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UA Professor to Lead Hurricane Harvey Research

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Hurricane Harvey Efforts

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a sociology professor and chairperson of the Community and Family Institute, helps prepare a team of UA researchers for a trip to Houston on Oct. 9.


A group of UA professors received just under $125,000 from the National Science Foundation to research how social, community and economic resources affect the recovery of Hurricane Harvey victims.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a sociology professor and chairperson of the Community and Family Institute, is the principal investigator for the research project 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 be working with him on the project.

Fitzpatrick put together a team of seven graduate and post-graduate students from universities in Texas to survey Hurricane Harvey victims, he said. He planned to leave for Houston on Oct. 11 to join them.

“The project is designed to take an inventory of people who have been displaced in the coastal region of southeast Texas,” Fitzpatrick said.

Through his research, Fitzpatrick wants to understand the post-disaster involvement of social ties, such as family members and friends of victims, and social resources, such as churches and organizations, that link victims together.    

The interviewers will conduct half of the interviews with people who are staying in post-disaster shelters such as churches and American Red Cross shelters. The other half of interviews 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,” Fitzpatrick said. “That's a function of capital. That's a function of resources.”

The interviewers will begin with 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, he said.

Spialek is using his background in communications 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 to them, Spialek said.

“Ultimately, communication is very important in being able to foster reliance following disasters,” he said. “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.”

Junior Mary Kerr Winters is a Houston native. While her family’s home did not flood, the majority of her neighbors’ homes were severely damaged, she said.

Family friends, whose home flooded, stayed with the Winters family. Her neighbors are close-knit, and those whose homes did not flood were able to take in neighbors whose homes did, she said.

Other areas near the Winters’ home did not have similar social resources, she said.

“It breaks my heart,” Winters said. “Being from there, we’re 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.”

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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