EM Forum Presentation — February 22, 2012

Communication with Vulnerable Populations
A Transportation and Emergency Management Toolkit

Deborah Matherly, AICP
Principal Investigator
Principal Planner, The Louis Berger Group, Inc.

Kelly Reinhardt, PMP
President, Jane Mobley Associates

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/NAP/toolkit.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm120222.wmv
An audio podcast is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm120222.mp3

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome back to EMForum.org. We are very glad you could join us. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. For our newcomers, we will be providing some instructions as we go along so you can relax and participate with us.

Our topic today is the National Academies Transportation Research Board’s report Communication with Vulnerable Populations: A Transportation and Emergency Management Toolkit published during September 2011. We like to feature new resources for emergency managers, and this toolkit looks like a good one. Although the focus is on transportation, we expect the communication tips are applicable to a wide range of issues. Please note you can access a PDF version of the report online for free. See links on our background page.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guests: Deborah Matherly was Principal Investigator for this project and is a Principal Planner with The Louis Berger Group, Inc. In addition to this project and two others in progress, Deborah has directed three major regional emergency planning initiatives in the D.C. area and has been active on the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Emergency Evacuation Subcommittee for a number of years.

Also joining us, Kelly Reinhardt, PMP, also contributed to the Toolkit and serves as President of Jane Mobley Associates. Ms. Reinhardt has served in both a project management and researcher role on TRB projects and has practiced in the field of strategic communication and strategic planning for more than 25 years. Please see today’s Background Page for further biographic detail.

Welcome to you both, and thank you very much for joining us today. I now turn the floor over to Deborah to start us off please.


Deborah Matherly: Thank you very much. We are very pleased to be here. We want to reiterate that the Transit Cooperative Research Program (part of the National Academy of Sciences) saw the need for this topic—communication with vulnerable populations—as early as 2006.

They obtained funding in 2008. We started our study in 2009. We completed it in March of 2011. It was printed in August of 2011 and it was online in September of 2011. As Amy said, despite the title talking about transportation and emergency management we really expect the potential users will include public health, public information officers, local community agencies and anyone who is willing to step up to this issue.

[Slide 2]

This is a picture you may be familiar with from Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t just the transportation that failed in Hurricane Katrina and many other disasters. In many cases it has been the prior outreach to identify those who might need help and identifying the many groups and individuals in every community who knew and who know the people who might need help.

[Slide 3]

It is also interesting that this project is supporting the FEMA Whole Community Initiative although they were begun on different tracks—they are very complementary.

Kelly Reinhardt: I would add to Deborah’s comment that when we look at some of the language around the whole community principle, the TCRP guide and toolkit is really a great how-to resource. If the mandate is to bake a cake, baking a cake without a recipe and instructions can be challenging.

In many respects when the challenge or the mandate is community engagement at the grassroots level some how-to instruction on proven processes for how to do that can be most useful to planners and emergency management professionals and transportation professionals for whom community engagement and communication are not their core competencies or their core responsibilities inside their organizations.

The approach in the TCRP toolkit is very supportive to the principles that have been laid out by FEMA for whole community initiative.

[Slide 4]

When we look at definition, one of the things the panel—and I’d like to take a quick sidebar and mention that when TCRP (Transit Cooperative Research Panel) opened this study the response inside the organization was so overwhelming. First of all they had more than 30 proposers respond to the RFP and they had more than 40 individuals who had requested to be part of the project panel.

The interest level and investment in the subject was very high, both out in the field and inside the TRB organization itself. One of the things the panel grappled with before the study was launched was what is our definition of vulnerable populations. The favor they did to the research team at the outset was that they agreed amongst themselves—a panel of 40—on that definition before we started.

We had that as a frame. You’ll notice on this slide that we all kept our focus on the emergency management national response framework for special needs populations and the whole description of functional need areas. That was the beacon that kept all our research and all the products that ultimately emerged in this toolkit—it kept us all on focus.

