Feasibility of neighborhood surveys in post-Katrina New Orleans: Development of a systematic social observation tool.
*William T. Robinson, LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health; Louisiana Office of Public Health
Keywords: Katrina, Use of innovative survey methods, Recruitment methods, Highly mobile populations, Populations affected by natural disasters, Stigmatized populations
Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levee system devastated many areas of New Orleans and surrounding parishes. The mandatory evacuation and slow return to many impacted areas invalidated all demographic and population estimates, rendering efforts to construct sampling frame to sample residents impossible. Population-based surveys are critical in such environments in order to measure increases in disease and risk behaviors that have been observed among disaster survivors. The validity of survey research methods in post-disaster settings has garnered little attention to date. Methods that rely on peer recruitment (eg respondent driven sampling) or venues where at-risk populations can be interviewed (eg time-space location sampling) are particularly susceptible to bias. We investigated the viability of conducting survey research on persons living in areas at high-risk for HIV in post-Katrina New Orleans as part of the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System. During the one year period following Katrina, we developed a method of systematic social observations to assess recovery within 50 census tracts using a battery of over 150 indicators. Neighborhood residents and key informants were also included in 47 interviews and six focus groups. The goal was to determine whether NHBS methods could be conducted in post-Katrina New Orleans. Staff observed over 16000 individual housing structures and rated 53% of them as ‘livable’. While many respondents cited neighborhood and social disruptions, all reported some loss to their social network. Focus group results centered on network dispersion/reconfiguration, neighborhood conflict, health status/access to care, research fatigue and institutional distrust. We identified appropriate areas to target survey methods and strategies to survey residents. This study, which was critical to measuring HIV risk post-Katrina, also provides a guide for future research in post-disaster settings.