Online Program

Law enforcement officer sheltering during an evacuation: Lessons from hurricane rita

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lisa Zottarelli, PhD, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Texas Woman's University, Denton, TX
David Bugg, Phd, Department of Sociology, The State University of New York at Potsdam, Potsdam, NY
Shilpashri Karbhari, PhD, Social and Behavioral Sciences, New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM
Background and Objective: Law enforcement has a critical role in evacuations, with officers working long hours for many days within or close to impact zones. Access to safe shelter is important for safety. The purpose of this study was to examine officer sheltering during a large-scale hurricane evacuation. Methods: The survey was conducted nine months after Hurricane Rita. A random sample was selected of 536 law enforcement officers working in hurricane-prone Texas counties. The response rate was 34.7 percent. Descriptive and bi-variate analyses were conducted. Results: The majority of officers were instructed to shelter when winds reached a predetermined speed and between shifts. Officers given a designed shelter were assigned to a variety of shelter locations including police stations and substations, fire and EMS stations, and emergency command centers. Many officers were not assigned a designated shelter even though their homes could be within the impact zone. Of the officers assigned a shelter, slightly more than 26% reported the shelters were inadequate for rest. A quarter of all officers in the study reported going for more than 24 hours without sleep. There was a statistically significant difference in sheltering instructions, with smaller departments focusing on wind speed. Conclusions: Working during a disaster evacuation is an occupational requirement for law enforcement officers but more could be done to create safer working conditions. Central among these include implementation of sheltering policies that focus on when and where to shelter during an evacuation.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety
Other professions or practice related to public health
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
explain need for designated sheltering of officers during hurricane evacuations discuss policy issues related to officers sheltering during evacuations

Keyword(s): Disasters, Occupational Safety

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been conducting research on disasters for more than 10 years. I teach courses on the Sociology of Disasters and Social Science Research Methods.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.