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Disaster Planning and Risk Communication With Vulnerable Communities: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina

Eisenman, D.P.; Cordasco, K.M.; Asch, S.; Golden, J.F.; Gilk, D.

April 1, 2007

Objectives. We studied the experience of Hurricane Katrina evacuees to better understand factors influencing evacuation decisions in impoverished, mainly minority communities that were most severely affected by the disaster.

Methods. We performed qualitative interviews with 58 randomly selected evacuees living in Houston’s major evacuation centers from September 9 to 12, 2005. Transcripts were content analyzed using grounded theory methodology.

Results. Participants were mainly African American, had low incomes, and were from New Orleans. Participants’ strong ties to extended family, friends, and community groups influenced other factors affecting evacuation, including transportation, access to shelter, and perception of evacuation messages. These social connections cut both ways, which facilitated and hindered evacuation decisions.

Conclusions. Effective disaster plans must account for the specific obstacles encountered by vulnerable and minority communities. Removing the more apparent obstacles of shelter and transportation will likely be insufficient for improving disaster plans for impoverished, minority communities. The important influence of extended families and social networks demand better community-based communication and preparation strategies.