Best Practices and Lessons Learned from Community Engagement and Data Collection Strategies in Post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico

Published in: Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (2021). doi: 10.1515/jhsem-2020-0075

by Lisa Saum-Manning

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Communities have a vital role to play in managing the risks associated with natural disasters. As such, their strengths, weaknesses, and priority concerns must be factored into policy decisions to ensure local recovery efforts reflect community needs. Regular engagement with community members provides opportunities for emergency managers and first responders to tap into a reservoir of local knowledge to build a shared understanding of how to foster local preparedness and help communities reduce the impact of a disaster. Not all communities are alike; needs can differ for a variety of reasons and can help determine the best ways to galvanize an appropriate response. The methods of engagement should also be tailored to ensure communities are willing and able to participate in the types of interactions emergency managers wish to initiate. In this paper, we used a mixed method approach to examine several different community engagement and data collection strategies conducted, observed or examined by our research team during six months of post-Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico from February to July 2018. The aim of this study is to assess whether different outreach approaches used illuminated different perceptions about disaster preparedness and recovery and to identify what works and what does not work when engaging communities in emergency preparedness and recovery activities.

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