At-Risk Populations

We are all at risk in a variety of ways in any type of disaster. Knowing your risk factors can help you to prepare and plan in advance of an emergency.

Three types of factors are the common reasons why people are at risk in a disaster. The first factor is likelihood of exposure. Second is likelihood that you could be susceptible to illness or life-threatening situations because of exposure. Third is your ability to do activities that would be necessary for you to remain healthy in a disaster. We often refer to these as functional abilities.


There are many ways that a person could be exposed to a disaster. Geographic location is often a factor. For example, your location can influence your likelihood of exposure to flood water inundation after a coastal storm. Another form of exposure is your likelihood of contact with other people during a disease outbreak. For example, if you are a medical professional, a home health care worker or a family caregiver you may have greater likelihood of exposure to some illnesses, such as pandemic influenza.


Susceptibility refers to a person’s likelihood of experiencing illness or loss of life. Planners at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene look to determine which people in our communities have higher rates of adverse health outcomes when exposed to a disaster. For example, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant or have a pre-existing medical condition such as respiratory illness may be more likely to have adverse health outcomes if exposed to pandemic influenza. This means that recommendations during an emergency may be different for someone who is more susceptible to illness than the general population.

Functional Abilities

Functional ability refers to whether a person can do the necessary tasks during an emergency to remain healthy. Actions a person might need to do in a disaster include receiving and understanding public announcements, locating and traveling to a location where disaster health services are being provided, managing stress and being able to self-monitor for adverse reactions to medications. The Health Department aims to identify those who will have difficulty in particular emergencies and looks to provide additional assistance and/or guidance to help these individuals.

Jurisdictional Risk Assessment

The Health Department conducts the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment (PDF) every five years to determine which public health threats are most likely to exceed the City’s response capabilities. Results from this assessment allow the Health Department to identify where additional planning and investment will have the most impact.

The current assessment was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Department will use experiences from the pandemic response to inform the next assessment and better protect the health of New Yorkers every day and in times of emergency.

Considerations for Different Risk Groups


Include your children in preparing for emergencies. Below are some helpful hints to get started.

  • Children should know their family name, address and phone numbers
  • Children should know where to meet in case of an emergency
  • Understand the emergency plans for your child’s school or day care facility
  • Provide the facility up-to-date contact information for how to reach you or an authorized relative/friend

Caring for Children During Emergencies

  • Be aware of children’s reaction to stressful and traumatic events, so you can recognize them. Their reactions may vary depending on their age and understanding of what happened.
  • Stay calm, as your reactions affect your children. If they see you extremely worried, it can make them feel afraid and insecure.
  • Talk to your children about what happened, answer their questions in a way that they can understand and let them express their feelings.
  • Reassure your children about their safety and that they are in no way responsible for what happened.
  • Limit their exposure to disturbing news and images by limiting the amount of television they watch.

Resources for Children

Older adults

Older New Yorkers may have added challenges in an emergency - making a plan and discussing it with your support networks may help. Below are some helpful tips to get started.

  • Create a support network with family, friends, neighbors, and/or caregivers
  • If you receive home-based care, develop a plan with your caregivers in advance
  • If you receive dialysis or other medical treatments, find out more about your provider’s emergency plan
  • If you have a service animal, plan for their needs

Resources for Older Adults

People with Disabilities

If you are a person living with a disability, you should have well-developed plans for how you locate, navigate and access resources for daily living. Planning ahead for a possible emergency can help you remain as independent as possible. Below are some helpful tips to get started. Learn more about how to prepare and how to make a plan.

Resources for People with Disabilities

Pet Owners

Pets are also part of the family. Make sure that you are preparing for the needs of your pet in a disaster. The following information will help you incorporate your pet’s needs into your family’s emergency plan. Learn more about how to prepare for the needs of your pet.

  • Make sure your pet is always wearing a collar
  • If you are going to a temporary location, add your temporary location to your pet’s collar
  • If your pet has special medical or dietary requirements, make sure to add them to your emergency supply kit

Additional Resources