UNT researchers receive $327,000 NSF grant to study disaster preparedness of Native American communities

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 15:25

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Two University of North Texas researchers have received a $327,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study disaster preparedness among Native American communities -- a historically underrepresented population in the field of emergency preparedness research in the United States.

Gary Webb, professor of public administration at UNT, and Nicole Dash, associate professor of sociology and associate dean in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, say the results are expected to help communities better prepare for and rebound from emergencies.

"Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, community resilience has been a national priority, and we know some communities have made great advances in preparing for large-scale disaster events, but we know far less about socially vulnerable communities, including those in rural areas, impoverished communities and certainly Native American communities," said Webb, principal investigator of the grant. "Native American communities are simultaneously socially vulnerable and exposed to significant natural and technological hazards, yet we know almost nothing about their level of disaster preparedness and the impacts of disasters on these communities."

Previous studies in the emergency preparedness field have often focused on individuals, households and organizations rather than communities, the researchers said. But this three-year study, which began this month, will involve engaging with the community to get information about the challenges they face in dealing with hazards and disasters.

"This project is exciting on multiple levels particularly related to the groundbreaking nature of the study," said Dash, co-principal investigator of the grant. "But it is also a great example of the type of community-engaged scholarship many faculty do in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. The college's mission is to strengthen communities, and we are confident that findings from this project will make a significant impact."

In the first year of the project, researchers plan to conduct focus groups in Native American communities to identify natural and technological hazards they face. The researchers will study the existing emergency management structures in the community and assess communities' challenges in implementing emergency planning initiatives such as the National Incident Management System and National Preparedness Goal.

In the second year, the researchers plan to conduct a large-scale survey of tribal leaders across the country to measure levels of preparedness in communities.

The third and final year of the project will be spent conducting geo-spatial analysis and performing statistical tests to determine preparedness.

Webb and Dash will work with a doctoral student in public administration and a recent UNT graduate to complete the project.

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