Extreme Weather Preparedness & Health Equity

With devastating wildfires and extreme cold across Oregon and Idaho in recent years, Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Environmental Public Health have expanded focus to severe weather and protecting those who may be at higher risk. The Malheur County Health Department is currently developing an All Hazards Plan, a Health Equity Plan, and a Climate Adaptation Plan to better protect everyone in our county and prepare for disasters.

Recently, Dr. Leandris Liburd, Director of CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, shared important points in a recent newsletter relevant to people in Malheur County especially because of our high risk on the Social Vulnerability Index.

“Social vulnerability is the potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health. Such stresses include natural or human-caused disasters, or disease outbreaks. Reducing social vulnerability can decrease both human suffering and economic loss.”

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Dr. Liburd shared what she learned from Dr. Patrick Breysse, Director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and ATSDR, on how “communities that experience a disproportionate burden of health disparities across a variety of health issues might also be at greater risk for the negative impacts of climate change,” which includes extreme weather. Some of his points related to health equity and extreme weather preparedness are below.

  • People throughout the United States face climate change-related health risks, but some of us will feel the effects earlier and more severely. This is because of differences in our exposures to climate hazards, our sensitivity to these hazards, and our ability to adapt. These obstacles particularly affect communities of color, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, people who are incarcerated or without homes, and those who live in rural or frontier settings.
  • Climate change will worsen existing disparities in social conditions and health, and harms associated with climate change are burdening groups that have contributed the least to cause it. Very often, communities with lower access to basic necessities such as clean air and water, and other vital social determinants of health (SDOH) struggle to fully recover from climate related events, leaving them more fragile to respond to future health hazards. 
  • Partnering with communities with the greatest need to ensure they have consistent access to their basic necessities is an important step in becoming more resilient against climate change.

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