FEMA summit seeks to address top civil rights issues in emergency management

In its third annual Civil Rights Summit this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency met with representatives from a group of diverse organizations to determine how the agency can better address inequities in its work.

Members from FEMA joined representatives from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization advocating for civil rights for Asian Americans, and The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on ending suicide among LGBTQ-identifying youth, to discuss housing inequities, patterns of discrimination and the disenfranchisement and vulnerabilities of underserved communities. 

Minority communities tend to be less prepared for disasters and therefore experience greater impact when disaster strikes.

But the impact also comes from inequitable government responses.

In November 2020, FEMA’s National Advisory Council found that the agency was failing to meet its legal obligation to help disaster victims: white disaster victims and communities often received more help than people and communities of color, even when the level of damage was the same.

In January, the agency announced the 2022-2026 FEMA Strategic Plan, which promised to prioritize equity in its emergency management. 

That plan includes creating programs like multilingual advertising campaigns to educate and remind residents of flood preparedness and creating an expedited process for grant selections and assistance.

“Underserved communities are often hit the hardest by disasters and other hazards, worsening inequities already present in society,” said Erik Hooks, deputy FEMA administrator, in a statement. 

“Continuing to ignore the needs of underserved communities will only propagate cycles of inequity which can lead to attitudes of mistrust and despair.”

John Yang, AAJC’s president and executive director, said he is “encouraged” by FEMA’s focus on equity “because it is imperative that communities of color, immigrant families, and underserved communities are treated with equity, dignity, and respect during natural disasters.”

“We strongly advocate for FEMA to develop multi-language resources and culturally competent services for Asian American communities, which has more than 100 languages and 50 different ethnicities, to ensure that our communities are not at a disadvantage when danger strikes,” Yang added. 

In a statement, Preston Mitchum, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said he looks forward to working with FEMA and partnering with other organizations to address inequalities in emergency management.

“In serving a community as diverse and unique as the LGBTQ community, we at The Trevor Project understand the critical importance of prioritizing equity and intersectionality across every aspect of our work,” said Mitchum. 

Tags FEMA natural disasters
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