New Book Review

Book Review: Cultural Competency for Emergency and Crisis Management

Editors: Claire Connolly Knox and Brittany “Brie” Haupt
Title: Cultural Competency for Emergency and Crisis Management: Concepts, Theories and Case Studies. Publisher: Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group, New York and London. April 2020. ISBN: 978-0-367-32183-3; Pages: 276; paperback price $49.95

Contributors: DeeDee Bennett; Thomas Carey; Stephen S. Carter; Frannie Edwards; N. Emel Ganapati; Jerry V. Graves; Brittany “Brie” Haupt; Alessandra Jerolleman; Claire Connolly Knox; Mark Landahl; Emily MacNabb; James Ramsay; Christa Remington; Keith D. Revell; Abdul Samad; Yoon Ah Shin; Susan Spice; and Jungwon Yeo

Keywords: cultural competency; crisis management; emergency management; disaster management; disaster response; disaster preparedness; disaster relief; case studies; special needs populations; vulnerable populations; social vulnerability; at-risk population; religious minorities; autism; hearing-impaired; homelessness; shelters; safety; active shooter; displaced population; HAZMAT; evacuation; refugee camp; conflict zones.

Reviewer: Irmak Renda-Tanali, D.Sc., disaster management specialist, PDC Global.

This textbook provides a multitude of case studies each written by academics who are actively teaching and/or have developed curriculum in the fields of crisis, disaster, and/or emergency management with a specific focus on vulnerable populations that are the weakest links in the hazard-risk chain. The editors are experts in the field with many years of conducting research and teaching with particular emphasis on social vulnerability and cultural complexity within the context of emergencies and disasters.

While the book is designed to help instructors teach graduate or undergraduate level cultural competency classes, it can also be used as a training tool or to gain one’s understanding of what cultural competency entails and how the knowledge can be applied to professional settings. Populations that have differing characteristics than one’s own can span a wide array including but not limited to: gender, age, race, religion, national background, immigration status, languages spoken, residency, disability, income level, or caste or other cultural differences in international disaster settings other than the U.S.

The book has sixteen (16) chapters of which the first four were written by the editors, and the remaining twelve (12) each written by different authors.

The editors set the stage by giving the historical background and context of cultural competency and why it is important for emergency managers to develop cultural competency skills. The editors initially draw from personal experiences to explain the reasons why cultural competency matters in reducing the suffering from disasters. They then provide a structured methodology for conducting facilitated small group exercises in face-to-face and virtual classroom settings for teaching cultural competency curriculum in crisis and emergency management in higher education. The exercise framework involves an assessment of a student’s understanding of cultural competency and a self-identification of culture biases before the group exercise. The framework then provides probing questions to raise an understanding of the given disaster scenario where the emergency manager will need to navigate an environment that is different from their accustomed cultural settings. The intent is to raise awareness and sensitivity towards disaster-affected populations and stakeholders who may share different cultural norms, be in different cultural, physical, political, or emotional settings than the disaster managers. A post-exercise self-assessment is done to test the student’s level of improvement in understanding cultural competencies in that given scenario exercise. The framework helps the facilitator to allow the  ideas flow freely and students engage in respectful conduct towards one another.

The framework introduced by the editors is applied to all the case studies covered by varying authors in the rest of the chapters. This way makes it easier to navigate through the book which is written by a variety of authors with different backgrounds and writing styles. The case studies cover both the U.S. and international settings and provide a good breadth of issues that emergency managers can come across in terms of cultural differences. The case studies involve an active shooter situation in a public school setting while some students have hearing, vision, and mental impairments; evacuating and sheltering at-risk populations that involve undocumented immigrants and non-English speaking communities; evacuating homeless populations from a wildfire; making shelter planning for communities that have various special needs individuals including those with service animals, medical needs, disabilities, the elderly, and undocumented immigrants; responding to a HAZMAT situation where community members consist of minority groups; accommodating children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in crisis situations; accommodating to the special requests of Muslim minorities and ensuring their safety in a hurricane shelter in the U.S.; responding to an Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in a refugee camp in a West African country; trying to earn the trust of earthquake victims in Haiti as an international NGO aid worker; and again as an international aid worker,  assisting in a relief camp Syrian refugees fleeing conflict zone who have differing dialects, local customs, attitudes towards healthcare and other issues.

The book’s contribution is to bring cultural awareness to the forefront of professional competency requirements for emergency managers. As emergency management continues to emerge as a distinct discipline, this book emphasizes the need to integrate cultural competency to the future accreditation standards and protocols. It also makes the case of diving deeper to cultural competency beyond that of faculty diversity in schools that offer higher education programs in emergency, disaster, and crisis management.


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