Preparing for Disaster: Protecting the Most Vulnerable in Emergencies

58 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2008 Last revised: 6 Jul 2009

See all articles by Sharona Hoffman

Sharona Hoffman

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: 2009


Many federal, state, local and private entities are investing significant resources in disaster readiness initiatives. Often disregarded, however, are the special needs of vulnerable populations during disasters. In the context of emergencies, vulnerable groups may include individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, children, the elderly, prisoners, members of ethnic minorities, people with language barriers, and the impoverished. The fate of the disadvantaged during disasters has received little attention in the legal literature, and this article begins to fill that gap. It examines ethical theories of distributive justice and existing federal and state civil rights and emergency response laws and argues that vulnerable populations are entitled to significant protection under existing legal and ethical frameworks. It also, however, highlights the shortcomings of the contemporary statutory scheme insofar as it addresses the needs of the disadvantaged during disasters and urges that it be supplemented by additional requirements. The Article argues that for vulnerable populations, successful disaster response is dependent upon careful planning and develops a detailed proposal for statutory provisions that will mandate adequate preparation to safeguard the welfare of the vulnerable in emergencies.

Keywords: Disaster Readiness, Vulnerable Populations, Distributive Justice, Civil Rights, Director of At-Risk Individuals, The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, Voluntary Registries, Electronic health record system

JEL Classification: K23, K32, K49

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Sharona, Preparing for Disaster: Protecting the Most Vulnerable in Emergencies (2009). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 42, p. 1491, 2009, Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-27, Available at SSRN:

Sharona Hoffman (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3860 (Phone)


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