Preparing Vulnerable Populations for a Disaster: Inner-City Emergency Preparedness - Who Should Take the Lead?

19 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2007

See all articles by Michael Greenberger

Michael Greenberger

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law


Preparing inner-city communities for catastrophic emergencies requires careful planning, coordination, and implementation. Inner-city communities, i.e., residents living in the core areas of the nation's largest cities, often include low-income individuals, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and a high proportion of children. Many of these individuals do not have the resources that emergency planners often assume are available in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, i.e., surplus food, water, and medical supplies; accessible medical care; adequate private and/or public transportation for evacuation; understandable and appropriate instructions for emergency response; or nearby safe shelter.

As this article shows below, the concerns about these vulnerabilities were evidenced by Hurricane Katrina and other events (such as Hurricanes Rita and Wilma), recent excessive heat waves, tornadoes, and flooding) that focused considerable attention on the harsh adverse effects of disasters on unprepared, inner-city communities. Specifically, the failure of the federal government to respond to the needs of New Orleans' inner-city residents during Hurricane Katrina prompted an immediate and much needed focus on this issue. Yet, the federal government's many post-Katrina analyses and reports, while comprehensive and thorough, do not establish a clear agenda for solving this specific problem. In the absence of this federal guidance and support, states and localities, by and large, do not have the resources to lead and fund their own preparedness efforts for inner-city communities. Thus, very little has been done at any governmental level - federal, state, or local - to focus preparedness efforts on inner-city communities that need the most assistance in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

This article details the almost self-evident nature of problems inner cities face in confronting emergencies, and how Katrina corroborated the serious nature of this problem. It then critiques several of the federal government's post-mortem reports on Katrina, focusing on the overly generalized recommendations that provide no clear guidance in this area.

This article then proposes a pilot program for preparing inner-city communities in the event of a disaster. This pilot program would be developed in at least one small, well-defined inner-city neighborhood. By starting with a pilot program within a single inner-city neighborhood, the appropriate state or city might be able to find the money to fund such a limited effort. In the absence of public funding, private resources might alternatively be utilized. Private funding might also supplement available government funds. This program would be a cost-effective way in which to create a successful template for preparing inner cities for emergencies that could then be duplicated across the country with minimal effort.

Keywords: disaster preparedness

Suggested Citation

Greenberger, Michael, Preparing Vulnerable Populations for a Disaster: Inner-City Emergency Preparedness - Who Should Take the Lead?. Journal of Health Care Law, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 291-308, 2007, U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-30, Available at SSRN:

Michael Greenberger (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

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