For many reasons, some emergency planning and preparedness efforts have excluded immigrant and migrant populations. Florida – where many pockets of dense Caribbean and Hispanic populations and much of the state is exposed to natural hazards – is a frontline example of inclusion in emergency management policy and practices. Examining the emergency management plans of the metropolitan areas with the largest Caribbean and Latin American immigrant and migrant populations locates some best practices for multicultural inclusion in emergency planning. Those best practices, coupled with a literature review of studies that have assessed the resilience and vulnerability of similar groups elsewhere in the United States, provide an assessment tool that preparedness professionals can replicate where Hispanic and Caribbean populations are growing.
Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) Analysis
Florida contains a diverse demographic of cultures, which include those of the Caribbean basin and Latin America. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the largest Caribbean populations have settled in:
Fort Meyers-Cape Coral—Representing Lee and Collier Counties;
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater – Representing Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
The densest Haitian populations include the same cities as the Caribbean areas plus the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island (Collier County) and Cape Coral-Fort Myers (Lee County) areas. Although no CEMP could be found for Pinellas County, all other counties have been accounted for in this review.
In most of these counties’ CEMPs, the keywords Haitian, Caribbean, Creole, Spanish, Hispanic, Latino, Limited English Proficiency (LEP), Immigrant, Migrant, vulnerable, and variations of these words were difficult to find or not mentioned at all. Mentions of these words often referred to preparedness for mass migration from the Caribbean or vulnerability due to limited English skills rather than actionable accommodations to better serve their Caribbean and Latin American constituents.
The purpose of this project was to create a tool for better monitoring and assessing of immigrant populations before, during, and after disasters.
Some exceptions to this trend are in the CEMPs of Miami-Dade County, Hillsborough County, and Collier County. These exceptions represent only one county from each metropolitan area identified by the Migration Policy Institute but none for the Orlando metro area, which has the state’s second-largest number of Caribbean and Latin Americans. The Miami-Dade CEMP acknowledges migrant seasonal farmworkers as a vulnerable population that is difficult to interface and communicate with. As such, that county’s Office of Emergency Management has identified partner organizations in the community that can help them deliver information to groups that are difficult to reach. Additionally, recognizing that approximately 75% of their population does not speak English as a first language and 34% have a poor command of the English language, Miami-Dade makes concerted efforts to broadcast public information and emergency warnings in English, Spanish, Creole, and other languages as time and resources permit.
In Collier County, which encompasses Naples, Marco Island, and Immokalee, the County Manager of Operations also acknowledges its population of 600-700 migrant farmworkers in East Naples and Immokalee. Collier County has a population of approximately 371,400, with about one-third of its population over 65. About 33% of the people also reported in the 2021 Census data speaking a non-English language at home, and 148,000 identified as Hispanic/Latino. Collier County acknowledges that “migrant people may also have limited resources available to them such as food, school, water, work, translators, and housing.” As such, Collier has a running list of radio and television stations that broadcast in Spanish and Creole and use those channels to release public information announcements when necessary. While awareness of communication and service barriers is critical in an emergency management plan, more specific action items and relationships to help facilitate the navigation of these barriers would constitute a more effective plan. Collier’s LMS Hazard Analysis – a subsection of the CEMP – also includes a comprehensive list of known hate groups in the region, including but not limited to anti-immigrant groups (see pp. 179-180). While most other CEMPs focus on migrants and migration as a hazard, Collier incorporates a perspective of migrant protection – the only example of such hazard recognition that this review discovered.
Hillsborough County encompasses the city of Tampa and neighbors Pinellas County, for which no CEMP could be found. Its population is over 1.4 million people, 427,381 of which identify as Hispanic/Latino, and nearly 30% of 2021 Census respondents reported speaking a language other than English at home. Hillsborough County’s CEMP identifies best practices for distributing disaster planning guides in English and Spanish at the beginning of every hurricane season, including a map of hurricane evacuation zones and criteria. The county also recognizes that small population percentages speak Creole, Vietnamese, and Korean. Regarding migrant seasonal farmworkers, Hillsborough County identified the eastern and southern areas of the county where many migrant seasonal farmworkers work. They also acknowledge underestimating this population’s size during harvest season (official estimates only account for 500 workers). Emergency public broadcasting is done in both English and Spanish, with an emphasis on the inclusion of vulnerable populations – including those with limited English proficiency – listed under the responsibilities of the County Recovery Manager in the Hillsborough CEMP.
Creating a Tool to Better Serve All Populations
The purpose of this project was to create a tool for better monitoring and assessing immigrant populations before, during, and after disasters. Because there are many reasons to distrust those who seek personal identifying information from immigrant groups, it is essential to analyze best practices for public engagement and facilitation of effective participation within the target population.
