Edited Version November 10, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Panel Discussion

"Impact of Emegencies and Disasters on Minority Communities"

Chip Hines, FEMA
presenting on behalf of
Kay Goss
FEMA Associate Director for Preparedness, Training, and Exercises

Kathy McKoy
Employee Development Specialist
FEMA PT&E Directorate

Stephanie Myers
EPIP Project Coordinator
R.J. Myers Publishing and Consulting Company

The original transcript of the November 10, 1999 online Virtual Forum Panel Discussion is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum <http://www.emforum.org>. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenters to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

We will start with a presentation, and then follow with a Q&A session for your questions and comments. Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review the procedure. Please do NOT send direct messages to the speakers or moderator as it makes it difficult for us to follow the discussion.

Today's topic is the "Impact of Emergencies and Disasters on Minority Communities" and FEMA Preparedness, Training and Exercise Directorate, under the leadership of Ms. Kay Goss, has formed a new partnership to address outreach to minority communities, including a recent workshop.

Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/991110.htm>. Please note that there is a list of six discussion questions posted there, and we will be going through them and asking for your feedback/input during the interactive portion.


We have a couple of revision in our participants. Kay Goss could not be with us after all due to other obligations, so our friend at FEMA HQ, Chip Hines will deliver an introduction to this topic for her. Ralph Swisher of FEMA Community and Family Preparedness program is with Chip and will assist in responding to questions.

Marshall Johnson, State Training Officer in the Emergency Management Division of the Michigan State Police has discovered that his building is on auxiliary power, due to a Y2K exercise today, and cannot join us.

We are pleased to have Kathy McKoy, Employee Development Specialist with FEMA's PT&E Directorate, who will describe some of their experiences with the African American community and some of the special considerations. Good afternoon, Kathy.

Finally, Stephanie Myers with the firm of R.J. Myers Publishing and Consulting Company, and Project Coordinator for the "Emergency Preparedness Information Project," will conclude with information about recent activities and ongoing efforts. Welcome, Stephanie.

Kathy McKoy: Hello.

Stephanie Myers: Hello everyone.

Amy Sebring: Chip, if you will please start us off.


Kay Goss: My responsibility as FEMA's Associate Director for Preparedness, Training, and Exercises is to provide both the emergency management community AND people across this country with the means to establish, maintain, improve, and ensure the communities' protection against disasters.

FEMA's partnership with the African American Emergency Preparedness and Information Project (EPIP) deals with two priorities: (1) The need to communicate better with African American communities about how to protect themselves against disasters and (2) the need to reach everyone in this country about Y2K preparedness.

A lot of African Americans don't think about disaster until they happen because they have more immediate worries. A lot of African Americans don't think Y2K is their problem because they don't control those high tech systems they hear about. But if the power goes out or the water system is polluted, or they can't get to the grocery store or pump gas. Everyone is affected. It could happen. It happens in major disasters all the time. For a variety of reasons, minority communities are among the most vulnerable.

That's why FEMA entered into the EPIP Partnership. Stephanie Myers, EPIP Project Director, will tell you more about what they are doing. I do want to say the first workshop was lively and a good, solid beginning. 19 national Black organizations took part. I am convinced by everything I heard in the workshop that this public/private partnership with Black organizations is going to reduce the needless loss and suffering in African American communities across the nation.

President Clinton, Director Witt and I all believe very strongly that programs of preparedness and mitigation must take every possible precaution to ensure that disaster losses are minimized, if not eliminated. Our partnership with you is a partnership for a safer future, with a vision for an informed public protecting their families, homes, workplaces, communities and livelihoods from the impacts of disasters.

Our greatest challenge over the next 2 months will be preparing for the millennium or Y2K bug. Y2K presents one the rarest opportunities the emergency management and public education communities will ever have to demonstrate to this nation and the entire world the vital role emergency preparedness should play in everyone's lives. Government relief cannot substitute for the responsibility individuals and organizations have to address their own situations.

