Abstract: Coping with Natural Disasters: Lessons Learned on the Importance of Human Relationships and Social Capital (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

703P Coping with Natural Disasters: Lessons Learned on the Importance of Human Relationships and Social Capital

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Allison Gibson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Background: The effects of natural disasters are most daunting among older populations, especially those with intersecting vulnerable social locations, such as low-income aging racial/ethnic minorities.  Yet, there is a paucity of literature on these experiences. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of this population before and during the 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

Methods: Using a modified grounded theory approach, the in-depth interviews followed procedures that previous experts recommend (e.g., Charmaz, 2006). The study participants were recruited through a snowball method and through flyers that were posted throughout the flood affected communities. Semi-structured interviews were used in this study. The face-to-face interviews lasted between 30 and 45 minutes and were conducted in participants’ homes and public facilities of the participants’ choosing (i.e., church, place of employment). The analysis focused on the identification of themes, i.e., underlying ideas, assumptions, and conceptualizations, through a coding process that progressed from description to interpretation, focusing on identifying similarities as well as differences within and across individuals and subgroups. It included six phases: (1) Familiarization with the data (2) Generation of initial code (3) Identification of potential themes (4) Reviewing themes (5) Defining and naming themes and (6) Producing the report.  Inter-rater agreement was used in the coding using a subsample of the data. Data were analyzed in accordance with recommended coding methods, including four coding strategies: open and selective coding of the data, constant comparative analysis, and memoing.  The research team inductively and deductively compared and contrasted categories. Further, the researchers wrote memos about their decisions, thoughts, and interpretations. Peer debriefing and an audit trail were used to enhance credibility of the data. 

Results: The study aimed to gain knowledge of the experiences of 15 aging minorities with Hurricane Matthew (n=15).  The sample was primarily 73.3% females, with a mean age of 69, and of racial/ethnic minorities (53.3% Black and 46.7% Hispanic). All participants self-identified as low-income. The main theme that emerged from this study on how low-income aging minorities cope with natural disasters was the reliance on social capital and importance of human relationships. The results suggest that in the context of having low-income, aging minority rely on a range of support that can be characterized as bonding and bridging social capital.  Support came through information and tangible help they received from family, friends, church community, and neighbors. Bridging social capital came from federal and non-profit agencies as well as help received from their employers.     

Implications: Social capital emerged as a major source of help following the natural disasters.  Pre-disaster planning should focus on supporting older populations on building social capital. This may be especially beneficiary for low-income, aging minority, who may lack adequate financial resources on which to rely. Cultural adaptations to interventions like Prepwise should be explored in future research. Presentation will conclude with further discussion of social work’s role in disaster planning and response with these populations.