Webinar 1: Gender and Disaster – An Overview (TRANSCRIPT)


Webinar Series: Session 1

“Gender and Disaster — Overview”

July 11, 2012




Roxane Richter: Hello! Thank you for joining us today from all over the world. We’re so pleased to have received such an overwhelming response to this critical and timely topic. And welcome to our “Gender and Disaster” overview webinar, the first in our five-part Gender and Disaster Series, which will explore how gender impacts the individual and collective experience of disasters and conflict for persons, families, and communities. The series, sponsored by the Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance, GDRA, and partner EPI Global, is designed to introduce participants to this subject through discussions of key concepts and research in this area. It will also speak to those more familiar with this topic area and delve into specific subtopics, policy issues, and best practices. The webinars will be geared for audiences made up of academics, emergency management practitioners, service providers, relief workers, and more.


We’d also like to take a moment and invite you to save the dates for our upcoming “Gender and Disaster” series of webinars, which will all be scheduled at 1:00 p.m. EST, including:


• our second webinar, on “Gender-based Violence,” October 10, 2012;

• our third webinar, on “Gender, Health and Hygiene,” Jan. 16, 2013;

• our fourth webinar, on “Gender and Climate Change,” April 10, 2013;

• our fifth webinar, on “Gender, Disaster, Policy, and Politics,” on July 10, 2013.


The protocols we’ll follow for this webinar are:


• All attendees will be muted during this webinar in order to reduce background distractions.

• We encourage you to ask a question at any point by typing in the question box. All queries will be addressed at the end of all three speakers’ presentations.

• Please be very clear and succinct in your query and indicate if a question is for a specific speaker. Otherwise the moderator will choose a speaker for you.


As sponsoring organizations, the Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and EPI Global are committed to building awareness about the importance of gender impact on disaster. Both organizations seek to identify practical approaches and solutions so that this perspective can be implemented in the field, included in emergency management programs, and supported by appropriate research.


GDRA is a network of women and men working in communities and organizations toward more sustainable, just, and disaster-resilient ways of living in the United States. With the leadership of grassroots women, we seek to develop and strengthen the nation’s resilience to the increasing array of hazards and potential disasters we will face in the coming decades.

Many members come to GDRA through their work on the ground to empower women as leaders for social justice, environmental sustainability, and disaster risk reduction, or through professional networks and associations engaged in the practice of disaster management. Others come through the global Gender and Disaster Network formed in 1997 at the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Workshop. Each summer at this leading U.S. conference, several dozen women and men participate in a Gender and Disaster Roundtable for networking, information exchange, and action planning.


GDRA is a virtual network committed to transparency, an inclusive approach valuing difference, shared leadership, and a social justice approach to disaster reduction. Our primary areas of activity are knowledge exchange, community organizing, and concrete practical steps by, with, and for grassroots women to address underlying causes of disaster risk and enable community-driven and women-led approaches to disaster management. Elaine Enarson and Roxane Richter, representing GDRA, led the organizing efforts for this webinar.


GDRA’s partner in this webinar series, EPI Global, is a non-profit organization created to promote the practice of inclusive emergency management to the benefit of people from all backgrounds and beliefs by coordinating and planning for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating the impact of natural and man-made disasters. EPI Global’s mission includes cooperating and collaborating with emergency management practitioners and community stakeholders to identify issues and find solutions across the life cycle of emergency management, resulting in a better prepared public and a more capable response community.


Although EPI Global is a new organization, it has a rich history of serving the public over the last 10 years. EPI Global grew out of the National Organization on Disability’s (NOD) Emergency Preparedness Initiative (EPI). EPI formed as a program under NOD in 2001, following the attacks of September 11th, to address the need for greater awareness and integration of disability issues in emergency management. Over the next 10 years EPI successfully met its goals in bringing disability issues to the forefront of emergency planning through creative public awareness campaigns, presenting at hundreds of conferences and holding national conferences focused on this topic area, working one on one with emergency managers and disability organizations and consumers, developing customized materials for people with disabilities and emergency managers, and conducting cutting-edge research. EPI was known for the Special Needs Assessment for Katrina Evacuees project that deployed teams of disability experts and emergency managers to the hardest-hit areas in the Gulf states following Katrina to assess response activities and make changes to ensure greater inclusivity of those with disabilities.


For the coming decade, NOD has turned its focus to employability for people with disabilities. At NOD’s request, EPI Global was established this year as a standalone organization to continue building on EPI resources and successes and expand its reach to include other vulnerable populations. EPI Global will continue to integrate populations that are traditionally underserved in terms of disaster through direct programming to consumers, the organizations and communities that work with and serve many of them, as well as the emergency responders and managers who will provide services pre- and post-disaster. The programs aim at specifically addressing different factors: age, disability, gender, socio-economic status, race, and cultural backgrounds. These and other factors can affect the impact on individuals, their families, and their communities through all phases of a disaster.