I thank you for your interest in reaching the African American community with information that will help them protect themselves, and working together as a community to protect each other. I have said many times, and I'm even more convinced today that while Y2K causes genuine concern, in one sense it is a blessing in disguise. It is a wake-up call that has caused people to see the importance of preparedness, people who would not be concerned otherwise. When they are prepared for Y2K, they will be better prepared for virtually all disasters.

FEMA will do all it can to empower the African American community to fundamentally change the vulnerability of Black America to disasters. Working together we can make a big difference and improve disaster resistance in communities and neighborhoods. This will ensure a brighter and safer future for everyone.

We can achieve this together. Best of luck and keep up the good work! The best is yet to come!

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Chip and please convey our thanks to Kay. Next, Kathy has had an opportunity to observe the situation in the field, most recently in work related to Hurricane Floyd in New Jersey. Kathy?

Kathy McKoy: The challenges in the minority community are to identify the special needs groups (elderly, disabled, cultural, religious, etc.), sometimes this is hard to do. If the people are afraid to talk with you for whatever reason it's hard to know what they need. Another challenge is to identify and overcome cultural perceptions. Some groups of individuals believe that the government is out to get them and they will not come forth to get assistance.

This could very well be because of a history of past problems or concerns. Managing hostile audiences when people feel that they have been wronged and become angry can be difficult, and we in presenting our programs need to be sensitive to this anger.

One strategy is to identify the community leaders elected, appointed or otherwise. There is normally someone in the community that knows the history and who's who. Once we identify that someone, it makes delivery a little easier; to educate and train the communities about the disaster relief process and set realistic expectations.

Another strategy is to build confidence and follow through with promises made. This is a must you have to make sure you follow through. You should never promise anything you cannot deliver and always follow up. Treat all disaster applicants with respect and dignity.

The need is to provide all persons with clear, concise and accurate information concerning the disaster relief process and how to apply for assistance as soon as possible, to build partnerships, and to provide equal access to disaster assistance for all individuals to ensure efficient and equitable delivery of the assistance. The goal is to meet the emergency needs of all individuals in a timely manner and to make sure that all individuals are secure and safe.

It's very important to establish an immediate, identifiable on-scene presence at the disaster site to assess the critical needs of the community. We need to know and recognize the stages of the disaster recovery cycle. We need to provide the assistance necessary to allow individuals to work through their recovery cycle (stress and/or crisis counselors) and to act as a conduit of information to and from the community.

One of the most important strategies is to have trained individuals that identify with the needs of the communities and with whom the community can identify in turn.

These are some of our experiences and we are looking forward to hearing your experiences and observations as well. Thank you.

Amy Sebring: Finally, Stephanie, please bring us up to date on the project activities.

Stephanie Myers: Okay, Amy.

We were alarmed to learn several years ago that recent statistics by the U.S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), indicate that African American citizens are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by fire than the general population

We were even more disturbed to realize that due to the increase of natural disasters, fires, chemical and biological threats facing America, economically disadvantaged minority communities located in inner cities and rural communities would be at even greater risks in the future. Recent events in the wake of Hurricane Floyd have further convinced us at EPIP that many minority communities do not prepare adequately for disasters and are not what Director James Lee Witt refers to as "disaster resistant."

Realizing the potential risks that all communities face from disasters, we were interested to learn of the opportunity to work with the Partnerships Division of FEMA. When we met Kay Goss, one of the senior officials of FEMA, she further inspired us to work in the area of emergency preparedness. Ms. Goss has helped us to realize how important it is for minority communities to receive more emergency preparedness training, education and information than they currently receive. In order to do this there must be increased awareness and information dissemination in minority communities.

EPIP is a FEMA sponsored public/private partnership. The purpose of this partnership is to alert institutions and organizations in the African American community about the importance of emergency preparedness.

We are using on-line communications like this EM Forum today, workshops and newsletters to get the word out. Interested participants of the EM Forum can go to our Web site at http://www.epipgateway.com and view the materials we have posted there. While our Web site is still a "work in progress" you can download our recent newsletter-the "EPIP Bulletin", view Webcast lectures by Kay Goss, Associate Director of FEMA and several other emergency preparedness experts and link to other EM sites.

