As a community begins to rebuild and create a new normal, capabilities that have implications for socially vulnerable populations include health and social services, housing, and economic recovery. Health and social services is the restoration and improvement of health and social services networks to promote the resilience, independence, health (including behavioral health), and well-being of the whole community (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011). This capability includes considerations for restoration of health and social services based on at-risk individuals. FEMA attempted to define at-risk individuals, but only included children, people with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and people with access and functional needs, which was originally a reference to people with disabilities (Kailes & Enders, 2007) that FEMA has adapted to encompass a larger but more nebulous range of socially vulnerable populations. The challenge with the terminology of access and functional needs is that it only focuses on the needs of some people after emergencies (there are no considerations for low-income, people of color, socially isolated, among others) and the context is predominantly about evacuation and sheltering.
Ideally, emergency plans exist for populations who need the most support and resources to ensure they are safely evacuated or sheltered (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2009). However, “…our country has yet to address the long-term affects disasters can have on families and individuals who suffer through them” (Hansell, 2009, p. ). An example Hansell provided was that after Hurricane Katrina, there was no plan in place to properly support the return of Louisiana’s citizens to their homes or to provide for the needs of residents once they arrived. As a result, thousands of the most vulnerable populations continue to suffer a long recovery process.
The analysis that resulted in the Social Determinants of Vulnerability Framework indicates that socially vulnerable populations have multiple obstacles to accessing post-incident resources and benefits made available as part of the recovery process. These barriers including being a renter, lack of access to a vehicle, being homeless, low-to-no income, older adults, person of color (particularly Latino/Hispanic), and social isolation. The Framework provides a straightforward and clear method for local government to identify people who are most vulnerable to focus outreach and make better decisions about the provision of human services as well as housing and economic recovery. This approach will help reduce the likelihood of prohibited housing discrimination and inequity in economic stabilization of communities as witnessed post-Katrina (Muñiz, 2006).