Inclusive planning is an essential part of all planners’ jobs. As disaster, emergency management, and public health planners, understanding inclusive planning is critical. The concept of inclusive planning is not a new notion; however, it is one that deserves significantly more attention. In our field, we are trained to write plans that serve the “whole community.”
In theory, the notion of ensuring our plans, trainings, and exercises consider the whole community seems simple; however, in practice, inclusively planning for the whole community is not and should not be a simplistic, one-size-fits-all concept. Time and time again we see the inequitable impact of disasters, and it is time to understand the important role planning can have in either exasperating vulnerabilities or more equitably supporting disaster resiliency (Ferreira, & Figley, 2015).
To frame this discussion, we must first agree that the impact of disasters is not only attributable to the natural event. As Wisner et. al (2004) saliently noted, disasters are also the product of social, political, and economic environments. Disasters cannot be separated from the social frameworks that impact how the hazards affect people (Meyer, 2017). Vulnerability to a disaster is often connected to socioeconomic levels and land settlement patterns and disaster recovery often happens disproportionately (Shreve, 2014).
For an entire community to be prepared, survive, and recover from a disaster, we assert that planners need to move beyond assessing the aggregate need of a population and understand the resources and root causes for vulnerabilities that exist within the community (Bolin and Kurtz, 2017).
Both international and domestic disaster policy and frameworks are relatively new and still evolving. In the US, the first federal program that targeted disaster relief was the 1950 Federal Disaster Assistance Program. The United Nations (UN) will typically offer aid once a country requests help unless the UN declares the issue a humanitarian crisis. All UN response activities are coordinated by a central office known as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which can be seen as similar to the coordination of emergency response stemming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (OCHA, 2016). Domestic organizations focused on disaster planning and response can benefit from the existing international aid architecture and humanitarian response guidelines that place people affected by the crisis or disaster at the center of response efforts.
One of the primary international guidelines for disaster response is the SPHERE Handbook. The SPHERE Handbook provides a common set of principles and universal minimum standards for delivering humanitarian response. One of the unique aspects of the handbook is the encouragement of the disaster-affected population, their local government, and local agencies to be active participants in decisions about their recovery and ensure the humanitarian response is people-centered. This includes providing information in a language that is accessible to the community.
The SPHERE concept also encourages active participation of the community, churches, and schools to be part of community disaster planning. Community involvement needs to happen before a disaster to ensure community engagement will be sustained during and after a disaster.
Gathering accurate data is also essential. Census data only provides a snapshot of the community for a timeframe and often lacks information on the most vulnerable community members, such as residents who do not have legal status or the homeless population. To truly provide equitable disaster planning and relief, disaster planners need to understand the community beyond Census data.
According to Susan Cutter, “In the actually planning for emergencies, social vulnerability is captured under the heading of special needs populations.” This generalized title does not account for the diverse needs of people that fall either into the special needs group, at-risk label, or the general tag of vulnerable (Stough and Kelman, 2017; Cutter, Emrich, 2015). In disaster literature and framework, these terms are too frequently used interchangeably, often with different intended meanings. Ultimately, the lack of clarity will impact individual disaster survival and resiliency. The SPHERE Handbook notes “vulnerability is specific to each person and each situation.”
“The words we choose are important to ensure we are understood and that our meanings are not misinterpreted” (Curtis, Azoulay, 2014). As consultants and planners, we have a responsibility to ensure we are supporting and enhancing all members of the community. The weight of the verbiage we utilize in our plans is crucial to provide the foundational work for comprehensive emergency management that serves the entire community. As planners, we must be cognizant of our word choices and be critical not just of the intent but also the consequences, and, ultimately, the impact of our words.
To be successful planners, we must understand that the whole community should be redefined to be fully inclusive. We achieve this through:
At ISC we work to ensure all our project engagements go beyond meeting minimum standards and exceed the needs of the client and communities. For example, ISC produced the Miami-Dade THIRA using an assessment supported by a rigorous methodological process that incorporated over 4,500 community indicators and scientifically-based measurements used to reliably and accurately assess the County’s vulnerability, capability, and risks to natural, technological, and political hazards. Differences in the hazard’s impact area, amount and severity of damage, duration of the event, and direct and indirect economic impacts make it difficult to develop empirical values that can be universally applied to each hazard category. Therefore, the risk methodology used by Miami-Dade considered not only the probability of the event occurring but also the potential physical, economic, and social impact to the community.
Another example is the Community, Vulnerability, Risk & Resiliency (CVR2) Model, which serves as a dynamic planning tool that utilizes proven hazard analysis strategies and processes to build partner consensus, ensure uniformity, and provide results that are operationally significant. CVR2 operates by utilizing several input parameters consisting of hazard profiles, economic, social, and physical community vulnerabilities and other special community concerns. These inputs are assessed and evaluated to determine the risk to the community from a specific or multiple hazard threat(s). The output of the CVR2 Model is a prioritized indication of planning risk considerations that can be incorporated into the community’s comprehensive preparedness efforts, providing a foundation that will increase programmatic efficiency, operational effectiveness, and a unified common operational picture. The CVR2 Model is a culmination of over 100 years of emergency and disaster management knowledge and incorporates over a decade of research of hazard risk assessment methodologies by several of the nation’s premier disaster researchers.
We recognize the weight each project engagement has not only on the short term but the long-term resilience of the communities in which we work (Kendra, Clay, and Gill, 2018). We also recognize the need to continually innovate, which means not only utilizing state of the art technology, but also continuing to enhance equity and justice in the fields of emergency management and public health to better serve people and the environment. We also challenge ourselves to continue to learn. We achieve this by working to understand and not repeat past missteps in our field, expanding our diversity and inclusion practical applications, operationalizing equity, and listening to the community (Webb, 2017).