Skip to main content
Many King County facilities are closed to the public. Learn how to access services remotely or while practicing social distancing guidelines.  
King County logo

Vulnerabilities before, during, and after emergencies are firmly rooted in established structural and systemic barriers . Emergencies can create an environment in which material and physical resources are further stretched thin, exacerbating the effects of existing inequities. Those that need the most support are often the individuals who get the least information, resources and services in emergencies.

Groups Impacted by Inequity (often referred to in traditional emergency management as "vulnerable populations") can be defined broadly to include any individual, group, or community who experience systemic differences in opportunities to obtain information, and/or access to and use of customary (mainstream, traditional) resources offered in disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

The following groups have been identified to be at-risk of disproportionate impacts in an emergency. It is important to acknowledge that the descriptions and potential barriers listed below should be viewed as interdependent, meaning people may fall into more than one of the groups, potentially exacerbating the barriers and impacts.


Groups Impacted by Inequity (GII)
Description
Potential Barriers
Aging Adults and Children Individuals whose chronological age may impact their motor or cognitive capabilities and who may need assistance with daily activities.

Potential barriers may exist for pre-lingual children, unaccompanied minors, isolated older adults, or adults who need additional assistance to obtain information and resources.

Individuals with Medical Needs

Individuals who take medication or need equipment to sustain life or control conditions for quality of life (e.g., people living with diabetes; weakened immune systems, those who cannot be in/use public accommodations.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and life sustaining resources if measures are not taken to ensure needs are met.
Individuals who are Blind

Individuals who are blind or have low vision, night blindness, color blindness, impaired depth perception, etc.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided in accessible formats.

Individuals who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Hard of Hearing

Individuals who are deaf, have situational loss of hearing, or limited-range hearing.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided in accessible formats.
Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Individuals may experience limitations in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior.

Potential barriers may exist for individuals who need additional assistance to understand and obtain information and resources.
Individuals with Mental Health Conditions Individuals who have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if the mental health condition is exacerbated by the stress of the emergency event or lack of access to medication.

May be particularly vulnerable when obtaining resources or in shelters if behaviors are misinterpreted and not understood as a symptom of a mental health condition.
Individuals with Limited Mobility

Individuals who use assistive devices or equipment to support movement.  Mobility may be limited by motor capabilities (e.g., wheel chairs, walkers, and crutches).

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided in an accessible location.

Individuals in high rises or buildings with limited access may be more vulnerable in situations where there is a power outage or a need for quick evacuation.
Individuals who have Experienced Domestic Violence Individuals living with domestic violence or who are domestic violence survivors.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if the individual is fearful or being controlled by the perpetrator. 

Survivors may be vulnerable to breaches in confidential locations and information during a major event which requires sheltering or evacuation.  May be vulnerable during power outages or when cell phone use is limited due to the potential for compromised security systems and limited means of communication.
Individuals Experiencing Homelessness or Transitional Housing Includes persons in shelters, on the streets, or temporarily housed.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if financial or other circumstances limit the ability to access what is needed.

May have difficulty obtaining resources and shelter if no address is available. May be more vulnerable to weather related disaster events such as winter storms, extreme heat, flooding, and other severe weather events.
Immigrant and Refugee Communities Persons who may have difficulty accessing information or services due to cultural differences/unfamiliarity or possible distrust of governmental systems.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided in accessible formats and if a distrust of the government and/or service providers exists.

Individuals who are Undocumented Individuals who do not have the required documentation to be permanent or temporary residents of the United States. Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided through trusted sources.  May be unwilling to access resources and services, including food and shelter if provided by government agency.

Individuals who are Limited or Non-English Speaking

Individuals who may not or have a limited ability to speak, read or write in English.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if not provided in accessible formats.
Individuals and Families with Limited Resources

Individuals who may not have the resources available to meet their own or their family’s needs.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if financial or other circumstances limit the ability to access what is needed.
Clients of the Criminal Justice System

Individuals who are currently or have been previously incarcerated, are on parole or under house arrest, or who are registered sex offenders, including juvenile clients.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if incarcerated or on house arrest and if a distrust of the government and/or service providers exists. Also, may be refused access to shelters and other resources.
Individuals Who Are Drug or Alcohol Dependent Individuals who are dependent on legal or illegal drugs including injectable drugs and/or alcohol and may be susceptible to experiencing the effects of withdrawal. Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if the emergency event causes an interruption in drug or alcohol supply or results in withdrawal symptoms.
People of Color

Individuals who are non-white, emphasizing common experiences of systemic racism.

Potential barriers to obtaining information and resources if distrust of the government and/or service providers exists and due to implicit bias by service providers and first responders.
Future work will include helpful emergency management tools and information specific to each of these populations as well as potentially updated definitions.