Elizabeth Davis, Rebecca Hansen, and Kimberly Cunningham, from EPI Global, led the efforts to organize this webinar.


Dr. William E. Lovekamp
“Gender and Disasters”


Roxane Richter: We’re very pleased to announce our first speaker today, Dr. William Lovekamp. Dr. Lovekamp is an associate professor of sociology at Eastern Illinois University. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and his dissertation examined racial and ethnic, gender, and social class differences in preparedness for California earthquakes. He has published on women’s unique experiences and resilience to floods in Bangladesh, college student disaster preparedness, and social change and empowerment in disasters and presented numerous papers on these issues as well. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming second education of Social Vulnerability to Disasters, along with Brenda Phillips, Deborah Thomas, and Alice Fothergill. He is also currently mapping all warning communications sirens for the Coles County, Illinois, Emergency Management Agency. Dr. Lovekamp is a member of the U.S. Disaster and Resilience Alliance, the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association, the International Gender and Disaster Network, the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Disasters, co-organizer of the IRED Researchers’ Meeting and of the annual Natural Hazards Workshop at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is an advisory council member on Disaster Response Volunteer for the Coles and Clark County, Illinois, branch of the American Red Cross. Please join me in welcoming Dr. William Lovekamp.


Dr. William E. Lovekamp: Hi, everyone. Thank you very much, Roxane, for that introduction, and thanks to the Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and to EPI Global for hosting this webinar. And for all of you who have joined us today, I think this is very, very exciting, and I’m looking forward to our time here today.


My plan is simple: to briefly introduce the topic of Gender and Disasters and hopefully set the stage for the remainder of the speakers’ talks for this webinar and the others to come that Roxane discussed just moments ago. To accomplish this, I’m going to discuss three core issues that I believe to be important. These are stratification, vulnerability, and gender. As a side note also, I want to say that my presentation is very basic. While I know that some of you who are listening are extremely well-versed on this topic, I don’t want to assume that everyone is, so please bear with me.


So let me begin by discussing the first core issue that I believe is important in our discussion today, and that is stratification.


One of the most important ways to understand any community or society is to understand how it’s organized or how it’s stratified. Stratification is simply grouping people. We can do this on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, social class, several other things. And these groupings or systems of stratification, then, shape us. They shape our life chances, and they shape our choices. Simply put, we all have different opportunities and barriers based on these characteristics which make us all unique. Unfortunately, sometimes uniquenesses turn into unequal access or into oppression and inequality or prejudice and discrimination. And when we don’t have the same opportunities, being successful isn’t as simple as working hard and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.


In fact, as many of you know, disaster recovery isn’t as simple as using the money we have in our savings accounts to rebuild our homes. So really, in essence, some of us are more vulnerable than others, which brings me to my second core issue: vulnerability.


What I mean by vulnerability is basically that rather than having random impacts, disasters have a disproportionate impact on those of us who are already marginalized in some way, whether that be on the basis of gender or racial and ethnic stratification, economic inequality, differential access to power, or a whole host of other things. The vulnerability is tied directly to these systems of stratification. Many of us tend to forget this sometimes.


On to core issue number three, which is gender. Basically, gender refers to our characteristics, like masculinity, femininity, and the roles that we perform. There are an infinite number of examples of these roles, but I’ll offer one. Of course we all know that historically, female roles have been to be caretaker of children, housekeepers, and there’s the traditional notion that men are breadwinners. That’s just one example of gendered roles.


Imagine this. Often sometimes these aren’t evenly distributed, and they even take the form of gender inequality. As I said earlier, vulnerability varies by gender, by race and ethnicity, by social classes, and other things, and what I’ve done also is provided you with a link on the PowerPoint slide that demonstrates one gender inequality that exists in the U.S. It’s the pay gap or the gender wage gap. I’m not going to talk about that any more, you can see that on your own later on. [Note: There is no link visible on the slide]


      Suffice it to say gender inequality and oppression in the world are real. It’s often horrible, as in the cases of acid throwing, rape, and many other examples. And these, quite frankly, are violations of human rights in every way.


So what does gender specifically have to do with disasters? Roxane gave you a brief introduction, but I’m going to address this by telling you a story. You have a slide that is appearing on your PowerPoint presentations now of a comic. Last semester I was teaching a Sociology of Disasters course and one of those unique teachable moments presented itself in the form of this cartoon. It appeared in a local unnamed newspaper, and I saw this and of course thought, “Aha! This is one of those teachable moments.” So I went into the class and I showed them the cartoon that is on your screens and I asked them, “What’s the big deal?” And these were there responses, not in their words, I have recast them a little differently, but the responses were like this. The students said, “This doesn’t reflect what we mean when we were talking about gender and disasters.” They said, “This isn’t cool. This is not an appropriate depiction of women.”