A 2020 research study of undocumented Latino/a and indigenous migrants in central California explored barriers to resilience and experiences of marginalization. While this study highlights important shortcomings in disaster services frameworks, it is not scalable or replicable due to its sampling methods (i.e., most interview subjects and observations were from people the researchers knew from previous professional connections). Although this data collection method still offers a relevant perspective, the sampling does not necessarily protect the integrity of the data. Additionally, the fact that the researchers had prior relationships with the participants is an asset that will not always be available in similar studies and must be accounted for when developing a readily available tool to replicate a similar needs assessment in new or other locations.
Mark VanLandingham studied the Vietnamese immigrant population in southeast Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, VanLandingham used wellness information from a grant-funded study called “Health Impacts of International Migration” (HIIM), which had some suitable indicators for measuring disaster recovery. The biggest coincidental strength of VanLandingham’s research was that it established a baseline on the Vietnamese population before Hurricane Katrina, making the post-Katrina assessment much more comparable. In developing a replicable migrant and immigrant needs assessment surrounding disasters, it is important to ensure that baseline data can be recorded before a disaster or crisis.
Similar to the migrant study in California, VanLandingham accessed the Vietnamese population in southeast Louisiana by tapping into the social network of a local community-based organization. The Catholic church had a suitable population register for the Vietnamese community. Also similar to the California migrant community, the Vietnamese community is tightly knit, making entry without a community-based researcher difficult. Finding someone well-connected or at least respected in the target population is vital for collecting sufficient data in immigrant and migrant communities. Additional aspects of both studies’ research methods include incentivization and follow-up methods, standardized self-assessments, a mixed-methods approach, and qualitative data collection focused on community consultation.
The Promotores(as) Model
Promotores(as) de Salud – otherwise known as Community Health Workers – is a model used by public health agencies to reach marginalized populations such as migrant and immigrant Hispanic communities. As described in a report written by the Center for the Study of Social Policy:
The Promotor Model…[is] based on Community Health Worker (CHW) Programs that have been established throughout the world since the 1920s. There are several different types of Community Health Worker models, which vary based on program goals and activities, as well as the communities being served. However, their common aim is to build community capacity through a range of activities, such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy.
This model leverages the social capital and the passion and motivation to take action that is already present in the target community to encourage outreach, organizing, and relationship building that can create positive change in that population. As criticized in research methods of California and Louisana migrant populations, investigators could only progress as far as second-degree relationships could take them. However, if a frontline organization had the resources to train and fund citizens of these communities of concern in vulnerability assessment and disaster planning, these Promotores(as) would be accomplishing a two-for-one task:
Strengthening individual and social resilience, and
Assessing the needs of populations that do not frequently interface with government officials.
A priority in the 2017 version of Miami-Dade County’s CEMP was allocating information and resources to pre-selected frontline community organizations to reach the marginalized populations, and stakeholder engagement is still an obvious priority in its updated 2022 version. Suppose other governments with vulnerable and “(in)visible” constituents did the same and added more funding and training to those outreach programs. In that case, the government could build disaster resilience in underserved communities while simultaneously building respect and trust they could not previously generate within these hidden areas of migrant and immigrant workers. The proposed methodology to develop this needs assessment tool has three steps:
First, reach out to effective frontline community organizations that interface with target populations regularly. Then, work with them to identify meaningful resilience and vulnerability indicators through preliminary qualitative and archival analysis.
Second, recruit Promotores(as) to create an assessment survey utilizing the selected indicators and provide training on conducting community surveys and providing disaster preparedness information and consultation.
Third, use these Promotores(as) to conduct the needs assessment before and after disasters, utilizing the same participants when possible, thus establishing a comparable baseline.
Taking Outreach and Assessment Tools to the Next Level
Exploring how immigrant and migrant populations have been assessed for disaster vulnerability in Florida and identifying common vulnerability indicators within target populations illustrates the gap between emergency management plans and target population vulnerability. Better data collection tools to assess these populations can help close this gap. Previous case studies and assessment tools used to analyze migrant and immigrant populations sometimes failed to take objective samples. Instead, they leveraged the readily available social capital to scratch the surface of the deep pool of relationships within their target groups. If used as prescribed, this new assessment tool combines the Promotores(as) of the public health model with effective research to truly get to the root of this target population’s problems. In addition, by training community members to conduct their own needs assessments, they also participate in the disaster preparedness cycle themselves.
Retrieving accurate data and establishing effective outreach take time and trust, which is what existing assessments lack. To bridge the sociocultural gaps between government, academia, and Caribbean and Hispanic/Latino communities, those communities must have a voice. This new assessment method gives agency and ownership to subjects and investigators alike, hopefully empowering communities to tell their own stories in ways that allow them to advocate and prepare for themselves.
Maxwell Palmer is a soon-to-be graduate from Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, where he has earned a Master of Science. He has spent time volunteering with a migrant health network in Southwest Virginia, where he earned a dual B.A. in Civic Innovation and Spanish Language and Culture from Emory & Henry College. As a former wildland firefighter, he is familiar with the emergency management field and incident command system, and is interested in exploring more community-based approaches to disaster preparedness that connect marginalized populations to critical services at all stages of the disaster cycle.