Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Social researchers respond to Katrina

While information that we receive from the media is invaluable during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and often the only source of news and information, it is at best anecdotal and fragmented. Some experiences gain enormous exposure, while others fade into the background or are not related to the public at all. Social researchers have an important role to play to gather information that the media can't or won't because of it's primary concern with 'breaking news'. Some researchers have responded by initiating research with small groups of Katrina survivors to understand the impact of the disaster and the issues that face many people, and to clarify some of the worst excesses of the media's accounts i.e. the prevalence of crime...

From: Wesley Shrum <>
Date: September 6, 2005 12:52:05 PM EDT
Subject: Katrina -- one week after

On Sept 5, one week after Katrina, a team of ten people conducted qualitative interviews in the parking lot with approximately 50 displaced persons at a central Baton Rouge location. Afterwards, we met for a couple of hours, to abstract a consensus view of what we had learned. It is important to keep in mind that we spoke with individuals with some mobility (own car, other’s car, bus) that had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina and we have not yet interviewed those living in collective shelters.

The vast majority are from the New Orleans metropolitan area (including Kenner, Metairie, Chalmette, but not the New Orleans North Shore or Plaquemines). The vast majority of displaced persons are staying
in private homes.

The further one goes away from hurricane areas, the more, the
better, and the quicker is the assistance (people came back to Baton Rouge because they want to be closer to home, even in spite of reduced assistance).

Crime and fear of crime was universally unobserved or insignificant, both for early and late evacuees.

Blacks are more committed to returning home to New Orleans than whites, who express more reservations about returning (note, this does not take into account social class).

Displaced people have received assistance from (in order of importance), family, friends, and strangers. Churches have helped. Public (government) assistance was not just negligible—no member of the team recalled any instance of government assistance reported by this group of individuals (in the rare cases where help was requested, it was not provided).

Most people consider themselves to be very lucky, doing well, or doing reasonably well given the circumstances. They are not requesting assistance (beyond that they are receiving, and some of the most fortunate have their own means). But the minority of persons who are not doing well DESPERATELY NEED HELP.

The main concerns are financial, for a place to stay, and education for their children.

Put simply, depending on how long before they move back (if they do), people are worried that they will wear out their residential welcome.

Summarized by W. Shrum, 5 September 2005 World Summit event in Tunisia Science & Development Project site Society for Social Studies of Science


Mac said...

If ever there was an example of the internet changing the shape of how we communicate...

I'm reminded of the pictures on the news tonight of walls covered with scraps of paper, flyers, photos, all with the same message: "Looking for [name]" The virtual boards are filling up with those same messages.

Ms M said...

Yeah. I read somewhere that each disaster in the last few years has stepped up the use of the Internet and its capacity to mobilise. I think I agree.