When disasters strike, families, businesses — whole communities — can be affected. History has taught us that being prepared can save lives and help to mitigate what happens when the immediate threat is over.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is charged with preparing and responding to disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other natural diasters.

With lessons learned in the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, regional subsets of FEMA representatives regularly meet to share and discuss information that could improve planning and response.

​CU Denver’s Buechner Institute in the School of Public Affairs hosted the two-day FEMA Region VIII RISC meeting (Regional Interagency Steering Committee) this week in the Terrace Room of the Lawrence Street Center.

What the research shows

During the meeting, Buechner Institute Executive Director Brian Gerber, PhD, associate professor, shared research he’s worked on regarding the ‘whole community’ to understand needs, engagement and empowerment and to strengthen what has worked related to disaster preparedness. Part of the research includes data collected several years ago among people with various types of disabilities — physical, mental and emotional.

“One important aspect of the research is to understand what preparedness means to a community,” Gerber said. For example, questions posed in the survey included whether or not individuals have evacuation plans, evacuation location options or if they will ‘shelter in place.’

Gerber noted that slightly more survey participants from an earlier disaster — who self-reported disabilities — did indicate that they evacuated when told to do so by authorities. The data also looked at individuals’ experiences during evacation proceedures.

Overall, Gerber said there is more to be learned in reviewing the information already collected and what additonal questions might be useful in future research.

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