We all know the value of culture – it is an integral part of our lives and provides an individual, a population, and a community with a unique identity and character. So why is culture competency important in emergency preparedness and disaster response?

There are various reasons why culture and disasters interconnect, according to Jane Harkey MSW, RNC of Rutgers University, who leads continuing education efforts for local preparedness and response initiatives:

  • People prepare, respond and recover from a disaster within the perspective of their culture (e.g.  beliefs, norms, rituals)
  • Culture provides a framework that is supportive and can provide social support to survivors in a disaster
  • Culture defines suitable behavior and provides individuals with a support system among a comparable social class creating a sense of community and shared vision for recovery within a community
  • Individuals and various groups responds differently in a disaster, making some groups more vulnerable than others
  • Vulnerable and minority groups are likely to suffer worse outcomes compared to other populations

The Cornerstone of Culturally Competency during the Disaster Cycle (C3DC) is a program developed by the Louisiana State University School of Nursing in New Orleans in 2011 to provide the necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills related to cultural competency in emergency preparedness and disaster response to help health care providers understand the impact that culture has on individuals and communities in a disaster. Cultural competency is an important strategy to reduce health disparities and improve quality of care, especially for individuals and communities facing a disaster situation. The C3DC program consists of twelve online courses, one hour each that focuses on nine vulnerable populations that are deemed as high risk for adverse outcomes from disasters:

  1. Older adult/senior
  2. Obstetrics/perinatal/neonatal
  3. Medically needy/terminally ill
  4. Children/pediatrics
  5. Homeless
  6. Individuals with disabilities
  7. Individuals living in rural areas
  8. Mental illness
  9. Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

The other three courses cover material such as basic disaster and emergency preparedness concepts and competencies.

The courses target nurses and nursing students, but social workers and other health care providers who participate in emergency preparedness and disaster relief may find the information useful in providing care and services to individuals in a disaster situation. Each course addresses specific interventions (e.g. emergency birth kit, mental health referrals, providing psychological first aid, utilizing risk assessment tools) for each of the vulnerable populations that may be beneficial in improving quality of care and health outcomes during each of the disaster phases. For more information, visit the Department of Health and Human Service, Disaster Information Management Research Center: http://disasterlit.nlm.nih.gov/record/6807.

Disclosure: This project is supported by funds from the Division of Nursing (DN), Bureau of Health Professions (BHPr), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under grant number D11HP22192.The information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any official endorsement be inferred by, the DN, BHPr, HRSA, DHHS, or the US Government. There is no conflict of interest or relevant financial interest by the faculty or planners of this activity. There is no commercial support for this activity. There is no endorsement or any product by LSUHSC School of Nursing for this activity.