We also discussed a few other key points that were relevant. We talked how this might mislead people to think that all major storms are given names that are women’s, which actually was common practice until 1978, or that women are the cause of disasters, or that disasters are the result of Mother Nature’s wrath. And also this sometimes leads us to suggest that those who are most impacted are most deserving also.


My students were proud of themselves, but let me tell you, I was even prouder that they could think like this. And I think we all need to think like this. So while we might understand the importance of gender, inequality, and stratification as my students do, or I should say did in the school, it’s often unrecognized or it’s overlooked or it’s forgotten. Only in the last 14 years or so have we embraced the notion that vulnerability and capacity to recover are influenced greatly by stratification and equality. Many argue that it hasn’t made it into the mainstream, or at least to the extent that it needs to be.


It’s no coincidence that what Roxane mentioned earlier about the Gender and Disaster Network, that it was created in 1997, fifteen years ago, that it exists. And Maureen Fordham sent an email to the listserv three days again, and some of you might be on the GDN listserv and have received this email also, but I emailed her and said, “Maureen, can I share this?” and she said, “Absolutely.” So I’ll just share a little bit of that with you.


In her email, she wrote that the GDN, of course, was born in 1997 at one of the hazards workshops. It was called the Women’s Disaster Research Caucus, the meeting that was convened there, and the agenda items included how to network more effectively, how to promote young women professionals, how to promote women and gender issues as legitimate researcher topics, and how to basically create a resource base of web-related information. She goes on to say, “We’ve come a long way, and now the GDN membership has over 1,000-plus people, and a lot more go to that website and utilize the resources.” Toward the end, she also wrote, “We do not have to try quite so hard as we did once to persuade people of the legitimacy of women and gender issues in research. But—” and this is the most important part— “the battle still needs to be fought in disasters and emergencies worldwide. The battle still needs to be fought.” And of course this year, there is, as Roxane mentioned, a Roundtable that is going to take place, and we’re going to of course celebrate the birthday of the GDN.


How do we continue to fight this battle? How do we continue to bring about gender awareness? How do we gender-mainstream? I clearly don’t have the answers, but instead what I’m going to do is leave you with the current initiative by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction or the UNISDR. That now is up on your PowerPoint slides, and this is their flyer for what I’m about to discuss.

They have chosen the title “Women and Girls: The Invisible Force of Resilience” as the theme of their International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) on October 13th, 2012. There are six key points that are on that flyer that I think are a great starting point for discussions and for the webinars that are going to follow this. And they’re all evidence-based, so I’ll share those.

• “Women are the foundation of resilience. They are the first to prepare our families for a disaster and the first to put our communities back together in the aftermath.

• Women are not invisible, voiceless, or passive bystanders. They’re invaluable partners.

• Women must participate also in sustainable development processes.

• It is not gender but gender inequality that puts women in harm’s way when disasters strike.

• Preventing violence against women and girls, such as sexual abuse and exploitation, is also effectively reducing many of the risks that women and girls face during disaster situations.

• Men also have to join the movement and get involved.”


These are really important, and I think they’re very, very good key points to start any discussion of gender and disaster. So it’s my hope that through what I’ve presented, you can see that gender can be a powerful marker of inequality for those of us who have less access to resources and to goods and services, are more vulnerable to disasters, or can be more vulnerable. These are also the voices of people who have historically been missing or most often missing from planning, response, and recovery. At the same time, some of these vulnerabilities create amazing and unique experience and human capacities that we have to understand and that we must incorporate into future community plans. Basically, if we’re going to move forward and promote humanitarianism in disaster planning, response, and recovery, we must all fight for the human rights and equality of all people and empower everyone to have a strong voice and be heard.


And when trying to figure out how to help communities prepare, respond, and recover, we need to ask them what they need. Listen to them. Also, those of us in positions to influence and shape the direction of future disaster planning have to act now. What I’ve described isn’t a gender issue or a women’s issue. It’s a human rights issue, and this doesn’t require just the work of women. It requires the work of men also. It requires the work of all of us. And if we do not confront these inequalities and vulnerabilities now, our children, our grandchildren, and future generations are going to be left to clean up our mess. You hear this also when we discuss climate change.

Finally, there’s a lot of great work being done out there, and much of it is by those of you who are listening today. So I say let’s be self-reflective, let’s learn from others, and do the best we can to do even better. We have a great opportunity to learn a lot from these webinars and to incorporate this information into our work and our communities as we leave here today, as we go back out into our communities, and really make a difference.


Thank you very much for giving me a few minutes of your very valuable time today.


