Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Summary of Key Survey Findings


The telephone survey findings document FBCOs involvement in delivering hurricane relief and recovery services, and the networks created to assist people. The findings can serve as an important basis for understanding the work of FBCOs after disasters and for improving the coordination of relief efforts by public and private entities. Key findings include:

Faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations tend to play slightly different roles in the relief and recovery efforts. Faith-based organizations were particularly active in providing immediate relief services such as food, clothing, water, and temporary shelter, and are now active in housing repair and rebuilding programs. The role of congregations in providing emergency services is well documented in the research literature, so their involvement in immediate relief activities after hurricanes Katrina and Rita is not surprising. Secular nonprofits, on the other hand, also provided many immediate relief services but have a larger presence in providing longer-term recovery services such as child care and job training services, which serve longer-term needs and may require more professionally trained staff. Another distinction between faith-based and secular providers is that the secular nonprofits in the survey continued their services for a longer time.

Distance from the immediate impact of the disaster is a significant factor in determining when services began. FBCOs outside the immediate impact areas were more likely to begin relief and recovery services sooner than those in the primary impact areas. The evacuation ordered by governmental authorities for some areas of impact remained in effect for over a month, and the damage and destruction of many FBCOs in the impact areas undoubtedly contributed to the slow start. Once back on their feet, however, FBCOs in the immediate impact areas were more likely to sustain services for a longer period. This is consistent with the logical progression of services after an emergencythat is, emergency services provided to evacuees outside the impact areas diminish as evacuees return to their homes or resettle in other areas; long-term recovery services, however, are needed and sustained in the impacted areas.

Both paid staff and volunteers formed the backbone of relief and recovery efforts. Half the FBCOs in the survey, particularly the secular nonprofits, reported using paid staff to deliver their relief and recovery services, although the number of paid staff reported by survey respondents (median of five) was relatively small. More than three-quarters of FBCOs, particularly faith-based organizations, used volunteers. For most FBCOs in the survey, this was a substantial increase in their volunteer workforce. Although the vast majority of respondents indicated that their experiences with volunteers went smoothly, areas that might be improved included finding insurance to cover the volunteers, housing and transporting them, and managing their work.

FBCOs relief efforts were enhanced by the collaborations that were formed, but few of these arrangements included government entities. Two of every three respondents indicated that they worked with other groups as part of their relief and recovery work, and at least half these collaborations were formed as a result of the storms. Faith-based organizations worked almost equally with other faith-based groups and with secular nonprofits. In contrast, a larger share of secular nonprofits tended to work with other secular nonprofits than with faith-based groups. A statistically significant finding is that more than twice as many secular nonprofits as faith-based organizations reported working with all levels of government.

Perceptions of what went well in the relief and recovery effort appear influenced by distance from the storms impact and type of organization. For example, FBCOs in the primary impact areas identified the collaborations formed and information shared as positive parts of the relief and recovery efforts, while those in the secondary and distant areas cited their ability to provide counseling and housing. Faith-based organizations frequently cited the people who were helped, and secular nonprofits pointed to the collaborations made.

Survey respondents noted several areas that could have gone better in the relief and recovery efforts. Among the most common challenges mentioned were insufficient supplies and services, poor communication, and poor coordination of services.

Many FBCOs lack preparation for a future emergency. More than one in three FBCOs in the survey reported that they have not taken any steps to prepare for future emergencies. This was especially true of faith-based groups and FBCOs located farthest from the primary impact areas.

These findings underscore the important role that local faith-based and secular nonprofits play in disaster relief and recovery efforts and the need for continued planning and coordination between these groups and government responders. The stories of FBCOs in the Gulf Coast area that emerge from these findings offer important lessons for preparing for future disaster relief efforts. Findings from the in-depth case studies, which are presented in the next section, provide detailed analysis of FBCOs experiences providing services to people in need after the 2005 hurricanes.

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