Barriers to disaster preparedness, evacuation, and emergency response in the colonias of El Paso County

Anthony Mark Lechuga, University of Texas at El Paso


The colonias serve as a unique challenge to healthcare professionals and government agencies in developing programs and policies to reach these underserved communities. Minorities, persons of low socioeconomic status, and disabled or medically dependent persons are disproportionally affected by disasters. Researchers have studied several health outcomes prevalent in residents of colonias; however, barriers to disaster preparedness, evacuation, and emergency response have rarely, if ever, been studied in this population. This cross-sectional study applied the constructs of the Health Belief Model to identify common factors, barriers, and attitudes related to disaster preparedness, evacuation, disaster perceptions, and risk communication. Participants of this study were residents of colonias, at least 18 years of age, and spoke either English or Spanish. Community Health Workers surveyed 598 participants from several colonias located throughout El Paso County. Colonia residents reported having a high level of perceived susceptibility to the negative outcomes related to disaster events. Factors relating to family disapproval and participation were reported as the greatest barriers to disaster preparedness behaviors and intention to evacuate in colonia residents. Law enforcement agencies were reported as the most reliable and trusted source of risk communication in residents of colonias. The severe economic inequities that exist in the colonias combined with inadequate disaster preparedness contribute to the extreme vulnerability of residents of colonias to the negative outcomes associated with disaster events. The development of programs to increase disaster preparedness behaviors and evacuation should address both the health education needs and economic barriers of colonia residents and their families. Government agencies should address the underlying economic and environmental inequities to improve the condition of the colonias and law enforcement agencies should be more involved in disaster preparedness and evacuation education programs, community engagement, and risk communication.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Communication|Public health

Recommended Citation

Lechuga, Anthony Mark, "Barriers to disaster preparedness, evacuation, and emergency response in the colonias of El Paso County" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1557769.