Assisting Members of Vulnerable / Underserved Populations Affected by Natural Disasters

This symposium highlighted communities that may be at the highest risk of negative disaster outcomes

By James L. Werth, Jr., PhD

At the 2012 APA Convention, CDIP collaborated with the Committee on Rural Health (CRH), Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), and Committee on Aging (CONA) on a well-attended symposium entitled “Assisting Members of Vulnerable / Underserved Populations Affected by Natural Disasters.” The two-hour symposium was sponsored by the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice.

Natural disasters affect millions of people in the United States and around the world every year. In the past year across the U.S., we have witnessed floods, hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes. People have been killed, displaced and traumatized by these events. Over the past few years, we have witnessed the destructive force of earthquakes and tidal waves around the world.

Although anyone is at risk of being affected by a natural disaster, some people are more vulnerable to the devastation associated with such events. This symposium highlighted some of the communities that may be at highest risk of negative outcomes in the midst of a disaster as well as the strength and resilience present in these groups in the midst of, and after a disaster occurs. The presenters were selected by four APA committees that represent individuals who have borne the brunt of natural disasters in recent years and who have faced and overcome specific challenges when disasters strike. Each presenter provided examples of recent disasters that have had disproportionate effects on their constituencies, discussed special issues or needs faced by members of these groups, and provided suggestions for how best to help before, and respond after disasters occur.

The speakers who skillfully and poignantly discussed these issues were M. Dolores Cimini, PhD for CDIP; Debra Sheppard, PhD, ABPP for CRH; Michael Cunningham, PhD for CEMA; and Lisa Brown, PhD for CONA. Sharon Bowman, PhD served as discussant and provided cogent comments that linked the speakers’ presentations. We were fortunate to have Dan Dodgen, PhD, who is director of the Office for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health and Human Services Coordination in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (PDF, 78KB) in the audience for he was able to talk about the resources his office has for assisting at-risk populations.

CDIP appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with these other committees and believe that the audience received important information that will help them when disasters strike in the future.

About the Author

James L. Werth, Jr., PhD, ABPP

James L. Werth, Jr., PhD, ABPP serves as professor and program director at Radford University in Virginia.