Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Health Services and Policy Management

First Advisor

Sarah B Laditka

Second Advisor

Janice C Probst


As the risk of natural disasters increases, it is useful to examine how individuals prepare for disasters. My dissertation research examined disaster experiences among African American women church members and pastors of their church. The primary objective was to examine perceptions about the role of the church and pastor in assisting with preparedness. I also identified enablers of and barriers to disaster preparedness, and the sources of preparedness information. My overall objective was to identify ways to increase our understanding about participant's beliefs about disaster preparedness to help policymakers create more effective support networks and resources for the African American community.

I conducted eight focus groups (N=52) of African American women who are congregants of a large, predominately African American church in a mid-size city in the Southeastern U.S., and semi-structured interviews of four pastors of this church. Thematic analysis was used to organize content. Although most pastors and women believed they were at risk of natural disasters, they did not have a preparedness plan, and had few basic resources such as a flashlight or weather radio. The women said that they had access to preparedness information, primarily from family, friends, and television; however, they did not believe the risk was great enough to develop a preparedness plan.

Pastors said that although the church has not played a role in preparedness, the church should take an active role in preparing their communities for disasters. Many of the women said that the church could play an important role in preparedness. Several focus group participants said that they believe the church was the central location in which African Americans gathered regularly. They suggested that the church use email, newsletters, and flyers to provide preparedness information to members.

African Americans are disproportionately affected by health and economic disparities, and are particularly vulnerable to disasters, as evidenced during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Thus, it would be useful for public health officials and those in emergency management organizations to identify ways to ensure effective outreach about disaster preparedness among African American communities, including partnering with African American churches.