Ana Marie Jones
If anything was learned from Katrina, it's that public and private agencies must work together to prepare for a disaster.
That was the message during a conference in King County last week entitled, "Katrina's Lesson: Reach Our Vulnerable Residents NOW."
"If we learned anything from Katrina, it is that we need to know how to reach our vulnerable residents now if we're going to meet their needs in a disaster," said King County Executive Ron Sims. "King County is committed to building a resilient community where everyone is supported in a crisis and no one is left behind."
The conference was co-hosted by Public Health-Seattle & King County and Untied Way of King County, with additional support by the Nonprofit Assistance Center.
Ana-Marie Jones, executive director of Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters, described how communities could build resilience and respond to emergencies. Jones, based in Oakland, Calif., works with local nonprofit agencies that have limited funds and staff members to devote to preparing a comprehensive emergency plan.
"Planning for a variety of hazards, including pandemic influenza, offers many great opportunities," said Jones. "Trained, coordinated and united local agencies are the best and often the only support available for people with special needs in times of emergency."
Service providers and representatives from public and private agencies attending the two-day conference also shared new ideas, solutions and challenges for reaching those with special needs in emergencies. The focus during the conference was how public and private agencies can present preparedness information that focuses on being a strong community rather than a victim of a potential disaster.
David Daniels, Renton Fire Chief
"We realize the best way of reaching and helping our most vulnerable residents is to help the agencies that serve them, to help local and public agencies be prepared so they can keep their services going in the midst of a disaster," said Diane Young, project manager for the Vulnerable Population Action Team.
"We also realize especially the local agencies that work with various vulnerable groups on a day-to-day basis know their community the best and they are going to know how to reach the individuals in the event of a disaster," Young added.
Preparing for a disaster is daunting, especially for small agencies that might not have the staff to spend time solely to put together a preparedness plan when they are dealing with local emergencies every day, Young said. The conference, she added, provided useful information about being prepared.
Materials on pandemic flu preparedness, for example, were printed in seven different languages for agencies that serve multiply language groups.
Young said Jones talked about hanging disaster preparedness materials in the restrooms, where everyone will see it.
King County is home to a diversity of residents who may need additional assistance in an emergency:
• 9.4 percent of King County's residents live below the federal poverty level;
• 10.8 percent of King County's residents have limited English proficiency;
• 13 percent of King County's residents aged 5 or older report having some kind of disability; and
• 4.8 percent of King County's residents are age 75 and older.
"United Way of King County's vision is that our community has a robust and trusted human services system that is responsive to current and emerging needs of all residents, particularly our most vulnerable residents," said Jon Fine, CEO for United Way of King County.
Through King County Executive Ron Sims' Pandemic Flu Initiative, a Vulnerable Populations Action Team from Public Health works with supporting organizations that serve populations with needs.
In addition to co-hosting the "Katrina's Lessons" conference, Public Health is supporting a program that gives grants to community-based organizations for smaller preparedness projects.