Roxane Richter: Thank you so much, Dr. Lovekamp.


Dr. Brenda D. Phillips
“Blending Theory and Practice”


Roxane Richter: Please help me welcome our second speaker today, Dr. Brenda Phillips. She is a professor in the Fire and Emergency Management Program and a Senior Researcher with the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events at Oklahoma State University. She is an affiliated faculty member with the School of International Studies and was inducted into the Epsilon Upsilon chapter of the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars in 2006. She served as the secretary-treasurer of the International Research Committee on Disasters from 1998 to 2005. In 2010, she received the Mary Fran Myers Award from the Gender and Disaster Network, an international organization. In 2012 she received the Blanchard Award for Academic Excellence in Emergency Management Education. Dr. Phillips has been invited to teach, consult, or lecture in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, India, Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, and the People’s Republic of China. She has assisted with the development of emergency management degree programs in Mexico, Canada, and New Zealand.


She currently serves as graduate student coordinator for the Fire and Emergency Management Program at OSU. Dr. Phillips has been funded multiple times by the National Science Foundation to study disasters and vulnerable populations, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Her published research can be found in a variety of journals, including the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Disaster Prevention, Disasters, Humanity and Society, The Journal of Emergency Management, Natural Hazards Review, and Environmental Hazards, among others. She is the co-author of Introduction to Emergency Management, the author of Disaster Recovery, and the lead editor of Social Vulnerability to Disaster. In 2009, she served as the lead researcher for the National Council on Disability Projects, titled “Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities.” She is a graduate of Bluffton University, Ohio, and The Ohio State University. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Brenda Phillips.


Dr. Brenda D. Phillips: Hello, everyone. Allow me to also thank quickly the people that Bill mentioned, the GRDA, EPI Global, and the Gender and Disaster Network. I also want to thank Bill for a great introduction to this content and Roxane for the kind words. It’s great to see so many familiar names among the attendees that are with us today. Thank you for joining us from around the world.


Before I begin, I want to also thank Elaine Enarson, who’s been a colleague for many years. I’m going to base many of my comments on the work that Elaine and I have done together.


I’ve been asked to speak on theory and practice, and I want to move to that. I want to talk about theory and practice and blending that and to suggest that it’s really important that we connect evidence with best practices and that we use theory to generate that evidence. We use theory in order to sensitize ourselves to things that we might not be thinking about. We use theory to generate insights, to explain what we’re seeing, and to predict what might happen in a disaster situation. We tie it to practice to identify holes in planning, preparedness, and response. In my classes, I have heard people frequently say, “You know, I never thought of that before.” Especially when we’re talking about issues of gender, disability, race, ethnicity, and homophobia. So we really need to use theory to identify a fuller range of those at risk, to increase stakeholder involvement, and to try to build capacity of those at risk.


We shouldn’t fear theory. Sometimes we think it’s that ivory-tower thing, but really, we use theory every day to explain why a relationship might be failing, to look at a recipe and see if we changed the liquid in it, what will happen. We also use it to try to figure out what kinds of shelter arrangements might be perfect for a particular situation. What’s the best layout for people with disabilities, or to prevent gender-based violence?


So we use theory all the time, and my feeling is that there are so many theories and so little time that I wanted to focus on one that I’ve used the most and I’ve worked on with Elaine, and that’s the feminist theory, or as we like to say, “Dare to use the F-word!” A feminist is someone who’s concerned with differential risks that people experience because of gender. It could be because of being female, but also because of being male as well. In our field we link those gender-based risks to poverty, income, disability, development status, or sexuality. For example, we would be concerned because of being sensitized by theory to look at what’s happening in terms of violence against women and children. We have been seeing increased evidence of human trafficking of girls in disasters like the tsunami. We have seen assaults taking place in the relief camps in Haiti. And certainly we’ve had tremendous problems with post-disaster domestic violence and increased suicide after Hurricane Katrina here in the U.S.

But also male-dominated professions bear a higher risk of exposure to violence as well. We think about the police, firefighters, and our military, who are subjected to line-of-duty deaths, terrorist attacks, and of course we lost so many of our police and firefighters in the U.S. after 9/11. And that’s a historically male-dominated profession.


But there are also traditional roles that compel men and women to behave in gender-constrained ways with significant consequences, as Bill hinted at in his presentation. I think, for example, about the impact of Hurricane Mitch on Honduras, and about men feeling compelled to remain behind on hillsides to protect the precious assets that they have and losing their lives as a consequence of that. We also saw a higher loss of life among African American men in New Orleans after Katrina who were socially isolated as a result of a number of historic processes that marginalize men on the basis of race and ethnicity and also create social isolation on the basis of gender.


We’re also concerned with lack of access that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered partners would experience during a disaster event, the potential loss of their property and their resources because of the lack of legal rights that they experience, or because organizations simply fail to respond to their needs.