We are working to put national organizations in touch with the wealth of emergency preparedness information available to the public from FEMA, federal disaster response agencies and private emergency response organizations. To achieve this EPIP functions as an umbrella project linking representatives of the African American community to disaster readiness information. As mentioned earlier, our Web site provides links to information about how to prepare families and communities for natural disasters and other emergency situations, including Y2K.

We also recently worked with FEMA to host a meeting of representatives from organizations and universities. This meeting gave FEMA an opportunity to present information about Y2K and the importance of emergency preparedness. Speakers from FEMA, other federal agencies and the black press gave presentations about the unique aspects of working with disasters in under served minority communities.

In the future we will be publishing additional issues of our EPIP Bulletin newsletter, hosting on-line chats on our Web site similar to this one, and posting regular updates of information such as the recently released Senate report of Y2K and the White House Y2K report that came out this week.

We encourage civic leaders, faith-based organizations, national organizations, businesses, educational institutions, labor unions, on-line communities, the media, and community based organizations to download information from our Web site. We then encourage them to reproduce it, discuss it, and most importantly-to distribute the information to their relatives, members, neighbors, professional colleagues, etc.

If your emergency management office wants to work with EPIP we would like to put you on our mailing list and notify you about future activities. Send your mailing address or email address to <[email protected]>. Or, If you are seeking advice or consultation on how to reach out to the minorities in your community you can email me at <[email protected]>.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Stephanie. We will now start our interactive portion. First, we will take questions regarding the material just presented and then, we will continue on with our discussion questions. Please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your question, but wait for recognition before hitting the enter key or clicking on Send. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed. With that, we are ready to take your questions.

[Audience Questions]


Cam King:
Sorry - forgot how to ask the question while I have a prepared comment in the "window" so please excuse this "insertion". While I have a private community emergency management company here in Manitoba, Canada, my major contract is to develop an emergency management program (all facets) for First Nation (Indian Reserves) communities of which there are 62. We have completed 57 community plans and are now developing culturally appropriate manuals for the Emergency Manager and Emergency Social/Health.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Cam.


Ray Pena: To Stephanie - I looked over the EPIP site and found a lot of good info, already available on other sites like FEMA's. Exactly how does EPIP differ from other sites?

Stephanie Myers: We are a bridge between the African American community and FEMA. Typically, African American Web surfers don't visit federal sites, including FEMA. Therefore, our promotions on-line to various African American Web sites stimulates interest to the EPIP site which we have designed to be culturally sensitive.


Avagene Moore: Stephanie, can you tell by the interaction/traffic via your Web site if information is reaching minority audiences?

Stephanie Myers: Yes, Avagene. Our site is visited by minority organizations, churches, the on-line black community.


Melissa Garrison: Chip or Kay - What would be a good way to present Emergency Preparedness to a small community?

Ralph Swisher: Community/Town Hall meetings are a great way to get things going. FEMA has a variety of Community and Family Preparedness publications that are a good resource as well.

Melissa Garrison: Ok, thank you.


Justin Proffitt: To all I guess- Is the FEMA program just limited to Black Americans or is targeted toward all at-risk minority groups? Or are there other programs for the other minorities?

Kathy McKoy: All FEMA programs are for all at risk groups.

Ralph Swisher: The EPIP program is just getting started and is now starting with the African American Community, but our vision is to continue to reach out to the other minority groups.

Justin Proffitt: Thank you.

Russell Coile: California has learned many lessons in helping minorities. Languages - EQ info is available in 8 languages. Neighborhood emergency response teams train everyone. See <http://www.naem.com>. Also religious leaders have been very helpful in temples, etc.


Steve Davis: Chip - as you know, getting people to pay attention to Y2K preparedness has been tough. How do we get the message through to disadvantaged communities who will be impacted the most?

Stephen Apatow: For those who are interested we have uploaded preparedness materials (PDF Downloads) in Spanish, Chinese, Tagolog, Vietnamese, Korean & Cambodian Available on the FEMA site or <http://www.humanitarian.net/prepare.html>.


Steve Davis: But how do we get it to people living in low-income housing with no electronic communications?

