Social Networks of Help-Seeking in Different Types of Disaster Responses to the 2008 Mississippi River Floods

By Casagrande, David G.; McIlvaine-Newsad, Heather et al. | Human Organization, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Social Networks of Help-Seeking in Different Types of Disaster Responses to the 2008 Mississippi River Floods


Casagrande, David G., McIlvaine-Newsad, Heather, Jones, Eric C., Human Organization


Somebody came banging on my pickup truck and told me the water's coming in, and we need to try to get out, so a few of us jumped in trucks, and we tried to drive out the road. Well, the water was coming in so fast that it would have swept my vehicle away, so I turned back around, and I drove my truck up on to the levee, and if it weren't for the older guys that had been through a situation like this, I think / would have been in trouble. I looked to them to tell me exactly what to do.

- male farm operator in Carman, IL

Introduction

Residents of rural floodplains along the Mississippi River in the upper Midwest are no strangers to flooding. Almost everyone living in a floodplain of the Mississippi or its tributaries can recall being in a flood. Those who are old enough may remember the "big one" in 1927. Others may have experienced significant flooding in 1960,1965,1993,2008, or 2011. Soon after the 2008 floods, the Illinois Governor's office requested research to identify impediments to flood recovery. We used ethnography and qualitative data analysis of interviews and focus groups to better understand how people's relationships helped them coordinate or access resources, information, and other support. We noticed early on that research participants did not treat response as a homogeneous process. They described both flexibility and constraints that social relationships provided when facing different challenges.

Social support has been identified as an important factor in disaster recovery (e.g., Faas et al. 2014; Kaniasty 2012; Sattler 2006). An article published by program officers at the United States National Science Foundation after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the value of integrating social network analysis into disaster studies to better understand complex interactions that occur as disasters unfold (Suter, Birkland, and Later 2009). In this article, we ask whether people use social networks in different ways when seeking support to meet the different types of challenges presented by a disaster. We use an inductive approach (Phillips 2014) in which we thematically analyze narratives of flood response to identify potential relationships between types of social networks people relied on and various types of responses.

Networks and Disasters

Social networks are representations of ties between nodes (e.g., Wasserman and Faust 1994). These nodes can be people, organizations, and meetings or other activities, to name a few. Ties represent connections between nodes, such as meeting attendance, frequency of interaction, or friendship. Social network analysis provides a conceptual approach to understanding opportunities and constraints provided by people's relationships (e.g., Johnson 1994). Our study focuses on personal networks or the set of ties that are specific to a node-in this case an individual responding to floods. This is different from analyzing a whole network by studying all the potential ties between all nodes (Borgatti, Everett, and Johnson 2013). This is not a study of a theoretically bounded group (e.g., community, office, online interest group) or potential relationships between members of such a group. Our focus is on individuals who experienced a life-changing event and the kinds of people they turned to for help.

Social networks can provide material, informational, or emotional support in a disaster setting (e.g., Kaniasty and Norris 2000). Circumstances or contexts-such as gender differences, displacement, and different phases of a disaster-can influence how networks interact with help-seeking and emergency response. However, the predictive value in network and disaster research of gender (e.g., Burke 2010; Hurlbert, Haines, and Beggs 2000), socioeconomic status (e.g., Jones et al. 2015), and age (e.g., Jones et al. 2014) is still not clear because many contextual factors mitigate the relationship between social networks and disaster outcomes (Faas et al. 2014; Jones et al. …

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