May 2013
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Howard Researchers Examine Impact of Hurricane Sandy
By Ron Harris, director of communications, Office of University Communications
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Hurricane Sandy and its destruction has largely moved out of the media headlines, replaced by more recent news events. But it remains fresh for New York and New Jersey residents still dealing with the devastation.

It is fresh too for researchers at the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS) at Howard University. NCAS is exploring the impact of the storm on residents and how and why people responded to the storm as part of its research on how weather and climate impact society.

NCAS 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.

“When a disaster happens, there are multiple layers of devastation that can impact an individual or a community.”
Terri Adams, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said the team of 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 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., NCAS deputy director, director of the 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., associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Members of the team spent three days visiting Atlantic City in New Jersey, and Breezy Point and Staten Island in New York and speaking 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.”

Adams adds: “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, so that we can share these findings with NOAA.”

The group also gathered preliminary findings that support the idea that social class might affect people’s responses to disasters, Adams said. 

The project is 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 the New York and New Jersey areas to gather additional data.

Professor Terri Adams, Ph.D., and student Shayda Sanders share their research.
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