Ralph Swisher: Well, we certainly hope that the EPIP approach will help. We think that going to the various leaders in minority communities will give credibility and get their attention.

Amy Sebring: Thank you. Before we go on to the discussion questions, one of the points raised by Kathy, is having community members in the business, that is, recruiting minorities into the emergency management profession.

We have been joined by Wayne Blanchard, FEMA's Higher Education Project and I have asked him to say a couple of words on the efforts of that program. Wayne?

Wayne Blanchard: Thank you, Amy. The Higher Education Project developed letters soliciting involvement in emergency management. They were sent to historically black colleges, Native American colleges, and colleges serving Hispanic students. We received a number of replies indicating interest in developing Higher Education Programs serving their students and communities. We are very encouraged by the responses received to date and the follow-up activity. I think that there will be progress to report within the year. Thanks for the question.


Stephanie Myers: Hello, Wayne. Glad to hear about letters going out. How many colleges were contacted and have any of them responded to date?

Wayne Blanchard: All together, more than 300 letters went out and have had a couple dozen serious responses.


Tracy Sondeen: Good morning, Wayne. How can the Regions support your activities?

Wayne Blanchard: I will provide the Regions with a breakout of all colleges contacted in their region and note where responses have been received. Am very receptive to suggestions on what you would like me to do.

[Discussion Questions]

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Wayne. At this point, we will continue on with our discussion questions. As I introduce each question, please go ahead and compose your thoughts. In order to facilitate the dialogue, you will not need to enter a question mark or wait for recognition. We don't have much time left. Just input your comment at the appropriate time. Once you have sent in your comment, you may want to look ahead and get ready for the next item. Note, all comments are welcome based on your experience or interest, no matter what job you may or may not have at the moment! See <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/991110.htm> for the list of questions.

Question #1:

Amy Sebring: Have you, as an emergency management professional/volunteer, had any first-hand experience with minority communities during disasters? Please share your experiences with us. Comments? We have had some input on this from Cam and Russell already. Other experiences?


Kathy McKoy: I have worked as Community Relations Field officers in various disasters with minority communities. One of our first goals is to identify the areas and groups of individuals impact and make a concerted effort that they know the process of applying for disaster assistance and that they know when and where.

Justin Proffitt: I have no "first-hand" experiences. But in FL during Hurricane Irene, migrant communities were affected and we had to use local ethnic leaders to go into the communities. Like what was said earlier, they were very distrustful of the disaster assistance teams, community contacts were very helpful in this situation

Amy Sebring: Thank you Kathy and Justin. Other experiences?

Wayne Blanchard: I have worked in several shelters with very diverse users -- dealing with culturally based frictions was a full-time job in a couple of those shelters and was very much a learning experience for me.

Amy Sebring: That's an interesting point.

Stephen Apatow: I have with substance abuse issues, coordinated a touch out reach project across the U.S. dealing with dissemination of information and materials from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. We found many challenges in bringing excellent resources to our target audiences on the grass roots level.

Amy Sebring: My own experience is that our largest "minority" which is now actually the "majority" here in South Texas is the Hispanic community, so bilingual services is important. We did initiate some outreach to all our churches, but it did not get very far. But my knowledge of developments over the last year is not current. Let's go on.

Question #2

Amy Sebring: Does your emergency management program have a special outreach initiative to minority communities? Do you think you need one? Comments?


Stephanie Myers: Did anyone have any first hand experiences with the African American community in North Carolina during Hurricane Floyd? Would you share your experiences?

Melissa Garrison: I am not certain about the program in this area but I think we need one. Who would I have to contact to find out about it?

Amy Sebring: Do you have a local emergency management office, Melissa? If you are in a rural area, it is probably in your county offices.

Melissa Garrison: I am not certain. I live in Haines City, Florida. I guess it would be the county offices.

Jim Acosta: I am interested in organizing an EMP for physically and developmentally disabled folks. Are there any current models?

Amy Sebring: Jim, we have done a number of programs on "Special Needs". You may want to start by looking through our transcripts.

