6B.1 Hurricane Katrina Case in New Orleans: National Weather Service Environmental Risk Across Cultures

Saturday, 14 November 2009: 8:30 AM
Vankita Brown, NOAA/NWS, Silver Spring, MD

America's coastal cities are vulnerable to hurricanes and severe storms. These increasingly diverse coastal population centers require equally complex public health solutions. Organizations like NOAA's National Weather Service need grounding in the unique contexts of these communities in order to better mitigate loss of life from severe weather, water, and climate events. Individuals living in these coastal communities are vulnerable not just because of geographical location but also because of social and cultural influences. Effectively communicating risk to to these populations requires considerable research into the socio-cultural variables that informs or even guides behavior. Beginning in 2009, the NWS has undertaken the task of investigating the impacts of culture on weather related risk behavior and how best to communicate appropriate behavior to diverse and vulnerable populations. This project is an exploratory investigation that examines cultural, social, and psychological factors that affect evacuation decision-making in the threat of a hurricane. The research conducted twenty-two in-depth interviews with members of the New Orleans, Louisiana community who lived through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The researcher transcribed and assessed emerging themes from the interviews. Socio-cultural and psycho-social factors that emerged were participant's strong attachment to their homes, their sense of faith in God, past experiences, importance of social networks, and regional cultural temperament. These variables and findings will be used in a study design to assess which factors can enhance risk communication that will incite protective and evacuation behavior. The results from the study will then be used to create a framework or model to assist forecasters in developing more effective protocols and mechanisms for communicating risks to diverse and vulnerable publics.
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