A people first approach removes barriers to access and is beneficial to everyone. On its own, however, this approach is not sufficient to break the cycle of disasters, worsening societal inequities and exposing underserved communities to increased risk. There are systemic differences in society that access alone cannot fix.
Underserved communities experience differences in how prepared they are to respond to disasters, how well their homes have been adapted to mitigate against local hazards, and how quickly their communities are able to resume social and economic life after a major event. FEMA must direct its resources to eliminate disparities in these outcomes. FEMA assistance is not designed to solve societal inequities.
However, by intentionally directing resources to communities most in need, FEMA will be able to counteract systemic disaster inequities.
Equity in Action
FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities and Flood Mitigation Assistance programs are participating in a pilot of the White House’s Justice40 Initiative to advance environmental justice. Under this initiative, a minimum of 40% of certain federal benefits will be prioritized to disadvantaged communities.
This does not mean that resources will be directed away from others in need of assistance. On the contrary, FEMA can work toward improving outcomes that benefit all communities.
Addressing disparities requires that FEMA first understand where they exist. To this end, FEMA must routinely evaluate its programs and policies for disparities in outcomes. This starts with deliberately defining what success looks like for the user of each program in a manner that can be consistently measured. Finally, to guide program delivery, the emergency management community must better understand the factors that affect a community’s resilience and vulnerability to disasters.
To do any of this, FEMA must develop the capacity and capability to conduct ongoing equity-based evaluations across its programs, as well as partner with external organizations experienced in this work.
"Equity must be baked into the front end of the federal declaration process, not an afterthought. Critical to the process is for decision makers to be intentional in all phases of the disaster management cycle to minimize discriminatory actions to prevent undesired outcomes that plague underserved and marginalized communities.”– Warren D. Miller, Equity Subcommittee Vice Chair, FEMA National Advisory Council, and Board of Directors, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster