The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned yesterday that minorities; single parents; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are “more likely than others to be severely impacted by disasters” and may need extra help.
FEMA’s annual National Preparedness Report, which historically has focused on threats including flooding, terrorism and the nation’s vulnerability, breaks precedent by drawing attention to classes of individuals who may lack the financial and social resources to withstand a disaster.
It’s the first time that the preparedness report, published annually since 2012, used the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” and “transgender.” The report does not mention climate change.
“There are individuals and families who are particularly vulnerable to disasters,” the report says. “Age, financial insecurity, pregnancy, and identification with a historically disadvantaged group—including minorities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community—are all factors that can increase vulnerability.”
The report notes that LGBTQ people “have historically been socially repressed and excluded.” Research has shown that after a disaster, LGBTQ people are more likely to be socially isolated and face disrespect or harassment in settings such as emergency shelters.
FEMA urges emergency managers to “plan for the whole community, including those with civil rights protections,” and to “quickly restore social safety nets after a disaster.”
Domestic violence and child abuse can increase after a disaster as programs and services are disrupted, the report says. Single-parent households, which account for 30% of U.S. households, face additional vulnerability after a disaster because they “tend to have lower socioeconomic status and fewer social support resources.”
One section of the report cites research showing that minorities, low-income households and less-educated people are far less likely than their counterparts to have internet access at home, which can be crucial after a disaster to find help. Just 56% of people with only a high school education have home broadband compared to 93% of people with a college degree.
Low-income people also often lack property insurance, which can be “cost-prohibitive” for them, the report says. FEMA says its own records show that low-income households are much less likely than higher-income households to have flood insurance, even though low-income households are “exactly the population that would benefit most from a post-disaster insurance payout.”
After major flooding, low-income households instead rely on FEMA disaster aid, which typically pays only a few thousand dollars, “so these individuals will likely fall further behind after a disaster,” FEMA said.
The preparedness report comes amid growing attention to the unequal effects of disasters and the disproportionate harm they inflict on people who are socially or financially marginalized. FEMA itself held a series of “civil rights summits” in recent months to address equity, accessibility and environmental justice in disasters.
FEMA’s preparedness report says nothing about climate change—an omission that in previous years has drawn rebuke from scientists and Democrats in Congress. In the Obama administration, FEMA used its annual National Preparedness Report to warn extensively about the dangers of climate change, but those warnings ceased during the Trump administration.
When FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor was pressed at a recent congressional hearing about excluding climate change from the 2019 preparedness report, he said the report did not mention any specific hazard and was “more of a thought piece about what was important to the nation.”
The preparedness report, which federal law requires FEMA to issue annually, is intended to broadly describe the main threats and vulnerabilities and to help guide policy and funding decisions.
The 2020 report describes the nation’s threats and vulnerabilities in 2019 and thus does not mention COVID-19. Future preparedness reports “will prioritize pandemics,” the 2020 report says.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.