UTSPH researchers find social capital relates to hurricane preparedness

Hurricanes are a way of life in the U.S. Gulf Coast Region. Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) examined Mexican Americans coastal residents’ social capital and disaster preparedness. Results were published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

While recent studies suggest that social capital may be related to a community’s ability to plan for and respond to such disasters, few studies have examined social capital constructs among low income populations living in disaster prone areas and accounted for the influence of social capital at the individual and community level.

Belinda Reininger 2012 web 231x300 | UTSPH researchers find social capital relates to hurricane preparedness

Belinda Reininger, DrPH

“Social capital is understood as resources resulting from social cohesion drawn upon by individuals for collective action and collective benefit,” principal investigator Belinda Reininger, DrPH, associate professor in the Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the UTSPH Brownsville Regional Campus, said. “In this study, we measured four social capital factors: perceived fairness, perceived civic trust, perceived reciprocity and group membership.”

Reininger said the study findings suggest higher levels of fairness and civic trust translate into higher levels of disaster preparedness. Perceived reciprocity and group membership were not associated with preparedness.

Neighborhood block leaders or community gatekeepers who connect families and neighbors to information and resources and are seen as trusted point-people for information and advice should be considered as social leaders in the community. They can serve as important nodes in their networks to disseminate preparedness information, foster greater perceptions of trust and fairness among the network, and build capacity to effectively prepare for a disaster.

Future efforts could consider capitalizing on the bonds that exist among families and neighbors, particularly since the results indicated that formal group membership was exceedingly low in this sample.

This study further substantiates the importance of attending to social resources, and not just gaps in infrastructure, education and economic resources that are often lacking in impoverished areas, as an approach to effective disaster preparedness in similar populations.

Additional researchers from UTSPH are Sartaj R. Alam, MA, MinJae Lee, Jennifer Pope, Zhongxue Chen, PhD, Joseph McCormick, MD, MPH and Mohammad H. Rahbar, PhD. Co-author Barbara Adams, MPH, CPH, is from the Texas Department of State Health Services, Region 11 in Harlingen.