Cover: A Scoping Literature Review on Indicators and Metrics for Assessing Racial Equity in Disaster Preparation, Response, and Recovery

A Scoping Literature Review on Indicators and Metrics for Assessing Racial Equity in Disaster Preparation, Response, and Recovery

Published Jul 15, 2021

by Melissa L. Finucane, Linnea Warren May, Joan Chang

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Research Questions

  1. What conceptual frameworks are useful for identifying racial equity indicators and metrics across FEMA disaster preparation, response, or recovery (PRR) programs?
  2. What are the most valid indicators and metrics of equity in processes and outcomes experienced by different racial groups as a result of funding from FEMA disaster programs?
  3. What are the gaps in knowledge that FEMA would need to address to ensure disaster funding systems progress toward racial equity?

Disasters have the potential to exacerbate preexisting racial inequities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made commitments to reduce social inequities in mission and value statements but lack frameworks, indicators, and metrics for tracking progress toward equity goals. In-depth assessment of the racial equity of FEMA's disaster funding programs is needed to empower diverse community members and effectively target groups that need the most help to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

In this report, researchers describe (1) the results of a literature review and exploratory study on equity, vulnerability, and resilience, (2) the key themes related to conceptual frameworks, (3) indicators and metrics, and (4) knowledge gaps. They also provide recommendations for assessing racial equity in FEMA disaster programs.

Key Findings

  • Equity frameworks have been designed to address different topics at different geographic scales, but some indicators lack validation.
  • Common categories of outcomes in the equity frameworks relate to health, environment, economics, energy/utilities, education, housing, and transportation/mobility.
  • Selection of equity indicators requires trade-offs.
  • Criteria for selecting metrics for indicators are not always specified.
  • Sociopolitical and economic differentials shape disaster experiences.
  • Models of vulnerability are necessary but are not sufficient for assessing racial equity.
  • Identifying meaningful indicators and metrics of racial equity requires frameworks that highlight the particular resource losses different social groups are facing.
  • Indicators and metrics are often not specific to racial equity; additional disaggregated data and analytic techniques are needed to measure differences by race.
  • Many indicators have not been used to assess racial equity in real-world contexts (disaster or nondisaster).
  • Indicators and metrics used outside disaster PRR might offer insights for FEMA.
  • Most metrics are quantitative, but qualitative information might be useful for process improvements in FEMA programs.
  • A theory of change for achieving racial equity in FEMA programs is lacking.
  • Appropriate measures of baseline conditions have not been identified.
  • A comprehensive set of reliable and valid indicators and metrics reflecting the uneven distribution of disaster impacts has not been established.
  • Criteria for systematic selection of indicators, metrics, and data are needed.


  • Develop a systematic and robust approach to racial equity assessments, including identifying goals or standards, logic models, and best practices for selecting indicators and metrics in different contexts.
  • Partner closely with communities affected by racial inequities to better understand nuances and complexities and to identify relevant and acceptable indicators and metrics across recovery functions and disaster phases.
  • Evaluate the reliability and validity of quantitative indicators and metrics for capturing racial equity in processes and outcomes of real-world PRR programs.
  • Identify qualitative approaches for understanding the barriers, facilitators, and other factors that lead to racially inequitable experiences and outcomes with PRR programs and establish processes for collecting and analyzing these data.
  • Develop strategies for closing data gaps, including leveraging existing data (e.g., data used in other federal programs) and identifying where new or improved data are needed.
  • Develop communication and education strategies to ensure that all stakeholders understand the appropriate use and interpretation of selected indicators and metrics.

This research was conducted using internal funding generated from operations of the Homeland Security Research Division (HSRD) and within the HSRD Recovery Cost Analysis Program.

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