More census data on homeless could help in crisis planning
The U.S. Census Bureau can provide information to help Hawaii officials plan for disasters and to help assess damage after a hurricane, flood or tsunami, census officials said yesterday.
But the bureau's new American Community Survey, which is mailed to about 2.5 percent of the homes in the country each year, does not count the homeless -- something James Christy, regional director for the census, described as a gap in the information needed to plan for disasters.
Christy and other census officials from the Los Angeles regional office met with state and county planners and community groups yesterday to get feedback on how to improve the census and to explain how census data can be used in emergency planning, preparedness and recovery.
Christy said a drive up the Waianae Coast during his visit was "eye-opening" to see to the numbers of people who are apparently living in beach areas who could be in danger if a tsunami or hurricane strikes.
The bureau is making plans to count the homeless in the regular 2010 census, Christy said.
But the information will not be part of the American Community Survey, which will replace the long-form questionnaire that was sent to one in six households during the regular census. American Community Survey results are being released yearly, instead of every 10 years, to provide more timely information.
In August, detailed information from last year's survey will be released and will cover communities with a population of more than 65,000. In Hawaii that means there will be detailed information on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island but not Kauai.
The census is planning to release annual reports on communities with more than 20,000 population in 2008.
State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino brought up the issue of the homeless in the discussion with Christy.
Fukino said the state does conduct surveys of the homeless and has access to information from social workers and other groups who work with them.
But, she said, depending on how it is collected, census data could be more valuable.
If information from the survey is used in computer programs called "geographic information systems," emergency planners also need to know that the information does not include the homeless, Fukino said.
The census also has information on the number of people who speak languages other than English and what areas those people live in, which helps in getting emergency information out.
Christy said the census, through the American Community Survey, was able to provide information on New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina, which helped officials in estimating the cost of the disaster and how it changed the city.
Christy said what he observed in Hawaii and the comments at yesterday's meeting will go back to census officials in Washington, D.C., as the agency looks at how to improve the census.