Some sampling of feminist theory, and we could go on and on for quite a long time, but I’ll just share three theoretical perspectives briefly to get us thinking about this. That would be liberal feminism, which is concerned with rights, justice, and opportunities; multiracial feminism, which is concerned with the exclusion of women of color by mainstream feminists; and feminist political ecology theory, which is concerned with gender and environmental justice. In other words, there are multiple strands or ways of thinking about the positions that women and children in particular experience or that might affect men.


So let’s look at liberal feminism first. This is where a feminist tends to work within the system, tries to work on rights that are concerned with equal rights, equality of access. A feminist who is liberal would be concerned with equal opportunity and with inclusion. So liberal feminists might look at the practical needs of women and children in a disaster event and how we can adapt institutions or compel institutions to adapt in terms of child care, domestic violence, employment, or housing access. How we might be able to recruit and retain women in disaster recovery organizations, really paying attention to what happens to women in disaster-vulnerable populations and locations.


There’s research that documents that we have been exclusionary in terms of involving women in the planning process and involving them in organizations. So a liberal feminist would want that to happen, to bring women into the fold and to make them a part of the process. A liberal feminist might want to target women-owned businesses and female-dominated nonprofits during recovery and economic programs to make sure that women have a fair share of the relief supplies that are being offered and the monies that are being offered as well. That’s why you see so many micro-scale projects that are given in places like Gujarat after the earthquake in India to try to get micro-businesses going, which can truly make the difference between starving and not starving for women and their families.


Let’s take a look, then, at multi-racial feminist theory. Multi-racial feminists have critiqued liberal feminists and the women’s rights movement as being historically exclusionary and doing things that have tended to benefit white women. In the U.S., for example, the affirmative action programs that were put in place tended to benefit white women more so than any other women of color. It’s frustrating, because that wasn’t the intent, but that has happened historically. So multi-racial feminists try to get us to think about how exclusionary that trend has been, those movements have been, saying that we have to seek out a more diverse array of perspectives, talents, and resources and to understand impacts differentially and that gender alone is not the only variable that could impact people’s disaster experiences.


I gave the example of African American men being disproportionately affected earlier. That work by Peter Sharkey was extremely influential in our thinking about how it is that gender and race intersect in a disaster scenario. Multi-racial feminist theory would direct us to involve organizations that empower women of color, and to pay them for their contributions. Very few organizations do that, assuming that we’ll just invite people from the community and that we will pat them on the back for their contributions, but in fact we need to be rewarding them and paying them for their time.

To build social networks between women’s groups involving women of color in recovery activities, to facilitate the active participation of women from underrepresented groups in disaster recovery planning, and to target women leaders from diverse cultural groups for leadership positions in recovery and staff and voluntary organizations. And Bill would suggest, I’m sure, that stratification theory tells us that we do not search adequately for talent, and that we need to do so.


Let’s look at feminist political ecology theory very briefly. It asks us to be concerned with the environment and its impacts upon women. If we think, for example, about the oil spill that happened in the U.S. Gulf, what are the effects of that spill on women’s bodies, on their reproductive systems? We need to conduct risk assessments for women and girls when these disasters occur, to involve them in mitigation planning, to increase networking with the organizations that matter to them, along with environmental justice and sustainable development organizations, and to integrate women into local health and safety issues, including technological disasters and hazardous materials, for long-term research on the effects of these substances for women and children.


Bill’s already mentioned the gender and disaster network, so I’ll just direct you to go to this network and encourage you to download the significant amount of resources available at this free, friendly, and foremost organization.




If you’d like to email me at Branda.Phillips@OKState.edu, I’ll be glad to send you additional resources, including some of these mentioned here, links to the Gender and Disaster Network, for example. And I believe we do have somebody with us today, Damairia Pakpahan from Indonesia, and I will just stop to acknowledge that Damai is the winner of this year’s 2012 Mary Fran Myers Award. It’s been announced on the Boulder website of the Gender and Disaster website, and we want to congratulate her for working on behalf of human rights, justice, and democracy in Indonesia and for sharing what she knows with the world. Thank you, Damairia.


I’ll pass this back over to Roxane.


Suggested resources: Elaine Enarson and Brenda Phillips. 2008. “Invitation to a new Feminist Disaster Sociology: integrating feminist theory and methods.” Pp. 41-74 in Women and Disasters: from theory to practice, ed. B. Phillips and B.H. Morrow.

Gender and Disaster Network sample resources:


Vulnerability analysis tools: http://www.gdnonline.org/sourcebook/chapt/sec_view.php?id=2&sectid=2.2.

Gender-based violence tools and links: http://www.gdnonline.org/sourcebook/chapt/doc_view.php?id=2&docid=41.

