Rural vulnerabilities are a topic often ignored by communities and personnel within smaller and remote areas tasked with incident and disaster management and planning functions. It is important, as emergency management professionals, to assess all vulnerabilities for a community, whether large and complex or rural and simple. There isn’t just one type of vulnerability that is impacting our rural communities. There are several to be exact and emergency managers should be taking note of them. Whether you are an emergency manager for a rural community, a chief of police, a fire chief or even a community planner, understanding each of the main rural vulnerabilities that are present within you community is critical to the success of your local emergency management system. In this article, we will take a look at some of the different types of vulnerabilities that are impacting rural and remote communities and regions.

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Rural Vulnerabilities often orbit around Physical Risk

Physical risk-type vulnerabilities are often the most expressed type of vulnerability described by rural emergency management and public safety leaders. Physical vulnerabilities are an important set of vulnerabilities and deserve a special kind of attention. Common physical vulnerabilities will often include physical hazards and risks that are apparent to the geographical location of the community. For example, if the community resides above underground mining operations, it can leave the community physically vulnerable to ‘cave in’ and ‘sinking’ due to a large magnitude earthquake or similar environmental hazard. If a community is near a coastal area, the community will be physically vulnerable to hurricanes and related tropical severe weather events. Assessing physical vulnerabilities requires that community emergency management and public safety leaders determine what factors in a physical sense could impact resources and normalcy of routine community objectives during a time of extreme crisis, major emergency and/or disaster.


Economic Vulnerabilities Impact Rural Communities Severely

Rural communities are often subject of limited financial and economic means. Bigger cities have more businesses, factories and economic infrastructure than smaller towns and villages have. So, it is safe to assume that what little sources of economic stimulation a rural area has is a very important asset to the community. When assessing vulnerabilities for a community, it is important that a community assesses the vulnerabilities of local economic infrastructure as well. You might be quick to judge this suggestion, assuming that responsibility is the responsibility of the business owner. However, imagine if disaster strikes and essentially closes down the businesses – the limited means of economic stimulation for a community has just closed down due to a disaster. This reasoning is why it is important for rural communities to focus effort on businesses and organizations within the community, as they often are the only entities providing some kind of financial stimulation to the community in the end. The more businesses that have less protection from vulnerabilities will essentially mean the more rural communities will have to deal with needed economic loss-related incidents.


The Unseen Social Rural Vulnerabilities…

This type of vulnerability in my professional opinion is the most overlooked or unplanned type of vulnerability that is assessed in most rural communities. Social Vulnerabilities. When you see the word ‘social’, what comes to mind? PEOPLE! People in the social aspects of emergency management are those who are within various different types of social groups. In rural communities, one of the major challenges is that younger skilled individuals have commonly moved on the larger areas for employment and a better opportunity to start their way of life. In rural communities, we will often find less fortunate residents, struggling families and the elderly. Are we actually assessing these social groups that will require assistance during a disaster and are we planning how we will tend to them? Imagine a community-wide evacuation from a wildfire or even a vaccination event from a public health emergency. How will get the significant population of senior citizens out of the community or to a vaccination point, knowing that various health concerns will create different required circumstances for different individuals within the social group? You can’t treat everyone the same, such type of thought-process will often result in emergency management failure. You need to assess all social groups within a community and plan for all social groups during a disaster or major event.


The Vulnerability of a Bad Attitude

As a rural emergency management professional, do you just assume outside assistance will be there to tend to your needs? Do you think that no matter what the community does, the impact will always result in a local effort failure? Do you often consider changes and innovations as a waste of time? If you have answered yes to any of these questions – then you have created the worst vulnerability of them all, a bad attitude concerning emergency management. Emergencies to a degree that are considered crises and disasters are often chaotic and the outcome are often random. Because of this, innovation and the ability to change is almost always required in order for a mission to result in success. So the worst type of vulnerability that this article can emphasize is the type of vulnerability that a rural community invents for their local area on the basis of not accepting change and looking to their emergency management program with an intent of encouraging innovation. With limited funding, resources and personnel – a rural community must accept the ideology of innovation and change. In rural emergency management, there is no room for security blankets.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article about the different vulnerabilities of emergency management in rural communities. I recommend that you share this article with others to show your support for its creation and to help educate other rural communities on the importance of determining all types of rural vulnerabilities out there. Please feel free to leave your comments below giving your take on the subjects at hand. This article was written by Shawn J. Gossman, a professional and academic of the emergency management, homeland security and public health disciplines.

About the Author

Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn J. GossmanB.S., M.S., M.B.A., SEM, PDS
Shawn J. Gossman is an article and publication contributor of rural and remote-based emergency management, continuity and public health topics. Shawn holds a Master of Science concentrating in Emergency Management and a MBA in Hazardous Environment Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Shawn is dedicated to helping rural communities and organizations be a part of the Whole Community approach of National Preparedness.