Is disaster prep only for the privileged?

Civil Defence agencies repeatedly tell us to prepare for disaster – but what if we can’t afford to?

A new Massey University study challenges the notion that everyone can afford to buy extra food and water, torches, spare batteries and other emergency survival items.

Its lead researcher, Dr Denise Blake, of Massey’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research, questions assumptions behind government documents and emergency preparedness websites that she says frequently ignore preparedness needs of vulnerable groups.

While there was a concern at increasing numbers of Kiwi families affected by poverty and inequality, too little regard was given to how those same people should prepare for a disaster, the report found.

Blake includes not only those living in poverty, but other marginalised groups such as people with mental health issues, the homeless, and migrants.

She describes the omission of strategies for those with few resources or access to community support as a form of “structural violence”.

She cited a useful resource created by a Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office and titled “It’s Easy: Get Prepared for an Emergency”.

The messaging urged people to prepare by amassing a comprehensive list of goods, such as three days’ worth of non-perishable food, torches, battery-operated radio, first aid kit and spare cash, and advertises emergency water kits at $105 each.

“This is really good advice if you are at a certain income level, but impossible for those who struggle financially or are otherwise marginalised,” Blake said.

In some of the guides, there were no recommendations for what to do if there was not a car available, or not enough money to buy food, a disaster kit, or cell phone credit to make calls in an emergency.

“While the advice provided is generally sound, the notion that it is ‘easy’ does not specifically accommodate those who cannot afford to action such messaging.”

And while she believed authorities intend their messaging to address the resilience of all communities, there was a lack of acknowledgement of how the vulnerable will manage their circumstances.

For them, “preparing for a disaster is a not a priority”, she said.

Those on low incomes were further disadvantaged because they were less likely to have insurance to recover damaged goods and property in the aftermath of a disaster.

“Reducing the causes of inequality that put some at a far greater risk and disadvantage when their lives are upturned by earthquakes, floods or other disasters should be the long-term goal,” Blake said.

State agencies could meanwhile ensure low-cost housing was structurally safe, and emergency preparedness agencies needed to address the needs of marginalised people by involving them in planning and ensuring communities were well-resourced.