The most vulnerable in a community often do not have the capability, capacity, or access needed to participate in resilience-focused private–public collaborative efforts. The U.S. population is diverse, and the capacity to adopt resilience-enhancing measures, including forming or participating in private–public sector collaboration, varies considerably. A major factor preventing more widespread capacity development is that some groups are highly vulnerable, at risk for extreme events, and routinely subject to economic and social stressors. Disaster preparedness and resilience are not often on the agendas of those who deal regularly with chronic conditions and crises, such as poverty, crime, violence, serious illness, and unemployment. In addition, many groups in the United States lack firm connections to mainstream community institutions that could serve as sources of disaster-related information and social support. Such groups include non-English-speakers, people who have mental health and substance-abuse problems, elderly single persons living alone (a growing segment of the population), people who have physical disabilities, those who are homeless, and those who live in communities on a transient basis. That is not to argue that such groups lack organization and social solidarity (although many people in U.S. communities do suffer from social isolation). But the people in those groups and the organizations that serve them may not have the knowledge and access to information that would motivate or allow them to engage in resilience-enhancing collaborative efforts.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a vivid example of how the poor, minority, elderly, and infirm groups have not been well served in response or recovery efforts (Colten et al., 2008). Planning for evacuation in the face of an impending hurricane was extensive throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, and the evacuation before Katrina was considered largely successful. However, the needs of those who were dependent on public transportation were not taken into account (Townsend, 2006). In the days after Katrina, those left in New Orleans—including institutionalized populations and those who served them—were forced to endure extreme hardship and in many cases lost their lives. The Katrina example is not unique. The ways in which social inequality and diversity affect the ability to absorb and recover from the effects of disaster have been well documented, and social vulnerability itself is a major subject of study in disaster research (e.g., Tierney, 2007; NRC, 2006; Cutter et al., 2008).
As stated several times in this report, successful resilience-building through private–public collaboration depends on the inclusion of the full fabric of the community. Community resilience will be improved only if strategies that identify and engage the vulnerable populations in the community and in the organizations that represent them are considered and used. Addressing vulnerabilities reduces the need for response and recovery. Failing to identify vulnerable segments of the population leaves the entire community less resilient when disaster occurs.