I’ll mention here that about five years prior to launching this particular project with TRB Jane Mobley Associates had been engaged in a somewhat similar project for the CDC to develop a workbook for reaching special, vulnerable and at risk population in public health emergencies. Almost nine years has passed since we began that work with the CDC and the whole conversation around defining vulnerable populations is still very vigorous.

I think one of the things that was agreed upon between TRB and our panel and the research team was that we could work on a definition for years and that would evolve over time. The focus was to focus on the definition that was available to us that was being widely used and distributed by FEMA and then work on the process for engaging people in communities around those population groups and sort of end the discussion on what is a vulnerable population and how do we define that.

You’ll see the list there is pretty self-explanatory as to who is being communicated with who are the subjects for communication that are being addressed in this toolkit.

[Slide 5]

What the toolkit is and what it isn’t—one of the things that we faced as a challenge was—are we going to develop sample messages and communications that communities could look to as examples and guides? What we learned early on in the research process was that the range of emergency circumstances, the range of community demographics, geography and other community factors left us so many scenarios that we couldn’t begin to craft specific messages as a part of this guide and toolkit.

So the focus was a process for communication. At the crux of that process is using collaborative partnerships or community based messengers to deliver messages. The third bullet in the middle of the slide is the nugget that explains what this toolkit and guide can help any local community do.

It can lay out a process for building and engaging a community in a collaborative partnership where any message can be pushed out about any activity or emergency. It is the process that matters, not so much what the emergency circumstance is or the message that must be delivered. It is having a process in place in advance of an emergency so that you’re ready to do that.

[Slide 6]

Deborah Matherly: A little background on the project—we know that transportation and emergency management people have been working together for a long time in security coordination and basis of emergency planning. At the same time emergency management may not realize that transportation people do other things as well.

Transportation has been involved in environmental justice initiatives. Transit people have broad links to the community in terms of providing paratransit services and holding community meetings on many different topics. We also know that emergency managers have had some links to vulnerable populations, sometimes through public communications groups and sometime through public health.

As far as we know, transportation and emergency management have not worked together in terms of pooling their combined resources and of the other agencies around in terms of working with community based organizations, faith based organizations, non-profit organizations and through them to the full realm of vulnerable populations that we are discussing here today.

[Slide 7]

Among our project tasks were many of the standard ones, but of interest in our interviews with experts we went to geographic regions that had some major disasters—Houston, Florida, California and some other places. In each one we tried to interview a group of people, some representing the emergency management, some representing transportation, some representing the social service providers, some representing the vulnerable population groups and getting perspective from many sides on how things worked, what worked well, what didn’t work well and how things could be improved.

This was one of our starting points. Then another major element was our field tests. We had four focus groups workshops—one in New Orleans very early in the project to see if we are going in this direction what would be important to people looking at everything from what the cover looked like, what the title is, and what tools are needed.

We had meetings in Maryland and Kansas City, Missouri and each time we refined what we had, the tools we had and what we needed to come up with. We finally finished up in Irvine, California and in each of these we learned some very valuable lessons as to what people were looking for and how this could be usable.

[Slide 8]

I think from that we came to a pretty simple outline that has a lot of power in it, that people definitely—one of the things we heard was to keep it simple and also that people are going to be coming to this from many different perspectives and many levels of expertise, and to make it easy for people to either jump in the deep end and cherry pick the tools they want or to start from the shallow end of the pool and go from the very basics up.

We tried to craft it that way and make it so you can go as deep or go in as basic as you want. Another element people mentioned is that this can come into an organization at any place. It could come in on the executive’s desk. In that case the executive summary is really geared to a decision maker who is going to look at the first two pages and ask why they should care about this.

We can say that here is A-B-C and why you should care about this. If it comes in at a mid-management level they are going to need some tools for example on how to get their leadership to buy into it. There are many different aspects that are clearly laid out, we believe.

[Slide 9]

Kelly Reinhardt: I’m going to tag onto a couple of things Deborah just mentioned. One of the things that TRB recognized early on in our study was that the final product that was going to emerge out of this research project was going to look different than a lot of other TRB research project final deliverables.

