Although this research project does not focus on the legal aspects of social vulnerability and emergency management, it is an important component of policy and planning realities. Emergency managers in cities have been motivated to take action to make reasonable attempts to accommodate people with disabilities out of fear that they will be sued based on the Americans with Disabilities Act violations. This fear is based on Los Angeles and New York City being sued for lack of ADA compliance in their emergency plans (Sherry & Harkins, 2011). However, there are legal imperatives for other social characteristics and conditions. Cities should not wait for civil rights advocates to bring suit in order to begin to include the diverse needs of people in emergency plans. Precedent or prevalence of lawsuits should not guide adherence to accommodating the needs of the communities we serve. A healthy respect for the letter and spirit of the law should be enough.
Civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and Sections 308-309 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (as amended) provide that persons in the United States shall not be denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or subject to discrimination under federally funded programs or activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, or economic status (Milligan & Company, 2007; Paulison, 2005). Additionally, following the August 11, 2000 passage of Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” people with limited English proficiency qualify for the same anti-discrimination protection designated for race, color, or national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).
Protecting the rights of all people extends through the recovery phase. Section 308 of the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Management and Disaster Assistance Act reinforces the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, age, or economic status with regard to disaster assistance programs. Rights relevant to recovery are also protected under the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Despite the existence of these laws, there have been documented violations of civil rights statutes after disasters (Muñiz, 2006). The provision of accessible and appropriate recovery services is not charity, but a human right recognized by the United Nations (Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, 2008) and protected by the previously mentioned laws and directives. Social equity is one of the four pillars of public administration but is still not practiced as a standard for the manner in which the government provides all services (Norman-Major, 2011), including mitigation, response, and recovery in emergency management.