SGER: The October 2006 Federal Disaster in Buffalo, NY: An Investigation of First and Second Responder Operations
H. Raghav Rao Principal Investigator
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The purpose of this Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) project is to examine first and second responder's experiences, in the aftermath of the unprecedented early snow storm in Buffalo, New York, in October 2006, in an effort to contribute to the disaster literature on this important and seriously understudied topic. In doing so, we shall also examine an issue critical to preparing for and supporting effective disaster mitigation that has been marginally examined in prior research: the mental health and functioning of first responders during a disaster can be significantly impaired, like the victims of the disaster who the responders are trying to help, particularly when they are consumed with worry about their own safety and the safety of their families. This natural disaster provides a unique time-limited opportunity to examine and understand the differences between the different groups of first responders. First responders who were affected will be compared with those not affected, as well as with the second responders such as the National Guard on measures of psychological distress and the effect on effective decision making for mitigation of the disaster. The first goal here is to study affect and behavior. Typically disaster level response patterns require much higher levels of coordination patterns and response management in addition to onsite response. A second goal is to determine how and when first responders and the supporting first response infrastructure shifted from normal simple incident response patterns to disaster level patterns. This would be viewed from technology, process, and people (cognitive, behavioral and social- group and team dynamics) perspective. In the months immediately preceding the disaster, the research team had developed an empirically grounded causal model based on perception of first responders in the Western NY region regarding the critical factors affecting disaster mitigation. Prior research has shown that populations that have not experienced major disasters tend to believe they are less vulnerable and better prepared than their peers in disaster prone areas. However, less is known about what perceptions change if these same populations encounter a disastrous event. A third goal therefore is to test if there is a change in perception among first responders. This would be accomplished by administering, the same survey that was administered prior to the disaster, to the same group of first responder in Western NY, now and six months later. The information from this research will also contribute to the current body of applied knowledge in the disaster response literature and may contribute to policy implementation regarding questions of how first responders are able to respond to and recover from natural disasters. Structural equation modeling will be used to analyze paths and causal relationships. Analysis of variance and analysis of covariance, t-tests, and growth curve analysis would be used to analyze differences.<br/><br/>Findings of the research will address theoretical and practical questions about how the consequences of an exposure to disasters affect those who are entrusted to mitigate the disaster. The study will provide useful insight on changes in perception and beliefs of non-vulnerability and emergency preparedness. On the academic front, lecture modules will be developed detailing the emergency response and preparedness assessment issues for Information Assurance and Business Continuity Planning classes. Publications that will result from this work will be targeted to top-tier journals and subject area magazines. The project will also result in the dissertation of one PhD student. The results will be disseminated to the first responder and second responder communities in Western New York through focus group meetings.