Many times when you have a study that includes a literature review, expert interviews, and interviews with people in the field there is a lot of data and very detailed information that ends up in a report. That is not—I want to assure anyone who is thinking they signed up for the wrong webcast and doesn’t want to read something like this—that is not what our final product was focused on.

We did turn in to TRB a very detailed research report that shows all the literature that backs up the foundation of the toolkit, but ultimately the toolkit itself is designed for people who are working at state, local and regional levels all around the country who have various geographic and demographic challenges and budget constraints they have to deal with in their community.

One of the first things people notice when they pick it up is that it is not very thick, it has a lot of white space, there are literally fill-in-the-blank worksheets that a busy professional can say, "I can use this toolkit as my workbook and it will help me get a job done that might be one of many jobs I carry out, or it might be one I don’t feel particularly well prepared to do myself but my agency and I think it is important so I’m going to undertake this."

We tried to develop materials that are user friendly. As Deborah mentioned, we field tested in four communities before we went to final draft and each field test was conducted at a different stage of development of the toolkit.

Each time we left a field testing opportunity we made adjustments and improvements in the product so that by the time we got to final draft it incorporated the feedback, input and ideas of professionals in the field of emergency management and transportation professionals from around the country and it was designed to meet the needs they identified.

As Deborah said, you can start this at chapter one which is a very beginning of the beginning instructional tool. It can also be flagged and earmarked to start at halfway through chapter two because you happen to be farther into a process in a particular community. I think that rather than read what is in chapters, you can see that on the slide.

One of the things I’d like to emphasize is on the right-hand side of each slide as we go through what each chapter helps communities do, is the tools and templates that are found at the conclusion of each chapter. This is the component that is like a workbook. It is fill-in-the-blank.

One of the things we heard back from emergency management professionals that we talked to around the country is that in many communities the emergency manager is either part time or they are full time and they wear two or three different hats in the community but they don’t have a dedicated person who can focus on something like community partnership building and community engagement full time.

We have tried to take a lot of the leg work out of this by providing tools and templates that a professional can complete and fill in to ease them through the process. The steps a community has to go through at the very beginning are very important. We only recommend skipping over them if you have already done them.

The collecting community population information is really one of the most critical steps in the process because that is how a community’s vulnerabilities are really identified.

[Slide 10]

One of the things that we used as a baseline in all of our communities—and this came out of interviews for this project and also literature research that was done on a variety of projects by our entire research team—when you get to the end of these slides you are going to see some credits to other members of this research team in addition to Louis Berger Group and Jane Mobley Associates.

One of the things that has been found in the research is that part of the community engagement and planning process requires that individuals in communities act in ways that emergency managers and transportation and public health professionals need them to act in order to protect themselves and protect the community.

What the research shows is that if you have significant segments of the population in the community that are so poor that they are struggling to meet their day to day subsistence needs they will not be able to hear and respond appropriately to emergency preparedness or response messages that are being pushed out by authorities.

The poverty statistics and the census data does provide a good ground of information of the percentage of the population that is living at or below the poverty level. That will help community planners and emergency preparedness officials look at as a baseline who is going to have the financial means and capacity to respond and behave in the way we need to them to in order for whole communities to be as prepared as possible.

You are going to see some emphasis on poverty and looking at that kind of data in a community.

Deborah Matherly: I’d like to emphasize that is the starting point, but it is not the end point.

[Slide 11]

Kelly Reinhardt: Chapter two gets into the process of figuring out the best way to reach a range of vulnerable populations—different groups of people who have different functional needs that will make them more challenged in an emergency circumstance. A network approach is the basis of this entire toolkit—building a network of trusted professionals, volunteers, CBOs, FBOs, and all kinds of entities that already have strong ties to these different vulnerable population groups.

The network becomes the primary conduit of information sharing. Emergency management, transportation, public health or whoever the convener is—sometimes it is the metropolitan planning organization that takes on a convening role at the community level—they are the entity that takes on the responsibility for building a network.

