Although disasters affect everyone, they often shine a spotlight on longstanding disparities and inequities experienced by people from racial and ethnic minority groups, people with low incomes, and other communities with less power and access to resources. These groups are also disproportionately affected by disasters due to decades of systemic and environmental injustices. For example, Black, Hispanic, and Native American people have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death compared to White people. Additionally, a study examining the effects of wildfires found that communities that are mostly Black, Hispanic, or Native American experience 50 percent greater vulnerability to wildfires compared to other communities. Similarly, a study of the impacts of urban flooding found it is most harmful to Black communities, and Black neighborhoods are less likely to receive flood protection.
Communities with less power and access to resources also experience inequities during disaster response and recovery. A recent study found that White families in communities with significant damage from natural disasters saw an increase in wealth due to generous reinvestment, while minority families saw a smaller increase in wealth or actually saw a decrease. This data shows not only the need for systemic reinvestment in racial and ethnic minority communities, but also the need for disaster planners to prioritize these communities, and other communities with less power and access to resources, during response.
Read on to learn about external and internal DEI best practices and find resources to help you and your organization make progress in DEI. Access the key DEI terms web page for definitions of terms in areas including bias, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, and disability, as well as common terms in disaster behavioral health.
External DEI Best Practices
Consider the following strategies in external DEI efforts during all phases of disaster. Please note that this list is not exhaustive or set in stone. Strategies should be tailored to the needs of the communities you serve.
Lead with humility. Go into every encounter with an open mind and an understanding that survivors may be experiencing trauma and hardship. It’s also important to have an understanding of the historical trauma experience the communities you are serving may have, their resilience, and the environmental injustices they may be facing.
Prioritize building trust. Communities of color may distrust government entities due to a history of racist and discriminatory practices. It’s imperative your organization work to build trust with these communities. Establish a presence in the community, not just during times of crisis, and engage with local community leaders such as faith-based leaders and teachers.
Use a mix of outreach strategies and channels. To engage and build rapport with multicultural populations, use a variety of communications so that survivors are exposed to a several touchpoints from your program. This can include providing handouts like flyers and brochures, posting on social media accounts, and raising awareness of your program or services on the radio and print media ads. Communications should be developed to be culturally competent and resonant with the cultures of your audiences. This work may include having communications translated into languages spoken in your community.
Continue to lean on your organization for training and support. Like emergency management, DEI involves reflection and continuous learning. Training and education should be a continuous practice within your organization. Lean on any internal employee resource groups (ERGs) for personnel united by race, beliefs, nationalities, genders, etc., and DEI committees to continue to discuss questions or issues you may be having in the field when you aren’t sure how to best deal with a situation.
Internal DEI Best Practices
To effectively serve diverse populations, organizations must ensure they have a strong internal DEI strategy. DEI initiatives are an essential aspect of keeping employees happy and engaged and earning their trust. Consider implementing the DEI best practices below within your organization. Please note this is not an all-inclusive list of DEI efforts. DEI initiatives should be implemented based on the capabilities of your organization.
Measure Efforts and Set Goals
- Start by surveying personnel to understand the current state of your DEI initiatives and identify gaps and areas for improvement.
- Get leadership buy-in and set DEI goals and key performance indicators, or signs of organizational progress toward achieving DEI goals.
- Consider drafting a DEI statement or mission for your organization.
Attract and Recruit Diverse Talent
- Review everything from images on company websites to job descriptions to ensure inclusiveness.
- Take time to communicate with prospective hires about your DEI efforts.
Prioritize Learning and Development
- Provide consistent training, such as unconscious bias training, and conversations to teach and reinforce the importance of DEI.
- Bring awareness to everyday DEI topics as exemplified through current events, global and local news, and teachable moments.
Facilitate and Engage Employee Resource Groups
- ERGs can be a great source of support for employees in groups that are underrepresented within your organization.
- Engaging ERGs can also help shape effective internal and external DEI strategies.
The following collection of resources will help you embed DEI into your disaster planning and response:
- Cultural and Population Sensitivity in Disaster Behavioral Health Programs (PDF | 1.8 MB) (The Dialogue from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Cultural Awareness When Working in Indian Country Post Disaster (tip sheet from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Equity (web page from the Federal Emergency Management Agency)
- Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status (PDF | 380 KB) (Supplemental Research Bulletin from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Institute for Diversity and Inclusion In Emergency Management (organization web page)
- People With Functional and Access Needs and Disasters (PDF | 6.8 MB) (The Dialogue from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Strategies for Inclusive Planning in Emergency Response (PDF | 1.4 MB) (guide from the County of Los Angeles Public Health)
- Supporting U.S. Territories and Island Populations After Disasters (PDF | 3.8 MB) (The Dialogue from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Understanding Historical Trauma When Responding to an Event in Indian Country (tip sheet from SAMHSA DTAC)
- Women and Disasters (PDF | 389 KB) (Supplemental Research Bulletin from SAMHSA DTAC)