By Dr. David P. Eisenman

Terrorism produces fear and changes behavior among U.S. minority groups, persons with a disability, and persons with a mental illness more so than other Americans. These same groups are also more likely to believe that the current level of the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) is red when it is yellow, thereby over-estimating the risk of terrorism.

This is the conclusion of UCLA researchers who analyzed data from a telephone survey of 2,588 households in Los Angeles County. For example, 8% of Latinos and 13% of Korean-Americans reported avoiding activities because of terrorism concerns compared with 1% of whites. Even controlling for differences in the distribution of gender, education, and income between groups, Latinos, Korean-Americans, persons with a mental illness, persons with a disability, and non-U.S. citizen were between 2 and 9 times more likely to avoid activities because of terrorism.

As with natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the burden of terrorism and terrorism policies such as the HSAS falls disproportionately on the country’s most vulnerable groups. The results underscore how the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration must improve its preparedness and response programs and policies for vulnerable communities.

For instance, the UCLA researchers recommend that culturally-targeted preparedness programs be placed in the community, that community representatives are included in developing emergency operations plans, and that Homeland Security form an office dedicated to representing vulnerable communities.

Dr. Eisenman, Associate Natural Scientist at RAND and an Assistant Professor in the UCLA Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research, researches health services preparedness for terrorism. From 1994 to 1999, he was the Associate Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine.