Tag Archives: New Orleans

Hurricane Documentation

by Benjamin Sacks

As Hurricane Sandy hits the densely populated US eastern seaboard, commentators and pundits alike compete to depict local reactions and identify those populations who will be hardest hit. Much of the current concern stems from officials’ highly criticised response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (2005), which devastated New Orleans and left at least 1,200 people dead. But, collection and analysis of valuable data on constituency responses, first-aid services, and suggestions for future defences against hurricanes has its own history. Sociologists, political scientists, and geographers have experimented with various field research methods.

In 1855, Andrés Poey, of Havana, organised a list of some 400 hurricanes documented in various forms since Christopher Columbus’s 1492 trans-Atlantic expedition. He hoped, by publishing his tables in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, to advance awareness on hurricane theory: for it had ‘now been proved…that wind, in hurricanes and common gales on both sides of the equator, has two motions; and that it turns or blows round a focus or centre in a more or less circular form’ (p. 291).

Nearly 150 years later, using techniques they had earlier tested in nuclear power accidents, in 1996 Donald J Seigler (Old Dominion University), Stanley D Brunn (University of Kentucky), and James H Johnson, Jr (University of North Carolina) documented their use of small focus groups to learn about hurricane responses and better react to future storms. In December 1992, six months after Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida, the three researchers conducted several focus groups in the Miami area. They believed that their experiment was one of the first implementations of focus groups in post-hurricane emergency planning. Questions were organised around: ‘the pre-impact period’, or preparations for the hurricane; and ‘post-impact period’, or the storm’s psychological, physical, and social consequences. Seigler, Brunn, and Johnson delineated between ‘therapeutic’ and ‘parasitic’/‘exploitative’ responses – unified, communal support versus an “everyone for themselves” mentality (p. 127). The researchers concluded that focused, group discussion in post-disaster scenarios could provide information crucial to more rapid, comprehensive first aid.

 For an official U.S. estimate of casualties from Hurricane Katrina (2005), see here (p. 5).

 Donald J Seigler, Stanley D Brunn, and James H Johnson, Focusing on Hurricane Andrew through the Eyes of the Victims, Area 28 124-29.

 Andrés Puey, A Chronological Table, Comprising 400 Cyclonic Hurricanes Which Have Occurred in the West Indies and the North Atlantic within 362 Years, from 1493-1855: With a Biographical List of 450 Authors, Books, &c., and Periodicals, Where Some Interesting Accounts May be Found, Especially on the West and East Indian Hurricanes [sic], Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 25 291-328.

Disaster and the Importance of Place

By Stacey Balsdon

Tropical Storm Katrina on August 24 2005 by NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hurricane Katrina hit ground in New Orleans in 2005, yet its magnitude and the devastation it caused has resulted in its continued discussion today. Over 7 years since the event it still seems poignant in many people’s memories. An interesting BBC article titled ‘Saving Lives from Space’ reinvestigates Hurricane Katrina alongside other disaster events.

Using satellite imagery, Dr Alice Bunn comments on the ways this imagery has and will be used to save lives using Hurricane Katrina as one of the examples. Interestingly, when discussing Hurricane Katrina, the importance of place is expressed as she notes the capture of the devastation involved a Nigerian satellite that happened to be overlooking the hurricane at the time it hit land.

Stephanie Morrice (2012), in her paper entitled Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions explores the way those affected by Hurricane Katrina decide whether to return ‘home’ or not and how these processes are driven by emotion. This interesting paper presents an alternate side to the focus in the media and global news of the continuing devastation to the built environment by investigating the impact on residents displaced by the event. Morrice  (2012) notes the way imaginations of place and ‘home’ are important in decisions linked to returning after a disaster.

Both pieces demonstrate the need to consider the after effects of a disaster, noting that whilst the event itself may be over the impact it has on the local area and the people living there can continue for some time. Geographical insights into disasters such as this can provide different perspectives and enable the importance of place to be clearly seen.

Saving Lives from space, BBC News

Stephanie Morrice, 2012, Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions, Area, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01121.x