What Can Community Leaders Learn

From the LSU Katrina Survey?




            What can leaders in greater New Orleans do to help their communities recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina?  What can they do with limited resources to help their members return and build back?  How many of their members have already returned, how many plan to, how many would like to, and how many have given up thought of returning?  To what extent is this just a question of economics, and how much difference can community members and leaders working together make? 


            This survey tries to provide community leaders with information with which to make plans and decisions.  The survey is indeed, basic, scholarly University research.  But unlike some research, it tries to quickly put the results into the hands of community leaders who are in a position to actually help community members.



What kinds of questions does the survey try to answer?


Here are some of questions that the survey may help community leaders answer, or at least get better information about, for their planning and decision-making:


  • How much damage did community members sustain?  What will it take to recover?  Do people consider it worth it?  Are they willing?

§         Where will they look for resources for recovery?

§         How important are social/community resources, as compared to material resources?


  • Where did people go if & when they evacuated?  Did their own community care for them?


  • Who is staying, who is leaving, and why?

§         Is it jobs?  Family connections?  Destruction and loss?

§         Is it the strength and vibrancy of members’ own community?  The general community?

§         Is there a self-reinforcing circle, that if many leave, more will; and that if many stay, more will?

§         Do community members feel safe and protected from future storms?


  • What can leadership do to help people return and rebuild?

§         What is the effect of guaranteeing the survival of community institutions?

§         How important is community event programming?

§         How important is symbolic support, even if/after material support reaches limits?

§         Can job offers be matched?

§         Can scholarships be offered for school children?


  • How much did community members work together, cooperatively, during the aftermath and the recovery?

§         Do styles or methods of cooperation differ among communities?

§         What skills do different communities bring to bear?


  • How much cohesion is there within each community?  How important is community and identity to feelings of well-being of the members?  How can leadership make people feel more included, even if they don’t expend more resources?


  • Do community members feel that their community has improved and will continue to improve since Katrina?

§         Do people feel it’s created more closeness or more conflict?

§         Has it brought them closer to other communities or not?

§         What, if anything, can be done to improve these situations?


  • What have the disasters meant to to members spiritually?

§         Have they challenged and/or reinforced beliefs and faith?

§         Do members feel closer to others in their own community, in their regional community, in the larger community?

§         Do members feel secure that others would help them?

§         Have feelings of arrogance, demands, etc. interfered with these feelings?

§         Have the disasters produced more fears and anger, or more optimism and resolve to repair the world?  Or much of both?


  • How much stress is there among community members, and what can help mitigate it?

§         How important are social/communal factors, as against material factors?

§         Most research suggests that people with good social support handle stress better.  But my own recent research shows that socially involved people may be more stressed, for the same reason – they are looking out for so many more people.  Will this hold in post-Katrina communities, as well?


  • Do community members feel supported by their communities outside Greater New Orleans?

§         Has the disaster brought the GNO communities closer to their outside counterparts?

§         Or do GNO community members feel that outsiders have been arrogant, demanding, not understanding?


  • Whom do community members praise and blame?


  • How do community members differ on these questions among themselves?  Within families, between people who differ in their religiosity, their education, their economic standing, between age and gender groups, and so on. 



How will the survey results be used?


            We will make results of the study available to organizational and congregational leaders that participate in the project.  Our hope is that members and leaders will see more effective ways to recover from the disaster, and that the lessons learned can be more generally applicable to other community endeavors.


            We will compile the results of the surveys and do statistical analyses of them, and will publish the results in scholarly sociology journals.  We seek to aid recovery – and follow the doctor’s oath, “do no harm” – so if we are able to publish in more popular venues to promote this aim, we will do so.


            Privacy and confidentiality are of the greatest importance.  In no case will personally-identifying information be released about survey respondents.  Percentaged results for specific congregations or neighborhoods (by name) will not be made public, unless their leaders give permission.  Leaders will receive percentaged results about their own community, which they can choose to share with members in that form.