It is that network that becomes the conduit for all kinds of information sharing out to communities around a variety of issues.

Deborah Matherly: I’d like to interject though that it says, "build or add to a network". One of the things we heard is that people are overwhelmed with meetings. They have so many different groups they belong to, etc. One of the possibilities may be to find a group that is doing similar things. It may be a group like "United We Ride" that already organizes the transportation service organizations in an area and they are not thinking about emergency management necessarily. But they could be a perfect adjunct or core group.

It is going to be different in every community as to what is already there but it may be more profitable and easier to build on existing network than to start a new one. That is something to think about.

[Slide 12]

Kelly Reinhardt: Using a network to communicate through—and I appreciate Deborah reminding me of tapping into existing networks. Amy said it well when she opened today’s presentation that some of the language and narrative that is in this toolkit is transportation-centric.

The project was funded by the Transportation Research Board so it certainly has transportation agencies as a target audience. Our charge from the Transportation Research Board at the very beginning of this was to always be cognizant of the emergency management audience for this material as well.

There are some tips and some suggestions in the guide that are transportation-centric but it doesn’t get in the way of the steps and work that needs to be completed. The network approach to communication says—and I want to emphasize that although we are rolling through these chapters pretty quick the profit we are talking about is very labor and time intensive.

The timeframe it might take a community if they are starting from scratch to get to this phase of communicating through a network could be multiple years. It could be months, but it is not something that happens in a couple of weeks and a couple of meetings that have been convened. There is a very intense component of community engagement.

It is one of the things that struck our project team as we looked at some of the language around whole communities and whole community principles as articulated by FEMA. Community engagement is a process that evolves over time. Community engagement is at the core of developing and fostering the relationships inside of a network you can rely on when everything goes south in an emergency.

I want to emphasize that we are moving through in our discussion today a process that takes quite a bit of time very quickly but once the first two chapters work, it is complete and you have a group of committed organizations and individuals that are coming together on a regular basis around the idea of all-hazards preparedness and how a community is going to work together to be prepared, then the process of communicating becomes very second nature.

Deborah Matherly: I’d also like to make note of one of the items in chapter three—the registries. This came up as a major topic. People were very much pro, very much con, opposed, etc. We do address it in here in a continuum of what may be considered registries—everything from the all community, where everyone in the community can get a text alert about an emergency coming up to very specific registries for people who may be in an iron lung or on dialysis.

We do talk about some of the pros and cons. We suggest you might look at that while you are considering registries that there is not just one size that fits all.

[Slide 13]

One of the important things is understanding that there are many different communities within any given neighborhood, sector or whatever. The strength of the communications network builds from underlying organizations and existing community ties.

As FEMA notes in introducing their Comprehensive Preparedness Guide, "When the community is engaged in authentic dialog it is empowered to identify its needs and existing resources to address them." That is an important point—it is not just identifying vulnerable people who need help but vulnerable people who have resources and can help themselves once they know what is needed and what others are doing.

It is also important to note that there are people in any community who are very isolated—some by choice. Almost everyone will have at least some safety net of contacts. It may be very fragile. It could be just their Meals On Wheels representative that comes by or it could be a neighbor or just the mailman. People need to be very creative in understanding and enlarging what they consider their community and who their neighbor is.

[Slide 14]

Kelly Reinhardt: The last part of the toolkit really focuses on how to sustain this work over time. Some of our field testing and interviews out in communities where some very solid networks are underway and working well have told us that some of these initiatives get started with grant money. Sometimes there is an emergency that happens in a community or area that influences the leadership of the community or a state even, to say that we have to address some issues of communication.

There will be a lot of movement and support in the beginning phases. But after time, when the grant money is gone and people tend to forget two years after some major emergency how bad it was during the emergency, what do you do with a group of engaged individuals and organizations and public agencies that have invested time in putting this together?

It is a challenge to sustain. So, in the closing chapter of the toolkit we look at ways to grow a network so that some of the work of keeping it growing can be spread out; how to form agreements with individual entities in a network so that you know who is going to be responsible for what in the event of an emergency.

