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Communication Strategies with a Vulnerable Population

Communication during a crisis is essential for both victims and the emergency services. Often, conventional forms of communication are unavailable due to the circumstances of the crisis. In cases like these, alternative methods of communication are required. Unfortunately, not all of them apply to the vulnerable populations, such as older adults. This paper will cover one such alternative method, how it was used during a crisis, a strategy of communicating with a vulnerable population, and one example of how it was used.

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One of the best alternative forms of communication during crisis situations is the internet. As of 2017, it has spread to most developed nations, becoming a standard service in most households. It is easy and cheap to provide, in comparison to other systems, and it is likely to be available during a crisis. Its use is also versatile as it can be accessed from any computer, smartphone, smart televisions, and even through regular phones that are connected through a VOIP connection.

It has already proven to be effective after the events of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Hurricane Sandy in 2012. During Hurricane Sandy, users were able to communicate with each other, despite the lack of cell service. Through social media, emergency services and organizations helping in the disaster relief were able to provide information about their location. Emergency information was able to be spread much quicker than through conventional means. These events have shown how the Internet can be an effective alternative form of communication. With time, it could be used to provide emergency information through apps created by emergency services, and other possible means (Jones, 2014).

Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, sometimes are not technically proficient enough to use new forms of media such as the internet. In these cases, a combined effort of multiple strategies is required. First of all, preparedness is key. If possible, family or friends of the older adult should prepare an emergency form of communication such as a preprogrammed elderly-friendly smartphone. In case no family or friends are available, a local NGO/CBO agency should inform the person and provide services in case they are needed. These tactics should be combined with the use of the internet.

During Hurricane Sandy, there were dozens of cases when a concerned person informed emergency services about elderly members of their community who might need help (Kulemeka, 2014). Community effort should not be underestimated. People should be encouraged to know their neighbors, especially if they belong to the vulnerable populations. In preparation for the disaster, the internet can be used by the people helping the elderly to provide them with CDC recommendations for elderly, and other vulnerable groups. The ability of elderly should also be considered. The Internet has become very accessible. It is not unusual for an older adult to use social media such as Facebook when even five years ago it might have seemed unlikely. NGO/CBO agencies should consider providing online information services targeted specifically at the elderly members of society (Gotanda et al., 2015).


Without communication, people are likely to perish during a crisis. Thankfully, with the advancement of technology, new and innovative ways of communication are becoming available to people. The Internet might be one of the most useful tools during a disaster, but it is important to consider people who cannot use it. That is who one single solution cannot be used for every person.


Gotanda, H., Fogel, J., Husk, G., Levine, J., Peterson, M., Baumlin, K., & Habboushe, J. (2015). Hurricane Sandy: Impact on emergency department and hospital utilization by older adults in Lower Manhattan, New York (USA). Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 30(05), 496-502. Web.

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Jones, M. (2014). Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems). New York, NY: ACM.

Kulemeka, O. (2014). How people affected by disaster use the Internet: A study of Facebook usage during the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire in Victoria. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 18(2), 51-56.

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