Hurricane Sandy and its destruction have largely moved out of the media headlines, replaced by more recent news events. But for New York and New Jersey residents still dealing with devastation in its wake, it remains fresh.
It is fresh, too, for the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS) at Howard University, where faculty and students are assisting with research. NCAS is exploring the sociological impacts of the storm on residents, how people responded and why they reacted the way they did, as part of its research on how weather and climate impact society.
NCAS recently surveyed some of the communities in the New Jersey and New York areas that were affected by the October storm, which flooded New York’s subway system, destroyed more than 100 homes, left 53 people dead and caused $18 billion in damages, lost wages and income.
Terri Adams, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said the team of natural and social scientists from Howard are examining the storm on a number of levels.
“When a disaster happens, there are multiple layers of devastation that can impact an individual or a community,” Adams said. “A focus of the research is to examine how people respond to or take calls to action before a disaster. Then we examine how people respond to the disaster after it has happened.”
The research is a collaborative effort being conducted by scholars in both the social and natural sciences. Adams will lead the social science research alongside Carolyn Stroman, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Communications and Culture; Tia Tyree, Ph.D., associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Journalism; and Cynthia Winston, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
Everette Joseph, Ph.D., the NCAS deputy director, Beltsville Center for Climate and Systems Observations and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will lead the natural science research. They are working in conjunction with Vernon Morris, Ph.D., director of NCAS and professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Bill Stockwell, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Members from the team spent three days visiting Atlantic City, N.J., and Breezy Point and Staten Island, N.Y., talking with residents about Hurricane Sandy and their personal experiences.
“We found that Hurricane Sandy had devastating effects on the impacted communities,” Adams said. “The normal things that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis, like running water and electricity, were wiped out. It damaged a number of homes to the point where residents were basically forced to move out of their homes and relocate to other communities.”
NCAS is funded by NOAA. NCAS research supports NOAA’s mission and provides educational opportunities for students.
“With the social science research, we’re trying to find out what are some of the things that motivate people to take protective action and what are some of the most effective communication tools that will encourage people to process the information and respond accordingly,” Adams said, "so that we can share these findings with NOAA."
In addition to their findings on large community displacement, the group also gathered preliminary data that support the idea that social class might affect people’s responses to disasters, Adams said.
“If you look at some of the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy, you see large numbers of White Americans who were not necessarily left behind, but chose to stay behind,” she said. “So, what we’re trying to do is disentangle why people make those choices, and we think that there might be some race, class and gender implications associated with this phenomenon.”
The research is a part of the larger, interdisciplinary research efforts taking place among the scientists of NCAS that will explore several different natural disaster sites. The research is still in its developmental stage, Adams said, and the group has plans to return to New York and New Jersey to gather additional data.
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