Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Huerta hoists two children from their rooftop into a Coast Guard rescue helicopter after flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, LA, August 29, 2005, photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi/U.S. Coast Guard

commentary

(The RAND Blog)

HSOAC Hosts Seminar Series on Improving Equity in Disaster Policy

Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Huerta hoists two children from their rooftop into a Coast Guard rescue helicopter after flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, LA, August 29, 2005

Photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi/U.S. Coast Guard

by Max Izenberg

October 7, 2020

With wildfires sweeping across the Western portions of the country, civil unrest, COVID-19, Hurricane Laura, and the seemingly innumerous other hazards affecting the United States in the past year, the country's ability to resource these hazards has certainly been tested. A common feature of these hazards and their consequences has been their differential impacts on vulnerable communities and households, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. Moreover, natural and biological hazards themselves, and critically the human response to these hazards, have the potential not only to exacerbate existing population inequities but also to create them.

In an effort to better understand the equity implications of disaster policies, the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) operated by the nonprofit RAND Corporation, invited several experts to share their knowledge. The three-part seminar series was organized to feature diverse perspectives on disaster policies and research: one seminar focused on grassroots activism and community-led research, one offered perspectives from a local government leader, and the third provided the perspective of a federal-level policymaker with implementation experience.

Natural and biological hazards themselves, and critically the human response to these hazards, have the potential not only to exacerbate existing population inequities but also to create them.

Share on Twitter

The first seminar was entitled “Grounded Experiences, Analyses, and Research on Equity in Disaster Policy” and was presented by Shearon Roberts, a professor in Mass Communications at Xavier University in Louisiana, and Bantu Gross, who has experience as an advisor at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools and serves as a Program Director for Fathers Matter. Roberts discussed her personal experiences with Hurricane Katrina and her journalism and research on various FEMA response and recovery programs, including emergency cash transfers, temporary sheltering, and the Road Home program. Gross discussed his personal experiences with Black fatherhood, COVID-19, and the particular impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community and on family dynamics. Both presenters provided examples of more equity-related research that is needed including grassroots researchers. Research topics might include enhancing protections for Black communities from future storms and disasters, how infrastructure delays may delay middle class African Americans' efforts to return home after a disaster, an apparent lack of post-disaster support for African American businesses, and postpartum depression and mental health for all members of the family.

The second seminar was hosted by Bill Thomas, the senior advisor for Islands, Indigenous, and International Issues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thomas highlighted Pacific Risk Management 'Ohana (PRiMO), which is a collaborative program with state, territorial, and local agencies working alongside universities and non-governmental organizations and the private sector to enhance the resilience of island communities to natural hazards and climate change. PRiMO shows how local and indigenous knowledge systems can not only be appreciated and included in research and policy development, but also ultimately serve as the framework for policy design. Thomas also discussed a critical paradigm shift in common governmental approaches to community-based programming and localization: PRiMO's operations needed to be responsive to those they aimed to serve. He also discussed the process in which the PRiMO bylaws were collaboratively established and agreed upon, the various tools developed with the support of PRiMO engagements and relationships, and the co-production of knowledge to increase disaster preparedness and resilience.

The third seminar was hosted by Daphne Lundi who currently serves as the acting deputy director for the New York City Mayor's Office of Resiliency. Lundi shared research on how climate hazards like hurricanes, flooding, and extreme heat may contribute to short- and long-term negative wellbeing outcomes. Lundi specifically focused on the role of the built environment and heat exposure, and demonstrated how the built environment and social factors can exacerbate inequalities in hazard vulnerability and climate risk. Based on this research, she discussed how New York City developed a comprehensive resilience strategy with various innovative and adaptive programs in key neighborhoods to reduce climate risk and the lessons learned from climate risk reduction program design and implementation.


Max Izenberg is an assistant policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a Ph.D. candidate at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.