Stephen Apatow: Touch outreach, direct contact with those whom we wanted to impact was found to be our most effective pathway, otherwise the mass inundation of information just buries the best communication strategies.

Avagene Moore: I live in a small community of 10K citizens. The only outreach I know of is that city law enforcement is training some of their officers to speak some Spanish for our growing Hispanic community.

Ray Pena: Q2 - only as outreach applies to people who speak languages other than English. Otherwise, everything is the same. We go out of our way to demonstrate that everyone is provided with the same service, regardless of any differences.

Cam King: We are find that the material must be culturally appropriate while assuring that they all are "speaking the same language'".

Tracy Sondeen: I have taken the multi-lingual CFP brochures to an elementary school in the Denver area. The teacher said when the parents of these children came to their disaster display, it was the first occasion many of them had with the school system, where materials in their native language had been made available. No other program had done that in the school. The parents were very gratified to see the materials in a form they could understand.

Wayne Blanchard: I would agree with Mr. King and also note, based on my community disaster education experience in a local community, not all approaches are appropriate for every group in the community.

Justin Proffitt: Wouldn't any program like this be attached to a community relations team model?

Amy Sebring: Justin, in my experience, you usually have a Public Information Officer designated in your plan, which may be able to provide assistance.

Kathy McKoy: Justin I think you are right. That's how we do it at FEMA for disasters.

Amy Sebring: Stephanie or Kathy, can you note the differences in urban vs. rural communities?

Kathy McKoy: The audience make up is different. the program does not need to change but maybe your delivery method should.

Justin Proffitt: Yes, I agree Kathy.

Amy Sebring: Let's go on to the next one.

Question # 3

Amy Sebring: What types of media outlets or other communication channels do you use to reach minority communities, before, during, or after disaster? Comments?


Amy Sebring: Stephen Apatow mentions direct contact. Tracy brings up school children. Other ideas?

Kathy McKoy: Clergy is always good.

Justin Proffitt: Churches very good outlet for info.

Amy Sebring: The next is related.

Question # 4:

Amy Sebring: Who in your experience, have been the most effective spokespersons in your community to reach the African American or other minority communities? Comments?


Stephanie Myers: the EPIP experience has been primarily urban where the transfer of information is much easier due to population density. However, we do have EPIP partners in the rural south and they are working through local organizations, historically black colleges and other groups to reach out.

J R Stafford: Ethnic Newspapers and Local Cable (foreign language) may pick it up too.

Avagene Moore: Clergy is very effective.

Justin Proffitt: Churches. Community leaders. Community radio stations.

AmySebring: In my experience, there are usually active advocates on a range of issues, and it would be good to tap them, if possible.

Amy Sebring: As Stephanie notes on the EPIP sites, we are also talking about Hazardous Materials type incidents. We do have large fixed facilities in our community, surrounded by poorer and minority families. I gather this is not an uncommon situation.'

Justin Proffitt: Nope.

Kathy McKoy: The unappointed mayor - the one everyone in town listens to

Mike Krumlauf: I think it is important to have a two pronged approach much like we have with fire safety. Give the children a good program with which they can grow up while using the community outreach for adults now.

Justin Proffitt: Yes and the children can bother their parents about it as well :)

Stephanie Myers: During the recent EPIP workshop a representative from the black press complained that local minority news organizations were not adequately informed to inform communities about pending disasters, used to reach citizens during disasters.

Amy Sebring: Yes, there is curriculum development going on now. Will issues of culture be integrated? Ralph?

Ralph Swisher: In curriculum development, the basic message comes first, and then information for the teacher about adapting it to different cultures.

Stephen Apatow: Does anyone have access to a minority focused media list ?

Amy Sebring: Stephen, I expect Stephanie may be able to help you?

Tracy Sondeen: In the highly mobile society, is there still an unappointed mayor? How do we reach the unchurched and semi-transients in today's communities?

Justin Proffitt: At work or on TV, I guess Tracy.

Kathy McKoy: In certain cultures there will always be an unappointed mayor.

Stephen Apatow: Direct mail, media, newspapers, house to house.