Using networks as an exercise tool—there are many emergency management, transportation, and public health—a variety of all scale emergencies such as the earthquake exercise that took place in 2011. The network can be a tool for conducting exercises and tests of communication capacity in a community.

Some people are having some success in accessing sort of regular funding, either government funding streams or private grant streams, to use networks to test and exercise their communication capabilities for emergency preparedness planning.

[Slide 15]

Deborah Matherly: As we said in various ways, really the toolkit is designed to build a network, build on existing organizations and help those organizations increase their capacity to engage and empower all parts of communities. One of the key aspects that we didn’t touch on deeply is in making meetings work and in the other items—there was a lot about accessible meetings.

You may have noticed that in the tools. Everything from the invitations that go out need to emphasize that we are open to whatever needs are out there in terms of it may be providing translators for different languages, to providing for service animals, to asking people not to wear perfumes because there are people who are chemically sensitive.

All of these things are identified in the tools for accessible meetings. In conducting exercises of the network the entire community needs to be engaged. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, who have mobility impairments or who are blind need to be participating in these exercises in order to give real life feedback of what may happen—what kind of challenges there may be that a sit-in simply cannot do.

Finally it is important to understand that the messenger, the person who knows the people in their community, is going to be a far stronger messenger of saying something is wrong we need to do something now, than a stranger who comes on TV and says, "Here is what it is, trust me." In the most vulnerable communities, the people they know are the people they are most willing to trust.

How they are able to transmit the message is very important. They can only know how to do this in an emergency if they are engaged well before an emergency. You can’t come up in the last minute and expect everything to work out well.

[Slide 16]

To sum up, be inclusive, be accessible and listen.

[Slide 17]

As Amy said, the report can be downloaded from the website here. It can also be downloaded from the TRB.org security pubs. All the tools and templates are in a subset of that link under the project reports section. You can get a print copy or you can buy one or get one free as well.

[Slide 18]

For more information, here is our contact information. It will be on the Web.

[Slide 19]

Our partners—in addition our Senior Program Officer Stephan Parker was a terrific leader and Dwight Ferrell was the head of the study panel. The entire study panel was extremely great in giving us good advice. There were people at JMA and Berger that helped us as well. Our supporting team members are listed on the right-hand side. We thank everybody and if there are any questions I’ll turn it over to Avagene and Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much. Now, to proceed to our Q&A and audience comments. We would also be interested in hearing about experiences in your communities as well.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Ken Johnson: I found this document a few weeks ago. It is very helpful! Great guide for all types of things including meetings in general.

Amy Sebring: I was interested in learning a little bit about when you took the draft toolkit out to the communities. What was that process like? Did those communities take the final draft and are using it? Can you elaborate on that?

Deborah Matherly: We did take it out to the groups. We let them know when it was released online. I haven’t specifically heard back from anyone as to what they are doing with it. We are hoping to pilot test it in various ways as soon as some projects can come up. We are open to follow on.

Amy Sebring: I understand you have been going to some conferences and presenting this material. Are there any more of those coming up?

Deborah Matherly: Yes. We will be in South Carolina in March and then at the Transportation Infrastructure Security Partnership, previously the Transportation Research Board meetings at the FEMA disability integration group. We are trying to get it out wherever we can.

Avagene Moore: How important is promotion or publicity in the development and implementation of the communication network to the success of a community's effort? Do you know of any examples?

Kelly Reinhardt: I would say commotion may be a little bit more so than media. By commotion, I would break that down a little bit further into community buzz. One of the things that is really important to getting momentum in a community based network that is focused on how are we going to make sure everyone has what they need or does what they need to do in the event of a catastrophic emergency or some other hazard. One of the things that is important to generate is buzz.

The state of Kentucky has done some excellent work. They have a statewide public health communication network with more than 300 members. Once a year they convene training workshops around the state for the various members in that network. They always publicize those training workshops with their local and state media.