Practice guides and checklists: http://www.gdnonline.org/sourcebook/chapt/sec_view.php?id=2&sectid+2.3.


Roxane Richter: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Dr. Phillips, for that compelling presentation.


Hal Newman
“Real World Fully-Inclusive Emergency Management”


Roxane Richter: Our third and final speaker today is Hal Newman. Hal has learned the craft of telling compelling stories in an environment where deadlines often included life and death, making the transition from paramedic firefighter to creative writer seems perfectly sensible to him. So does writing in burning buildings. Hal has developed the ability to listen, communication, persuade, and collaborate. He enjoys trying to do that in 140 characters or less without committing grave grammatical crimes.


The Positive Paramedic Project on Big Medicine offers an nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day. You can review his theories at the following website:




Hal Newman lives in a small town where Quebec embraces Vermont. He can be reached by email at hnewman@tems.ca. Please join in welcoming Hal Newman.


Hal Newman: Thanks for the invite, and thanks for the wonderful intro, Roxane. I’m humbled to have been asked to participate in this webinar. I’d just like to start by saying that the name Big Medicine is a nod of respect to a First Nations expression that roughly translated means, “The right people working together at the right time will be big medicine.” I’ve been saying, “Be well. Practice big medicine” for as long as I can remember. It’s my own personal version of “Sawubona,” a Zulu greeting which means, “I see you. I see all of you. I see your good works, and I see the difference you are making in the world.”


My observations are on a personal level with a global view. I represent no one but myself. So if I offend, I apologize, but please take it up with me and not with our gracious hosts.


As Roxane said, we live out in the country where Vermont meets Quebec with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. There are 3,000 people who live in our town. We are far outnumbered by the number of cows, pigs, and horses who call the rolling hills home. For me, fully inclusive gender-aware emergency management is a lofty description for what small communities have been doing for years. When bad things happen, we take care of one another. When a tree fell on our home last summer, it was our neighbor who arrived at 4 a.m. with concern, a chain saw, and a pick-up truck. When our friend Lucy Peterson died suddenly last May at the age of 52, it was the community that drew together to ensure her family would find a way through the tragedy. The ladies of the tiny village cooked so many casseroles that Howard, Lindsay, and Cheryl were embarrassed to find the kitchen filled with such an abundance of food. Neighboring farmers pitched in to help Howard bring in the hay, and a protective barrier of love and respect was erected to ensure that the family could grieve in private.

There was no plan. It is the way it has been forever.

Observation number two. My observation is that when everyone has a common goal, everyone has a role. Recently our big black dog Mateo, who’s being very gracious and not barking in the background at the moment, began barking very aggressively. He was tied out on the back porch, where he provides a measure of security for our laying hens as they take their morning wander. When we heard him going ballistic, we immediately thought there was some type of predator making a run at the chickens. A quick look outside and we were stunned to see a large black Angus bull who had crossed the fence line from the neighboring farm. He was staring down Mateo, who quite clearly had not done any type of serious risk-benefit analysis and was in hackles-up, full-out barking-defense-of-the-house mode.

With Mateo safely inside the house, I headed over to the Roy farm to tell J.T. one of his cows was in our garden. He was gone for the day, and his wife sent me home with a bucket full of feed and instructions on how to lead the cow back through the hole in the fence. With ignorance and bliss as my travel companions, I headed back to bring the beastie home, as if it was a big wayward dog. I came home to a surreal scene. My wife Diane and several other motorists had used their vehicles to try and corral the bull and prevent him from running over a highway overpass into town. Our daughter Emma had made a mad dash to her school bus and was happily leaving the insanity of life in the country for the relative quiet of high school.


The interesting thing about Mr. Bull’s visit to our home was that peace was restored and Mr. Bull was returned to his farm, and that whole efforts involved several dozen folks and a couple of semi-trailers, and all these people became involved without so much as an informal invitation. There wasn’t any time. There was no type of command structure whatsoever, and there was no official guidance. The entire women-led operation took about 90 minutes, and no bulls or people were injured. I found it interesting that Mr. Bull came for an unexpected visit and was successfully brought home by a group of strangers who came together with a common goal and found an essential role for everyone who wanted to become involved. No formal emergency services were ever involved, leading me to observation number three, which occurred when immediately post-Hurricane Katrina, I found myself in Mississippi with my colleagues Peg Blackman and Ray Lynch as part of EPI NOD’s SNAKE team, Special Needs Assessment For Katrina Evacuees.


What we found was an official process that had disintegrated in the face of Katrina’s wind fields and tidal surges. The most vulnerable members of the population were left to fend for themselves, until faith-based and community grassroots organizations stepped into the breach and created unlikely networks built of care and necessity. My third observation was that people were much more likely to turn to their fellow church-goers for help than to seek out assistance from county or state officials. The federal government was a civics lesson long since forgotten. Someone said it’s not that the feds had focused so much on Jesus Christ, but rather that the church provided a social anchor in every town and every community.


