Consider vulnerable groups when designing and implementing disaster response measures


Efforts of disaster managers in the response and recovery stages often disregard the special needs of vulnerable populations. During and after a catastrophic event, vulnerable populations may include individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, children, the elderly, prisoners, ethnic minorities, people with language barriers, and the impoverished. Inadequate preparation for the needs of vulnerable populations can lead to catastrophic consequences. Without appropriate assistance, vulnerable individuals may not be able to evacuate as instructed, reach points of distribution for medical countermeasures, and understand written or verbal communications during an emergency or find suitable housing if their residences are destroyed during a disaster. A failed emergency response could also cause the government to suffer humiliation and the public to lose faith in those responsible for its welfare. This is why disaster managers should have a special focus on vulnerable groups when designing their disaster response and disaster recovery protocols, identify and make available the necessary resources to, efficiently, address the needs of vulnerable groups.

Applicable to:

Stakeholders: Policy Makers, Disaster Managers

Disaster Phases: Response, Recovery

Types of Actors Concerned: Non-active citizens, National civil protection bodies, NGOs, Red Cross

Hazards: Natural hazards, Man-made non-intentional hazards or emergency situations, Man-made intentional hazards

Cultural Map Entries:

Disaster management plans should be in line with language and other specific requirements of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups

Vulnerable groups needing priority assistance during a disaster

Special procedures for children during response and recovery phases

Actors involved in disaster management for vulnerable groups in Bulgaria

Description of the project: ‘Prepared Together for Disasters, Emergencies, and Crises’ (Bulgaria, 2013-2015)

Specialised assistance tools developed by the German Red Cross for people with special needs

Preparedness actions for all vulnerable groups during heat waves

Description of the 'Handbook on home care for the elderly' developed by the Italian Ministry of Health for heatwave situations

Comunitat Valenciana' is a public service in the Valencian region that receives emergency calls in Valencian, Spanish, English, French and German

Links between age and gender and the vulnerability hypothesis

Social vulnerability influences risk perception at the community level

No one-size-fits-all strategy in order to explain social vulnerability in different countries and disaster phases

Cross-cultural differences such as skin colour, gender, and education, define the social vulnerability of the society

Orphaned children as a vulnerable group

Elderly individuals as a vulnerable group

Homeless individuals as a vulnerable group

Resistance to adopting security-related maintenance measures as a vulnerability in a disaster

Vulnerable groups in the Maltese setting

Danger in elderly people overestimating their physical abilities during a disaster

Foreigners and tourists as vulnerable groups in a disaster

The vulnerability of stigmatised groups in case of a disaster

Children who are alone at home during a disaster see as a vulnerable group

Communicating risks to elderly individuals to enable evacuation

Importance of communicating information and practices related to disaster prevention

Practitioner perceptions of elderly citizens who overestimate their own abilities during a disaster

"Home alone" scenario for children during a disaster less likely in Italy

A society's legal system can encourage certain cultural practices while culture can be influenced by legal principles

Cultural heritage protection in disaster contexts

Legal frameworks for children, pregnant women, elderly, disabled and sick people vulnerabilities in a disaster situation

Minorities in disaster contexts

Inequalities caused by disasters

Woman are disproportionately affected by disasters

Gender roles prevail in disaster situations

Differences in risk exposure due to gender roles

Gender disadvantages in disaster recovery

Tackling vulnerabilities concerning the prevention and preparedness stage

Specific vulnerabilities of children

Children and young peoples views concerning a flooding context

Social and economic isolation of senior citizens as a disaster issue

Dependency of senior citizens on others who may need support themselves in disasters

Disaster management policies should target the empowerment of senior citizens

Support by cultural leaders specifically for senior citizens

Basic rules for respecting local cultural contexts and needs

Developing a caring network for helping elderly people in Sri Lanka

General association with cultural factors: Gender roles, Age-related roles, Ethnicity, Socio-economic status, Social exclusion

Implementation steps:

A. Identify groups of people presenting specific characteristics that can make them or vulnerable in the context of natural and man-made disasters, therefore requiring special protection and consideration due to their particularities. Related cultural factos: Social exclusion

B. Provide special assistance, through the help of specialized professionals (e.g. therapists, psychologists) to vulnerable people, such as children during the response and recovery phases. Related cultural factos: Social exclusion

C. Set-up databases containing data referring to all people with limited mobility or requiring home care nodes, electro-medical equipment or oxygen, which disaster managers and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. NGOs) can use to assist these individuals in the event of a disaster. Related cultural factos: Social exclusion


Further reading:

Corrarino J. E. (2008). Disaster-related mental health needs of women and children. MCN, American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 33.

Cullen B.T., Pretes M. (2000). The meaning of marginality: interpretations and perceptions in social science. Soc Sci J 37(2): 215–229.

Fothergill A., Maestas E., Darlington J.D. (1999). Race, ethnicity and disasters in the United States: A review of the literature, Disasters, 23.

Gaillard J., Cadag J. (2009). From marginality to further marginalization: Experiences from the victims of the July 2000 Payatas trashslide in the Philippines. Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies, North America, 2. Date accessed: 2 March 2016.

Wisner B., Blaikie P., Cannon T., Davis I. (2004). At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disasters, Routledge, New York.

WMO (2006). Social Aspects and Stakeholder Involvement in Integrated Flood Management. Flood Management Policy Series. Geneva, WMO. Available at:

WMO (2016). Public Perception of Flood Risk and Social Impact Assessment. APFM Technical Document No. 25, Flood Management Tools, Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM), Geneva. Available at