Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Part II. Case Studies of Eight Responses


The findings from the telephone survey, presented in the previous section, provide a profile of the faith-based and community organization response to the 2005 hurricanes. The case studies, discussed in this section, focus on an individual organization as a means to better understand what took place in a single community affected by Hurricane Katrina, or Rita, or both, and to map connections and disconnections that suggest how FBCOs might be used effectively in future disasters. These organizations operated in a complex environment that affected what they did and how they did it. The case studies look in depth at what was happening on the ground in different communities that motivated the response of these eight organizations; how their different purposes and goals created different responses; who else (both governmental and nongovernmental) was providing relief; and how the larger context may have influenced why and how organizations did what they did and, in some cases, why others may have been unable to respond.

To put their efforts in that context, these organizations operated sometimes alongside, but often independently of, a massive humanitarian response. This large network of responders included such organizations such as the American Red Cross, FEMA, local offices of emergency preparedness and designated first responders, other military and law enforcement agencies, and national and international religious and secular organizations with dedicated arms for disaster services (e.g., United Methodist Committee on Relief, Episcopal Relief and Development, and Mennonite Disaster Services). Regardless of whether these responders interacted directly with the FBCOs under study, they helped shape the environment in which the smaller FBCOs operated.

Similarly, while the general perception is that government at all levels failed to respond effectively, many public entities were providing services quickly, and human service providers public and privatewere rapidly working to get themselves back into operation to serve those who needed help. Understanding how this complex web of public and private organizations functioned, and how they can work in tandem with FBCOs to get individuals and families back on their feet, is critical to making the process work better the next time a disaster occurs.

Finally, the massive crisis caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita generated an unprecedented outpouring of cash, material donations, and volunteers from domestic and international sources, all of which had to be managed on the ground. How that assistance was managed, and whether it helped or hindered the response of the FBCOs under study, is important to understand for future disasters.

The case studies are a way to understand where organizations fit in the larger web of disaster response, if and how interactions with this web produced an enhanced service response, and whether the efforts of these generally smaller or nontraditional responders will be sustainable over time or replicable in future disasters. More typically than not, these organizations did interact with other parts of the disaster relief system; in three cases, they were part of the larger formalized response structure.

The process for selecting case studies was designed to identify organizations that had important stories to tell, as measured by the variety of collaborations, the uniqueness of the response, or by other experiences that might directly inform issues of interest. The study aimed to discover relationships that might help explain the nature, duration, intensity, and success of responses. Relationships might be vertical (e.g., an umbrella organization within a denominational hierarchy or type of affiliation) or horizontal (e.g., pre-existing or new collaborations to coordinate response across organizations with similar or varied functions and expertise). The case studies also include organizations with narrow missions and those with multipurpose missions, and relief efforts of limited duration, as well as those that evolved or were sustained over time.

The selection was also intended to capture many variations, resulting in cases that differ greatly from each other. While this makes cross-site comparisons difficult and generalizing largely inappropriate, the material provides a basis for developing hypotheses about what responses under what conditions are likely in the future, what networks might form, and when and how these sorts of organizations could connect with the larger system for disaster response and human service delivery.

The analysis is framed around four research questions to draw out key aspects of the eight case studies:

  1. What was the catalyst for the initial disaster response?
    • Was it mandated, preplanned, and/or part of a larger emergency response?
    • Was it driven by organizational or individual mission or competence (in emergency services or other expertise)?
  2. How did these FBCOs do what they did?
    • What was their expertise? With whom did they work? How did they connect, and when did they not?
    • Where did they fit into larger disaster relief efforts, both governmental and nongovernmental?
    • To whom were they accountable, and for what services, populations, outcomes, and resource utilization?
  3. Why did these FBCOs continue, fold, or change course?
    • How did they define their mission initially?
    • Was their effort intended to be sustainable over time?
    • Is their disaster response likely to reemerge in a future disaster?
  4. What are reasonable expectations about FBCOs roles in future disasters?
    • How dependent is their engagement on the magnitude of the disaster?
    • How can successes be replicated and challenges be overcome?
    • How can FBCO activities be integrated with, or supportive of, other governmental or nongovernmental relief functions?

The following sections present the methodology for site selection and data collection for the case studies, general characteristics of the eight cases, snapshots of each of these very different stories, and major findings.

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