My work with Big Med allows me to tour the world of emergency management from my little corner of paradise here in the country. My fourth observation is that with the occasional wondrous exception, the wheels typically fall of the response wagon at the precise moment officials get involved in the planning process. My favorite exception to that observation is a community in Australia called—my apologies in advance for butchering what reads like a beautiful name—Mary Bernong [?] in Victoria State. And if there’s anyone on the line from Australia, or from Victoria State, my apologies. A city with a population of nearly 75,000, nearly 40% of its residents were born outside of Australia. Residents come from 135 different nations and speak 85 languages. People with a disability are important members of the community. One in five residents has a disability. One in every five overseas-born person does not speak English well or at all. Thirty-two percent of the households have no Internet connection. The city has a gender equity statement shared proudly on its website.


What captured my imagination was Mary Bernong’s emergency relief center management guidelines for culturally and linguistically diverse groups. I will provide the link so that you may be able to access the guidelines for your own review and consideration.


The background information should be required reading for all emergency managers. They’re an education unto themselves. “There aren’t elderly Burundians in the community due to the genocide which took place in Africa.” “The perception that staff in uniform are scary is due to experiences in home countries, thus there is reluctance to get involved with or seek assistance from staff in uniform.” Mary Bernong’s efforts were born out of Emergency Management Australia’s Guidelines for Emergency Management in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities, from which I’ve pulled this very interesting expert.


“One agency involved in emergency management sought to engage with Horn of Africa women to determine their experiences of the emergency services within their state. Many women actively contributed to the consultation process, and this resulted in a comprehensive and highly informative report. The project further strengthened the relationship between this government body and a vulnerable community group. However, the parameters of the project had not been clearly articulated, and the expectation by community participants that the relevant agencies was act on issues was not identified. When it was explained that this government body could not impose the project recommendations on emergency services agencies for action, the community participants felt confused and disappointed. If the process had involved a clear understanding of the limitations of that government body’s role, then this disappointment may have been avoided. The project did achieve a detailed profile of the Horn of Africa women’s needs, and the profile was shared among the emergency services. This resulted in increased awareness of issues within those agencies, and one agency in particular took up the issues presented in the research and worked with the relevant group to address them. For example, the agency trained Horn of Africa women in community education programs, and they now work as community facilitators, imparting safety messages within their communities.”


What I find fascinating is, that city detailed their entire process and have put it up online so the rest of us can share in what went right and what went wrong. I’ll briefly touch on Auckland, New Zealand, city council’s emergency management office, and also in New Zealand, Manakau [?] city council’s emergency management office, both of which practice fully inclusive emergency management and work extensively with multiple communities and ensure that gender plays an important role in the emergency planning process.


Finally, in the UK, I’ve noticed many fire services have taken on a much greater role than simply providing fire and rescue services. They have become the center of their community, providing English as a second language courses, emergency preparedness programs for recent arrivals, working with young people, partnering with schools and community groups, crafting innovative partnerships with disability support networks, all in an effort to become as fully inclusive as possible.


And my parting notes are, we live out here in the country, and when we go away, we ask our neighbors to check in on our chickens. I guess my parting note to you is to say, “Be well, practice big medicine, and please take care of each others’ chickens.” Thanks for the opportunity.


Elizabeth Davis: Thank you, Hal, for those parting remarks, and for taking care not only of chickens, but also that wayward bull as well.


Questions and Answers


Elizabeth Davis: This is Elizabeth Davis, and we’re moving into the question and answer section of today’s webinar. First, I want to thank those of you who have already sent in some questions. It’s going to be my job to filter them for the remaining time that we have together. What I’d like to do is try to summarize a very complex issue and a long question that has been asked to go to Dr. Brenda Phillips, but I do think any of the speakers could probably address it or chime in as well. Dr. Phillips, the question is based around the concept that women are often more vulnerable because they have less access to the resources because of the gender division of labor, because of their role as primary caregivers. Often that is what prevents them from participation in recovery, the need to support family in recovery first, before their own need to participate in community recovery. So the question boils down to almost two parts: what does disaster mean to everyday reality for so many women across the world? And can natural disasters actually be used as a platform for social change?


