UA Professors Awarded Grant to Study Hurricane victims

By Erin McGuinness
The Razorback Reporter

A group of UA professors have been awarded a $124,527 National Science Foundation grant to research how social, community and economic resources affect the recovery of Hurricane Harvey victims.
“The project is designed to take an inventory of people who have been displaced in the coastal region of southeast Texas,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, a sociology professor and chair of the Community and Family Institute. “Specifically, we want to try and better understand what post-disaster implications are for their social ties, their social resources, the way they use capital (and) the way they had social capital but fractured during the disaster.”
Fitzpatrick is the principal investigator for “RAPID: Social Capital, Coping, and the Displaced: Health, Well-Being, and Resiliency Among Hurricane Harvey Victims.” Matthew Spialek, assistant professor of communication, and Xuan Shi, assistant professor of geosciences, will work with him on the project.
Fitzpatrick put together a team of seven graduate and post-graduate students from universities in Texas, he said. He will leave for Houston on Oct. 11 to join them and survey several victims in the area.
Half of the interviews will be with people who are staying in post-disaster shelters such as churches and Red Cross shelters. The other half will be done with people who had the means to temporarily leave the affected area by staying in a hotel or taking shelter with friends or family.
“I think that those are two different people because some were able to evacuate out and some were not. That’s a function of capital. That’s a function of resources,” Fitzpatrick said.
The interviewers will approach their tasks on the premise that not all victims are created equal when it comes to social resources, and as a result, their recovery process will be different, Fitzpatrick said.
Spialek is using his communications background to create the survey, which will map formal and informal connections that people have with their community, including a sense of belonging, who they rely or depend on and what resources are available, he said.
“Ultimately communication is very important in being able to foster reliance following disasters. Not only communication from formal organizations like FEMA or the Red Cross, or the federal or state government, but also form individuals themselves, working with one another to help each other out after a disaster,” Spialek said.
UA junior Mary Kerr Winters is a Houston native. Her family’s home did not flood, but most of her neighbors’ homes were severely damaged, she said. Friends whose home flooded stayed with the Winters family. Her neighbors are close-knit, Winters said, and those whose homes did not flood were able to take in neighbors whose homes did.
Other areas near Winters’ home did not have similar social resources, she said.
“It breaks my heart. Being from there, were very prideful to be from Houston. It doesn’t matter where you live or where you’re from in the city, it’s not a divided city, it’s very unified, so it does break my heart that this is going to take years of recovery,” she said.
Winters hopes a lot of money is donated to lower-income areas, she said.

Once the research is conducted, Fitzpatrick will write a book detailing his findings.
“My goal is to translate the data into something that helps communities better understand who is at greatest risk (during disasters), why and what are the missing links to connect them deeper to their community,” he said.
Fitzpatrick wants the surveying process to be finished by Thanksgiving, and hopes to have the entire project finished within a year, he said.

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