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Disaster Research: Surveying Displaced Populations

*Beth-Ellen Pennell, University of Michigan 
Yashwant Desmukh, Team Cvoter 
Jennifer Kelley, University of Michigan 
Patty Maher, Univesity of Michigan 
James Wagner, University of Michigan 
Christopher Cameron, Cornell 

Keywords: disaster research, displaced populations

This paper discusses the methodological challenges that face researchers studying displaced populations due to natural or man-made disasters.The United Nations estimates that in 2010 alone, natural disasters affected more than 200 million people and cost more than $100 billion worldwide.Studies that target these populations face extreme and challenging conditions.Standard survey approaches and methodologies may well not be feasible or appropriate in these contexts. This paper reviews the methodological and substantive literature on studying displaced populations as well as draws upon the experiences of the authors and their collaborators in the implementation of research in areas of natural and man-made disasters (e.g., Chernobyl, Gulf Coast hurricanes and most recently, Japan’s ‘dual disaster’). The paper discusses approaches to sampling, locating and accessing these populations, ethical issues, community engagement, recruiting and training interviewers, questionnaire development, translation and adaptation, as well as handling potentially unstable environmental conditions and potential security risks to fieldworkers, among other topics.

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