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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Importance of Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response

Author: Sulava Gautam, MPP and Yancy Padilla, Social Work Graduate Intern, Division for At Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
Published Date: 4/27/2015 9:19:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Hospital Preparedness; Observances;

This year’s National Minority Health Month provides a unique opportunity to reflect on our work in raising awareness and addressing the health care disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities. While significant progress has been made towards advancing health equity in the last 30 years, as a nation, we still have a long way to go.

Research continuously demonstrates that minority populations are disproportionately impacted by disasters. Language barriers and cultural differences within communities make information sharing and access to resources more challenging. This can lead to decreased levels of preparedness, increased challenges during an emergency response, and slower recovery in minority communities.

Since disasters and public health emergencies can impact anyone and anywhere, emergency managers and public health officials must be prepared to provide access to public health and medical services to all affected individuals and communities. An inclusive and integrated approach to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities will help us meet our nation’s needs as the racial and ethnic diversity in the United States continues to grow. This approach should ensure that the culturally and linguistically diverse populations are not overlooked or misunderstood and receive appropriate services as needed.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Disaster Preparedness and Response (ASPR) recognizes the importance of an inclusive and integrated approach across all disaster-related activities. As such, we are pleased to announce the release of a new fact sheet and webpage on cultural and linguistic competency in disaster preparedness and crisis response. Developed in consultation with the Office of Minority Health and utilizing the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards), these resources detail the importance of developing cultural and linguistic competency for emergency managers and public health officials to better meet the needs of diverse populations and to improve the quality of services and health outcomes during and after a disaster. Emergency managers and public health officials who are prepared to address the cultural needs of communities affected by adverse events can be instrumental in reducing people’s psychological distress, meeting the community’s needs to recovery effectively, and improving the overall health and community resilience of the nation.

As we come together to celebrate National Minority Health Month, take some time to focus on developing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to improve cultural and linguistic competency in your community. It can help all of our communities become stronger and more resilient in the face of disasters and other health challenges that our communities face.


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