disaster is greatly determined by the degree to which an individual or community is vulnerable to a hazard.
Anyone can become vulnerable when disaster strikes but those who are at a social, economic, or environmental disadvantage are likely to be more affected. The challenge for community leaders and emergency managers is to be able to identify and prioritise those who may need help the most, either because of particular urgent needs or because their vulnerability will only increase as time moves on during an event.
Assumptions are often made regarding who is, or is not, vulnerable. There are perceptions of vulnerability and these will vary depending on what is understood by the term ‘vulnerability’ and who is doing the analysis.
People at risk will have their own view of their vulnerability. In many cases this requires a shift in attitude by practitioners to appreciate and learn from those at risk. This requires time and effort for dialogue and a willingness to listen.
There may be a tendency for community members, organisations and individual services to assume that someone else is looking out for ‘those who are vulnerable’. Without checking, people can be missed. Working in siloes with poor communication between services can hinder the identification of those most in need.
In some cases, data protection procedures can act as a barrier to the rapid sharing of information during an emergency. The safe and considered sharing of information should be anticipated and planned in advance. If necessary, safeguards can be built in to protect sensitive information about individuals without compromising the support they may need.
Understanding vulnerability, and the causes, is vital if appropriate decisions and measures are to be taken to minimise risk to individuals and communities, strengthen preparedness and recover in a way that reduces future vulnerability.
With reference to one of the two earlier case studies (the UK tidal surge and South Sudan), who is most likely to be identified as vulnerable?
Are there any parts of the community that we tend to miss?
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