Coordinating community-wide efforts with representatives and respected leaders from each of the constituent sub-communities and populations will ensure the development of effective strategies.
Specifically, each sub-community needs to be apprised of the likelihood and risks of various types of events, including natural disasters and different terrorist attacks. Care must be taken not to cause undue alarm, but also to provide realistic and relevant information that objectively and directly assesses the situation. Providing such information without causing unnecessary fear is a delicate process even when one is familiar with the culture one is dealing with, and it is near impossible if the culture is foreign to the preparer. This is why coordination with community leaders is essential in the planning and education phases of emergency and disaster preparedness; no emergency management team could hope to develop the proper materials and information without consultation.
Coming to an understanding of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the various communities and sub-communities that will be served is important for emergency management, but coordination with individuals from those communities, sub-communities, and cultures is even more so. An effective management strategy for these situation demands early cohesion through reliable and effective communication, and a unilateral voice -- even one that tries to be multicultural -- simply cannot be as effective as a well-planned and well-coordinated effort among several individuals with different cultural backgrounds and community ties. Teamwork is essential in almost every managerial situation, and this is especially true when the goal of the management is effective community response. The larger and more diverse the community, the larger and more diverse the emergency planning and education team needs to be in order to address that community's needs.
Effective Strategies for Emergency Coordination
Effective planning and community preparedness is an essential step in mitigating the negative effects of an emergency situation, but it is useless if it is not accompanied by effective strategies for actually handling such events when they occur. Just as planning and preparedness education efforts must take cultural and linguistic diversity into account in order to remain effective across the entire community, direct response and relief efforts must also ensure adequate availability and accessibility for different cultural and linguistic groups, and this can present several obstacles to effective emergency management.
The mistrust of government officials is fairly simple to overcome in the preparedness and education campaigns that should be a regular part of any community; after the creation of culturally and linguistically appropriate materials, they can be distributed by community organizers from within the specific cultural/linguistic set, thus overcoming any anxieties regarding non-representative government officials.
During an emergency situation, however, there will not always be the luxury of adequate response personnel from every cultural background that exists in the community, and thus additional planning must take place at the managerial level to ensure that aid organizers and distributors are properly trained ahead of time in handling the various cultures in the community in a respectful and effective manner.
This problem can be greatly exacerbated if the specific emergency is a terrorist attack of some sort. Such an event would undoubtedly require an increased police and law enforcement presence, and for members of cultural communities who already mistrust government officials, it can be reasonably assumed that the presence of armed men in the employ of the government will do little to assuage fears, and may in fact highly increase them. An effective way to mitigate these extra fears and to ensure compliance with required precautionary and control steps would be to install community information centers staffed with pre-screened and trained volunteers from the various sectors of the community. The use of portable trailers would be the most effective way to accomplish this, as the centers could be virtually guaranteed to find an accessible and centralized location in each community area where they were needed. Explanations of guidelines and expectations, as well as information regarding aid and relief efforts, could be distributed from these centers as a way both of providing current and relevant information and showing a solidarity with any armed presence, thus relieving fears and increasing trust in the government.
Handling the Aftermath
Preparedness and action are without a doubt the most essential aspects of emergency management, but handling the aftermath of an emergency is more important in its long-term effects. This, too, can be fraught with cultural difficulties, especially if the handling the emergency is perceived as culturally or ethnically biased, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina.
Steps must be taken to deliver community- and culture-specific relief and rebuilding information and support, and to reassure cultural minorities that they are fully included in such plans.
Conducting community meetings to directly address concerns and grievances of each sub-community and neighborhood on a regular basis following a major disaster would certainly help to establish this feeling and will also lead to a more effective utilization of resources. With community involvement in the allocation and rebuilding process, neighborhoods can more fully and directly reflect the cultural values of the communities that inhabit them. This can actually reduce the amount of managerial concerns, as well, as community organizers and activists can take on a larger role in the planning and distribution of resources, thus easing pressure on the primary emergency management team. Effective communication between the overall emergency management team and community leaders will of course still be required, and equal attention must be paid to all neighborhoods, but with the proper cultural networks already in place through preparedness programs managerial role can be altered to one of coordination rather than direct oversight.
Preparing for an emergency is the only truly effective way to handle such an event. Preparations ease the crisis during and after an event as well as before it, and the proper cultural and linguistic considerations when making these preparations is essential to their effectiveness. Effective emergency management realizes the limitation of a single perspective, and actively engages in coordinated efforts with smaller groups within the community.
Eisenman, D.; Glik, D.; Ong, M.; Zhou, Q.; Tseng, C.; Long, a.; Fielding, J. And Asch, S. (2009). "Terrorism-Related Fear and Avoidance Behavior in a Multiethnic Urban Population." American journal of public health 99(1), pp. 168-74.
Schnirring, Lisa. (2008). "Promising practices for pandemic planning: Breaking language barriers with preparedness messages." Accessed 17 October 2009. http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/influenza/panflu/news/jun3008ppecho.html
National Resource Center on Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities. (2009). Diversity Preparedness.org E-Newsletter, pp. 6.
Ibid, p. 4-5.
American Red Cross. (2004). "Attitudes and behaviors toward disaster preparedness."
Ibid, pp. 2.
James, X.; Hawkins, a. & Rowel, R. (2007). "An Assessment of the Cultural Appropriateness of Emergency Preparedness Communication for Low Income Minorities." Journal of homeland security and emergency management 4(3).
Eisenman et al. (2009); Schnirring (2008); National Resource Center (2009); American Red Cross (2004)