Dr. Brenda Phillips: Thanks for the question. I think that’s a very good one, and I would certainly agree that we do see differential vulnerability for women and girls, and one of those consequences is an increased burden on women in the aftermath of disasters. They’re the ones who stand in relief lines. They’re the ones who tend to pursue issues related to applications or to aid. They’re the ones that tend to form protest organizations to say, “We need to have a more equitable distribution of things.” On top of women having a deeper burden, they also tend to be the ones that step up quite well. Some of the things that we can do would be to try to decrease that burden in some ways, trying to make relief agencies understand what it is they are asking of women. Sometimes we see women struggling to get resources in developing countries because they are pushed out of the lines. So we need to make sure that we have distribution centers that safeguard women in terms of their access to those supplies, maybe even targeting women and girls for those.


Micro-loans are absolutely essential to go to women in the aftermath of a disaster, especially in developing nations, so that they have a chance to be able to earn a livelihood, which also increases their power within the families, their abilities to speak up, their confidence levels, and their have been some successful efforts doing that in India and Turkey and other locations, like the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA). When women get together and talk about that, they absolutely have the chance to network and build connections and build power in their comments.


The other issue mentioned is day care, and I would agree that’s a critically important one. We saw that in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and we saw some great examples of faith-based organizations coming in and helping to restructure and set up day care centers so that women could go back to work to earn money for their families, to gain power in their families, and to become more influential in their households and their communities. Let me pass that over to anyone else that wants to speak.


Elizabeth Davis: Do either of the other speakers wish to add to that? [pause] OK. Then in that case, what I’d like to do is pose a question to any of the speakers to maybe give a bullet-point list of two or three points where we think we can start in reducing the vulnerability within our own communities. I’ll let the attendees define community for themselves. But if we might be able to offer those starting points, building on what Dr. Phillips just pointed out, how do we really get to the root and the core? Any speaker can take that first.


Dr. William Lovekamp: Hi. This is Bill again. I don’t hear anyone else jumping in yet, so I’ll go ahead and say a few things and answer that question in the way that I see. One of the things that I wanted to mention also in connection with what Brenda just said is, I think about this issue of vulnerability, and we’ve been working on this vulnerability book, and it’s very important to realize that, at least in my mind, I don’t see vulnerability as meaning a weakness, and I wouldn’t dare tell my wife that she’s more vulnerable and equate that to being a weakness. But what it does mean is that there are unique sets of vulnerabilities for everyone, and we need to make sure that we talk with the people who are most disaster-affected when we’re trying to respond, that we talk to the community members and we figure out exactly what they need and what they want if we’re going in as professionals or researchers or emergency services personnel. That is answering the second question.


I think it’s really important, and Hal and Brenda both mentioned this, that when you’re addressing these needs, when you’re trying to do these assessments of what your community needs, however you define it, you need to talk also to the organizations that are active at the grassroots level all the time, every day, the nongovernmental organizations, the nonprofit organizations, and the religious organizations.


Dr. Brenda Phillips: I’ll identify my community as education, since I suspect that Hal’s going to be able to have some great last words about community. My community with education, I know there are at least four Ph.D. students on this webinar, to me, what they are going to do in terms of integrating theory and research with practice is really critically important. So in addition to the work that we do in our communities to empower women and to make a difference in their households, I think we also need to have people that have that vision to connect up all of those elements to make a difference.


Hal Newman: I so agree with Bill and Brenda. I think that on a community level, it’s like a quilting network. That’s what we need, we need people who can put it together. We need people who think openly, and quite frankly, in emergency management in this part of the world, it’s still an old boys’ club. We need to lose that. I’m the father of daughters, he said proudly. [laughs]


Elizabeth Davis: What I need to do, unfortunately, as moderator, is actually bring this to a close for today. One of the things that we as organizers, and I speak on behalf of EPI Global as well as USGDRA, is, it’ll be our responsibility as we move forward through the remaining four parts of this series, to adjust our format to allow for more question time. But I do want to thank each of the three speakers. I want to thank the huge number of responding attendees who have joined us today and taken time out of their very busy schedules from all over the globe to be with us. I understand and appreciate that for some of you, that equates to a crazy time in the middle of the morning.


What we would like to do is, in the last minute, remind you all that there will be a survey coming up immediately following this presentation’s ending. It addresses six questions to you. It’ll take less than one minute to complete. It deals with not only content but also the technology that we shared today to try to bring these speakers to everybody. We would be immensely grateful if you would spend that one minute filling out the survey to enable us to increase the usefulness of these webinars to our audience.


I also want to point out, as we’ve received a lot of questions today while this was going on, the verbatim recording of this session along with a transcription of the recording, will be made available after the session. We are going to strive to have those both up by the end of the month. Be patient with us as we get that pulled together. And the materials that the speakers addressed and the references they’ve made will be available to all of you through that source. So with that, I want to close today’s webinar by thanking everybody for their time and energy and most importantly, for your interest in this very, very important topic. We thank you so much for the work that you do every day in your communities, and we really do look forward to a continued dialogue. Thank you so much! We’ll see you on the next session.

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