They’ve done radio and television interviews. The buzz that gets generated from the workshops in sometimes four or five different communities and the media coverage of the workshops has done a great deal to help them grow their network and help them improve the basic understanding of why it is there and what its purpose is in the event of an emergency.

Isabel McCurdy: What types of transportation were addressed in this toolkit?

Deborah Matherly: We were not focusing on the messages, but the types of transportation resources we identify as the type of contacts people will want to make include everything from transportation planners at a metropolitan planning organization who may have a great deal of demographic information, other transportation people who may have been working on environmental justice initiatives, as well as transportation operations people—everyone from the paratransit providers to the bus operators that may know where people need to go and where they are coming from.

As I mentioned, transportation from service providers such as organizations like "United We Ride" that coordinate transportation from service providers. These are just among the different groups we list as potential partners and possibly as conveners of this type of process.

Amy Sebring: My earlier point was—although transportation is certainly the subject that you would want to use the network to communicate about—once you’ve established this network you can communicate about all kinds of emergencies. I want to ask Deborah—evidently the TRB has been working in this realm for a number of years. I understand you have a couple of follow on projects. Could you tell us a little bit about those?

Deborah Matherly: One is for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. It is about halfway through, actually farther than that, on all hazards evacuation planning. That is looking primarily at multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional planning. Another that is just starting is for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program on a guide to regional transportation planning for disasters, emergencies and significant events.

This one has a different take in that many times what you learn from planning for special events and such can help you in emergency planning and vice versa. There are some of the same team members and some different areas as well.

Avagene Moore: You mentioned securing leadership buy-in as a tool in your slides. This is always a problem it seems. Would the same tact work for getting buy-in for other emergency management needs or issues in a community?

Deborah Matherly: Yes, I think our guide on getting leadership buy in—we have tried to keep it fairly general and the same as the executive summary—it’s not specifically geared to transportation. It is trying to get emergency managers and other executives higher up to pay attention to this issue.

For one, it is the law and has been the law for a long time and that FEMA and others are paying increasing attention to this issue. Which we think it is a great move forward that FEMA is emphasizing whole community now. It is not the terminology we used going into this project but I think we are very glad to be headed in the same direction as FEMA in this area.

Amy Sebring: Kelly, do you have a project coming up you want to mention?

Kelly Reinhardt: I would mention that we have a follow on task that is attached to this project we are talking about today—communication with vulnerable populations—and it is exploring specifically the use of picture based communication to help vulnerable populations. In particular we would be talking about population groups with functional needs that make it difficult for them to read or understand spoken English.

They might be deaf and hard of hearing, they might be limited English proficient, low literacy populations, or have some kind of cognitive disability that impedes their ability to read and understand English language. We are in the middle of an add-on task where we are developing and testing pictograms—picture based communication pieces that would help transit and paratransit providers communicate with the riding public in the event of large scale emergency or hazard circumstance.

It is a very small and focused piece of a larger topic and issue but we will be providing some initial data and results back to TRB and TCRP on how well those pictures fared in successfully communicating specific instruction and direction to the riding public.

We anticipate our final product and report of findings back to TCRP by the end of August 2012.

Ken Johnson: That sounds great and we have been trying to track down tools in this area. Can EMForum send out info when this is available?

Amy Sebring: We hope to keep in touch, and perhaps do a future program.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. On behalf of Avagene and myself and all our participants today, thank you very much Deborah and Kelly for taking time to share this information with us today. Please do stay in touch as these other projects go forward so we can keep tabs and possibly have another program in the future.

Before you go, PLEASE take a moment to do the rating/review! Note: We are asking you to rate the relevance of the information, and this will assist us in our future programming.

Speaking of "Whole Community," we are very pleased to announce that EMForum.org will host another special program on Wednesday, February 29th, 12:00 Noon Eastern on FEMA’s Whole Community Initiative, when we will be pleased to welcome back David Kaufman, Director of FEMA’s Office of Policy and Program Analysis. Please mark the date and watch for our full announcement which will come on our mailing list later today.

Until then, thanks to everyone for participating today. Have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.