Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip over global navigation links
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Do you know who in your community is most at-risk in a disaster?

Author: ASPR/OPP Division of Policy and Strategic Planning
Published Date: 1/6/2017 10:10:00 AM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

When a disaster strikes, it can harm the health of anyone in your community. However, some people are less likely to weather the storm because they may have certain medical conditions, are not able to get the help they need, or because they rely on others for help.

Helping these people during an emergency and keeping their health secure means being prepared to meet their needs. Is your community-based organization ready to serve?

Who qualifies as “at-risk”?

People who will likely have more trouble staying safe and healthy during a disaster are known as “at-risk” individuals. At-risk individuals can include people who may have specific challenges that could prevent them from getting medical care before, during, or after a disaster or emergency. This can include physical restrictions or limitations people have that make them dependent on the help or assistance of others in a disaster event, or can include poor access to services they would need in an emergency, like transportation or accommodations.

Who would I consider to be my at-risk audiences?

Many community-based organizations work with or serve at-risk individuals every day. Here are a few examples of people whose health is at risk during a disaster. Focus on one or two groups you know your organization would be able to help secure in an emergency, and start to incorporate them into your disaster preparedness and health security planning.

  • Children
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • People with physical disabilities
  • Non-English speakers
  • Homeless people
  • People with chronic medical disorders
  • People with a life dependence on medications
  • People who depend on at-home medical equipment, such as ventilators

How can I best meet the needs of my at-risk audiences?

With a better idea of what types of people may qualify in your community as “at-risk,” you can now start to think about ways to incorporate them into your community health resilience and health security planning activities.

Here are some of the challenges that your organization could help address so that you can better keep your whole community healthy in a disaster.


People can only use disaster health information if they can understand it. Think about some common barriers to accessing information in your community. This can include people who are deaf or hard of hearing, speak American Sign Language, have limited to no English proficiency, are blind, or have cognitive limitations. Make sure any materials your organization develops can be understood by your community. Create targeted materials to help ensure the whole community can understand your message.

Maintaining Health

There are certain people who may require personal care assistance in the maintaining of daily activities, such as eating, dressing, and grooming. The needs of this group are unique and should have a place in your planning process. Decide how you will determine who needs help and how you will use volunteers and other resources to help them.


A sense of independence allows for people to function on their own, as long as they have the required health devices or supplies, such as diapers and formula, wheelchairs and walkers, service animals, and so on. If your organization can offer access to items like these, let other community organizations in your area know so they can include this information in their health security planning. If your organization may need items like these in a disaster event to help the people you serve, find out where you may be able to get these items in an emergency and include that information in your health security planning.

Many people rely on electricity powered medical equipment to remain independent. In a power outage, giving these people a place to plug in could save their lives or keep them out of the hospital. How many of these people are in your community? Check out the HHS emPOWER Map to find out! The HHS emPOWER Map provides information on the total number Medicare beneficiaries with electricity-dependent equipment in your state, county, or ZIP code.

Services and Support

Some people require specific behavioral or mental health needs. In the event of a disaster event, think about how people who rely on your community organization and may require support for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, severe mental illness, and more receive these services. During a disaster, cases of domestic violence often increase. As a community organization, you may be able to offer assistance for services like these to at-risk people in the area, or you may be able to connect your audiences to other local community organizations that can help.


There are many people who will need easy access to transportation during a disaster event or even in maintaining everyday health, regardless of disability, temporary injury, or poverty. How do you plan to get to the at-risk people in your area to assist them, or how can you help them get to your organization? Coordinate to ensure mass transit or accessible vehicles are taken into account in your health security planning.

If you know that a disaster is coming, plan to help get certain at-risk individuals the care that they need before a disaster strikes. For example, early dialysis saves lives during disasters. If there are dialysis-dependent patients in your community who lack access to transportation, help connect them with early dialysis services. Check out resources from the Kidney Community Emergency Response​​ ​(​​​​KCER) Program to help with planning.

Reach out to your local health or emergency management departments to find out more about how you can help at-risk people through your community-based efforts.

There are many planning guides available to help your community organization plan. Check out the At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health & Community Resilience (ABC) Resource Library for guides to help you get started.

For more information and resources on national health security, please visit


Add Comments:

This is a moderated blog-we will review all comments before posting them. To learn more, please see ASPR Blog and Social Media Comments.


Please validate the following expression by entering the correct numeric value.
Question: What is two + three ?