Disaster preparedness for vulnerable populations in Sonoma County
In the United States, authorities in Sonoma County, California, surveyed local civil society organizations to gather information on the numbers, locations and needs of their beneficiary population in order to develop a contingency and emergency communication plan for local groups with specific needs. They have created a Disaster Preparedness for Vulnerable Populations work group, which meets every other month to discuss emergency planning and response for a wide range of vulnerable populations in their community and the agencies that serve them.
States and other stakeholders have laws, policies, and programs on prevention, preparedness, and emergency response to reduce the impact of crises. Taking into account the presence of migrants, their vulnerabilities, and their potential needs in prevention, preparedness, and emergency response frameworks, including on disaster risk reduction (DRR), can promote resilience in the event of a conflict or natural disaster. Clear laws and policies on migrants’ eligibility for different types of assistance in the event of a crisis promote certainty. If the presence of migrants is not known or is inadequately incorporated in planning, stakeholders may overlook migrants in their responses. If stakeholders fail to appreciate factors that make migrants vulnerable, such as language barriers, isolated working conditions, irregular immigration status, or mistrust of authorities, responses may be ineffective. When laws and policies are unclear, responses towards migrants can be unpredictable and insufficient.
Migrants themselves and civil society may be in the best position to assist States and other stakeholders to appreciate the presence of migrants, their vulnerability, and needs. In this respect, involving migrants and civil society in the development of prevention, preparedness, and emergency response measures can be helpful. Such actions also build trust between migrant populations and State and non-State actors who provide protection.
Migrants and civil society also have capacities and resources that they can contribute to preparedness and emergency response. Their language abilities, first-hand knowledge of migrant populations, understanding of cultural norms within their communities, and ability to foster greater trust toward State authorities and other actors can be leveraged to create more comprehensive and effective systems and programs.
- Platforms to facilitate the engagement of migrants in the design and implementation of prevention, preparedness, and emergency response systems.
- Taking migrants into account in national and local frameworks on prevention, preparedness, and emergency response, including by recognizing migrants as a specific group with needs and capacities.
- Recruitment of migrants as staff or volunteers in prevention, preparedness, and emergency response mechanisms.
States, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society often work with fewer resources than required. Each of these stakeholders has unique skills, resources, and strengths. Working together to build partnerships, entering into agreements, and establishing routine coordination improves collective responses towards migrants, and prevents duplication of efforts. Such arrangements are best entered into before the next conflict or natural disaster, when stakeholders have the opportunity to anticipate challenges and leverage unique skills and strengths. Joint planning and coordination maximizes resources, improves the effectiveness of responses, and fosters trust between stakeholders. Involving migrants and civil society, who have first-hand knowledge of the specific needs and challenges faced by migrants, can improve the effectiveness of efforts to protect migrants in countries experiencing crises, including at the local, national, regional, or international levels.
These arrangements may relate to a range of activities relevant to the needs of migrants during the emergency phase and its aftermath—from collection of data to information sharing, consular services to identity assessments, awareness-raising to strategic communication plans, provision of humanitarian relief and services to referral systems, capacity-building to evacuation and reintegration assistance, and much more. This may include coordination and information sharing among anti-trafficking experts and humanitarian assistance providers to ensure screening for trafficking and referral to appropriate services. Additionally, by developing systems to identify refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless persons, States can better ensure that these persons are appropriately referred to the available refugee and other protection mechanisms.
Stakeholders can often arrange in advance key services and resources that will be in high demand when a crisis hits, including transportation, shelter, food, health care, and timely and accurate information. Establishing and maintaining clear channels of communication between consular posts and relevant agencies of the host State is important. Such channels of communication could prove critical during crisis situations.
- Pre-arranged agreements among stakeholders, such as agreements between States and international organizations for identity verification, shared use of assets, family tracing, and deployment of experts and humanitarian personnel.
- Multi-stakeholder agreements for relocation and evacuation that set out roles and responsibilities of partners and provide guidance on allocation of costs.
- Cross-border cooperation on crisis preparedness, taking into account particular needs of migrants, especially at a local level for communities that straddle borders.
- Reciprocal consular assistance and representation agreements to address gaps in situations where States do not have a diplomatic or consular presence in a country or have limited capacity