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Building community resiliency through vulnerable populations
Vulnerable Populations Whiteboard

Sarah Bates, MPH and Beth Appert, MPH, Yamhill County Public Health

“Our hope is to enhance the great work of community organizations to build a community that is more resilient in the face of a disaster,” comments Sarah Bates, public health preparedness coordinator.  We want organizations to have the skills and support they need to get back on their feet and serve the community during recovery.

A variety of community partners came together to form a taskforce including individuals from agencies representing childcare, assisted living, developmental disabilities, chemical treatment, faith-based organizations, low-income assistance and many more.  Local government and emergency response partners augmented the group. Initially the group defined vulnerable populations, and many seemed to have their own definition.  Vulnerable populations are people whose life circumstance (temporary or ongoing) requires support beyond standard emergency preparedness, response and recovery measures.  These special populations may bear a disproportionate burden of disease and injury, or they may face barriers to accessing services. This may become particularly apparent during a major public health emergency or other disaster. 

The task force started by conducting a SWOT analysis of both community resources and communication procedures in the county. This process of identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats led to the realization of where gaps exist. Quickly the task force decided to work on improving communication and collaboration among organizations serving the community.  With interest and dedication, task force members learned about the role of the Emergency Operations Center, Incident Command System, potential threats in the community, as well as responsibilities and response plans for emergency management and Public Health.

One of the intense efforts of the task force members is to help each other develop or improve emergency response plans. These may include developing business continuity plans, purchasing supplies or further working on communication strategies. It also includes establishing memoranda of understanding with those in the community who may provide needed resources or services. Community partners were also offered disaster preparedness presentations to educate their staff and/or clients about disasters and what they can do ahead of time. 

According to Jane Russell, manager of Facilities at Hazelden Springbrook, an addiction treatment center, “Hazelden Springbrook is dedicated to the safety and care of their patients.  Involvement in the Vulnerable Populations Task Force provides us with opportunities to improve our ability in preparedness, mitigation, community integration, response and recovery. Helping to improve the community response and resiliency will directly affect our emergency management plan in a positive way.”

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