RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A pilot study by nonprofit research institute RTI International published Friday found that people who stayed in American Red Cross shelters set up in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence had many social and economic needs.
The study, conducted over four weeks at 12 shelters, found that:
- 70 percent of people surveyed had no family or friends to stay with
- 65 percent could not afford to evacuate to another location
- 39 percent had no transportation to leave the area
- 73 percent received health care through Medicaid, Medicare or the VA
Only 24 percent of people were employed at the time they were surveyed, compared to 61 percent of the general population where they lived. One in 10 also reported they were homeless.
“Our goal was to quickly obtain information about the experiences and needs of vulnerable North Carolinians during Hurricane Florence,” said Laura DiGrande, DrPH, MPH, a research scientist at RTI and principal investigator of the study. “We found that individuals who sought shelter services represented community members with limitations that hindered their ability to make other arrangements to ensure their safety during Hurricane Florence.”
The study also explored sources of information on the storm leading up to evacuation. The majority of participants, 70 percent, relied on television for emergency communications, compared to 27 percent who cited websites, 27 percent who cited radio and 36 percent who cited text messages.
“This pilot study provides unique data on hurricane evacuees that hasn’t been collected in the past for North Carolina, and it confirms that shelters serve a critical need in the aftermath of hurricanes or other weather-related disasters,” said Christine Bevc, PhD, a research health analyst at RTI and one of the co-leads of the study. “Our hope is that these findings can set the stage for future research and inform future response efforts.”
Researchers used interviewer-led paper surveys to conduct the study because the method does not rely on electricity, internet or the literacy of the participants. They also tested the feasibility of using an SMS text survey to administer a five-item follow-up questionnaire, but fewer than one in four evacuees participated.
“Interviewer-led paper surveys seem to still be the best method for the unpredictable environment we were in,” Dr. DiGrande noted. “But researchers should continue to explore other survey methods to collecting timely data on the effects natural disasters have on vulnerable populations.”
Ninety percent of participants consented to follow-up, which could allow for an in-depth look at the health, safety and well-being of participants, in addition to insight on their experiences with support services during Hurricane Florence and levels of preparedness for this year’s hurricane season.
RTI Press published the study. It is available here: www.rti.org/rti-press-publication/hurricane-shelter-evacuees.