Abstract: Examining Barriers, Stressors, and Protective Factors Impacting Tornado Preparedness and Recovery in Black and Latinx Adults in Middle Tennessee (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

110P Examining Barriers, Stressors, and Protective Factors Impacting Tornado Preparedness and Recovery in Black and Latinx Adults in Middle Tennessee

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer First, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Mary Held, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, The University of Tennessee, Nashville, TN
Kelsey Ellis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Background: On March 3rd, 2020, Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding counties were hit by a series of nocturnal tornadoes that killed 25 individuals and injured over 300. In Tennessee and the southeast, a relatively high proportion of tornadoes occur at night which makes them twice as likely to kill and cause injuries due to a lack of warnings being received (Ellis et al., 2020). While a tornado can broadly affect an entire community, not all individuals are equally prepared or protected. Limited research indicates that Black and Latinx communities face significant disparities that have historically impacted both preparedness for disasters and the support received after a disaster has occurred (Reid, 2013). The current study examined various barriers to receiving emergency warning alerts along with tornado-related stressors and protective factors impacting mental health among Black and Latinx participants following the March 3, 2020 tornadoes.

Methods: Cross-sectional survey data were collected via an online questionnaire with 134 Black and Latinx adults in Middle Tennessee who were exposed to the March 3, 2020 tornadoes. Guided by a risk and protective framework, our analyses included: (1) descriptive statistics to identify barriers to receiving weather emergency alerts, and (2) structural equation modeling (SEM) to test relationships between disaster-stressors, protective factors, and mental health outcomes (i.e. depression and PTSD). All analyses were performed with R statistical software and the psych and lavaan packages.

Results: Our sample included 80.3% Black participants, 17% Latinx participants, and 2.7% identifying as multi-racial. Descriptive analysis found the most significant barrier in accessing emergency services or information cited by participants was being asleep (44.5%), followed by not hearing tornado sirens (27.7%), no access to a smart phone to receive weather emergency alerts (22.6%), no access to a NOAA weather radio to receive alerts (14.6%), and encountering language barriers (10.9%). The SEM models converged and had acceptable model fit. SEM results found that having more tornado-related stressors was significantly and positively associated with having more depression (β = .615, p<.001) and more PTSD (β = .566, p<.001). Results also found that having various protective factors (material, social, and psychological resources) was significantly associated with having lower depression scores (β = -.299, p<.001) but was not significantly related to having fewer PTSD symptoms (p value =.06)

Conclusions & Implications: Findings from this study identify various barriers encountered for accessing emergency alert information by Black and Latinx adults. National Weather Service offices and emergency management professionals should build partnerships with Black and Latinx leaders, organizations, and residents to develop policies and practices to address weather alert barriers prior to and during an event. In addition, findings from this study support the need for providing various community resources and culturally and linguistically competent mental health services following a disaster event.


Ellis, K., et al. (2020). In the dark: Public perceptions of and National Weather Service forecaster considerations for nocturnal tornadoes in Tennessee. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Reid, M. (2013). Disasters and Social Inequalities. Sociology Compass, 7, 984–997.