J R Stafford: Excuse me Stephanie, do we have a language barrier with the Black Community that they can't understand local TV? Why must they have minority news? Here in California you are talking people who can't understand the language. Asian, Hispanic. There is the problem.

Avagene Moore: Include homeless shelters and soup kitchens in outreach.

Stephen Apatow: We must saturate from as many angles as possible.

Stephanie Myers: Normally, the local library will carry a list of local minority media outlets. This can be a good resource.

Amy Sebring: I find meeting with community groups to be at least a small way to get the word out, civic groups etc. I suppose identifying those and targeting will help.

Justin Proffitt: It is my experience that in minority communities there is a closeness that fosters an "un-appointed mayor"

Amy Sebring: We are getting short on time. I will need to wrap up. But you are welcome to stay and continue the discussion. Let's go through the last two questions quickly.

Question # 5:

Amy Sebring: What practical ways have you found that have helped minority groups to recognize the value of being ready for disasters? Comments?


Melissa Garrison: I think that past experiences would probably help to prepare for different emergencies. I feel that we can learn a lot from past disasters and how to better prepare for them or others in the future.

Amy Sebring: Yes, the window of opportunity during recovery. Other ideas?

Kay Goss: This is not just a question of language. To effectively communicate with different groups you must know what and who they listen to, and why.

Justin Proffitt: Showing them they are most vulnerable, compared to other groups.

Kathy McKoy: Use the "what's in it for me" concept. Show them the benefit to them

Question # 6:

Amy Sebring: Finally, what success have you had in convincing African Americans or other minorities in your community that Y2K has anything to do with them? Comments?


Melissa Garrison: I don't think there has been a lot of success in our somewhat small community.

Justin Proffitt: I agree with Melissa, not a lot of success.

Stephen Apatow: The upper and middle classes for the most part don't believe Y2K is even an issue.

Steve Davis: I went to an inner-city potluck dinner in DC that was just as poorly attended as a community conversation.

Amy Sebring: Yes, I don't think this is unique to minority communities, Stephen!

Avagene Moore: Depends on who you listen to. Conflicting messages out there.

Steve Davis: We need preparedness to become part of the popular culture, not happening!

Ray Pena: About the same success as I have had convincing the community as a whole that Y2K has anything to do with them. Nothing new there.

Justin Proffitt: I think Y2K is not on many minds, though. Hurricanes, HazMat, leaks, and earthquakes are probably more salient here.

Steve Davis: Clinton spoke on Y2K today but said nothing about preparedness

Stephanie Myers: J.R. First of all, aside from the general issues surrounding emergency alerts there is often a credibility issue within the black community relative to the national press. Very often African American citizens choose to get their information from sources they feel more comfortable with. Past experiences have shown that seldom will minorities be visually seen as being affected in a disaster. It's very easy to conclude that African Americans in those instances were simply not affected. Thus, the credibility problem.

Amy Sebring: We have run over, a valuable discussion, and we can continue after our wrap up. Thank you very much to all our panelists today, and to our audience for your input and participation. Let's go to Avagene for upcoming events.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Thanks to our speakers today for a very interesting session. Good job! Good ideas and discussion!

Next Tuesday, Nov 16, 12 Noon ET, the EIIP Round Table will be discussing various electronic communication tools. For example, we are working John Peterson, NASA, to test some video teleconferencing. We will report on that and other tools available to all of us. Believe you will find this informal discussion very enlightening.

Next Wednesday, Nov 17, 12 Noon Eastern, Rita Henry, FEMA Mitigation Directorate, will be with us to talk about the Dam Safety Program and announce next spring's National Dam Safety Day. Be with us for both these sessions. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene. We had three new pledges since yesterday, Deborah Bertrand from Nebraska, Mike Krumlauf from Maryland, and Douglas Chandler, Washington Mutual Bank. <//bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav>. Thanks Deb, Mike and Doug! Only 12 more pledges to go. Our thermometer is looking good! Please see <http://www.emforum.org/eiip/pledge.htm> to pledge to attend one or more sessions per month.

We will adjourn the session for now, but you are invited to remain for open discussion.