An Examination of Challenges Faced by First Responders in the Midst of Disaster

An Examination of Challenges Faced by First Responders in the Midst of Disaster

Terri Adams (Howard University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5946-9.ch009


The ineluctable threat of future natural and manmade disasters makes it imperative to advance the understanding of key issues that first responders face in the midst of disasters, and to develop meaningful strategies for preparing them for disaster response. The potential conflicts between professional and personal responsibilities that first responders may face in responding to an incident can represent a distinctive feature of a catastrophic event. This project examined the issues of role conflict and resilience among first responders who have participated in major disaster events. Answers to the project's research questions provide an understanding of the human dynamics experienced by first responders when they are personally impacted by a disaster. This work advances the mission of the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by providing information needed for advancing the development of simulation models and effective training curricula to assist first responders in their quest for preparing and responding to future disaster events.
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Setting The Stage

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began offering Summer Research Team opportunities to faculty members at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) in 2005. This program provides an avenue for MSI faculty to engage in research germane to the mission of the DHS at one of the many Centers of Excellence that are supported by the agency. Selected faculty members are invited to bring with them up to two students to participate in their research endeavor; all participates are award a stipend to support their summer expenses. Faculty members can either select an independent topic that relates to the mission of their selected Center of Excellence, or participate in one of the pre-established research teams. The affiliation of this PI with DHS began with participation in this program.

During the summer of 2006, the PI worked at the Johns Hopkins’ Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER) Center of Excellence in Baltimore, Maryland. The research project undertaken for the DHS Summer Team Program was an independent project lead by the PI that focused to examining the challenges faced by first responders during disasters. While working with the PACER Center of Excellence, the PI was able to network with faculty members at the Johns Hopkins Division of Public Safety Leadership, and gain insights about public safety professionals, and fostered networking opportunities through these connections. This opportunity leaded to additional funding through DHS that supported the expansion of the project.

The additional DHS funding provided the resources necessary to expand the original research conducted during the PI’s participation in the Summer Research Team Program. The original study focused on the organizational challenges faced by the New Orleans Police Department during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Findings from this work lead to focusing on issues that personally impacted police officers in New Orleans. Upon completion of this funding cycle, the PI solicited funds through PACER, and Howard University became one of their institutional partners. This funding allowed the project to include an analysis of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulfport Police Department (GPD) in Mississippi. The project then went on to receive additional funds through PACER to incorporate Santiago, Chile as a study site and expanded the range of responders that were being examined to include fire fighters and emergency medical personnel. The project then expanded to include an examination of some of the first responders impacted by Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan. Details associated with the evolution of this work are explained below as case studies.

In addition to providing resources for conducting the research on first responder challenges and behaviors, a number of students were provided with opportunities. Students from underrepresented groups, as well as other students, were able to receive training and participate fully in the research process. The details associated with the student training are provided in the student training section below.

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