Vulnerable populations include the economically disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured, low-income children, the elderly, the homeless, those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and those with other chronic health conditions, including severe mental illness.

It may also include rural residents, who often encounter barriers to accessing healthcare services.

The vulnerability of these individuals is enhanced by race, ethnicity, age, sex, and factors such as income, insurance coverage (or lack thereof), and absence of a usual source of care. (

Vulnerable Populations Share This:

One measure of the strength of a community’s response and recovery system is its attentiveness to its most vulnerable citizens–children, the frail elderly, the disabled, and the impoverished and disenfranchised. It is a cruel fact: DISASTERS DISCRIMINATE. Disaster preparedness must focus on populations that are most likely to be seriously affected by disasters, and least able to recover without support. In a disaster, we must take into account the special needs of vulnerable populations.

Defining vulnerability, though, poses a challenge. Vulnerability is not a fixed characteristic of an individual or a group. Rather, it is a fluid state defined by timing, the hazard at hand, circumstances, and access to different types of capital. Someone who is “mobility impaired” – for example, an individual with a broken leg – may be vulnerable to not getting out of harm’s way of an encroaching flood, but may be well-equipped to find stable housing and economic security in the flood’s wake. In this case, the vulnerability is associated with a temporary lack of physical capital, whereas her resilience is associated with access to economic capital. Certainly there are some individuals and groups who are highly and permanently vulnerable to many hazards, and to many consequences. This includes the frail elderly; people living with chronic sensory, mobility, or cognitive impairments; and individuals dependent upon assistive devices or complex medical regimens in order to survive.

All disaster planning must begin to focus attention on understanding what makes certain individuals and groups vulnerable, considering how vulnerability varies by the disaster’s phase and by social circumstances, and exploring the relationship between vulnerability and recovery, (ncdp.columbia.eduresearch).

The Importance of a Personal Support Network

The American Red Cross recommends that senior citizens create a personal support network made up of several individuals who will check in on you in an emergency, to ensure your wellness and to give assistance if needed. This network can consist of friends, roommates, family members, relatives, personal attendants, co-workers and neighbors. Ideally, a minimum of three people can be identified at each location where you regularly spend time, for example at work, home, school or volunteer site.

There are seven important items to discuss and implement with a personal support network:


Make arrangements, prior to an emergency, for your support network to immediately check on you after a disaster and, if needed, offer assistance.


Exchange important keys.


Show them where you keep emergency supplies.


Share copies of your relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and emergency health information card.


Agree on and practice methods for contacting each other in an emergency. Do not count on the telephones working. Your network should include both local and out-of-area contacts, and it’s a good idea to become familiar with text messaging from your mobile phone or device. If phone lines are jammed and landline and cellphone calls are not possible after a disaster, texting gives you another option. (


You and your personal support network should always notify each other when you are going out of town and when you will return.


The relationship should be mutual. You have a lot to contribute! Learn about each other’s needs and how to help each other in an emergency. You might take responsibility for food supplies and preparation, organizing neighborhood watch meetings and interpreting, among other things.


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If you need assistance in obtaining the specific information you seek, please e-mail Grays Harbor County Emergency Management at: [email protected]
or call (360)-249-3911 x 1575