Governmental and non-governmental agency response to Katrina evacuees focus of new University of Texas at Austin study

June 6, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—University of Texas at Austin researchers have received $100,000 from the National Science Foundation to investigate how the actions of governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations affect the ability of disaster victims to recover after events like Hurricane Katrina.

The study is being conducted in Austin, which received a large number of evacuees and is home to a range of aid organizations. Dr. Ronald Angel of the Department of Sociology is lead investigator for the study titled “The Parallel Strengths and Weaknesses of the Civil Society and the State: The Example of Katrina Survivors.”

Angel will be working with Dr. Laura Lein of the School of Social Work and Department of Anthropology and faculty and students from the university’s Population Research Center, the Center for Social Work Research and a social work faculty member from Tulane University.

“What we want to do is better understand how these agencies enhance or impede the resiliency of disaster victims,” said Lein. “How do they contribute to individuals’ and families’ ability to deal with grief and loss and to adapt to new and greatly altered circumstances?”

Lein said the national experience with Katrina has shown that the devolution of services to the most local level has strengths, but also “real limitations” in the volume and length of the term of services that can be offered. The crisis provides a context in which to better understand the complementary roles of government, civil society and the smaller informal assistance networks composed of relatives and friends.

“The analysis will explore the diversity of ways in which evacuees sought and received help,” Lein said. 

Angel said researchers will look at families’ situations and activities before, during and after the storm. The project includes on-going follow-up with evacuees over a year.

“We want to learn how their positions prior to evacuation-related to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and personal resources—as well as their strategies afterward affected their experiences in Austin and their decisions about how and where to resettle,” Angel said.

The researchers, among them School of Social Work research associate Holly Bell, also will study the response of service networks and are conducting in-depth interviews with professionals and volunteers about their experiences helping evacuees.

For more information contact: Nancy Neff, School of Social Work, 512-471-6504.