GROUP WILL STUDY KATRINA ORAL HISTORIES
Hurricane Katrina survivors have storiesto tell. Harvard Medical School isgoing to use those oral histories to studythe psychological impact of the disasterto help officials better handle future disasters.The school's initiative will recruit2000 evacuees—1000 from New Orleansand 1000 from other areas affected bythe disaster—to serve on the HurricaneKatrina Advisory Group.
"A lot of people are having trouble reconcilingthe extreme breadth of their loss.[The survivors] are in the in-between landof evacuee and looking for temporaryhousing,"commented Anthony H. Speier,PhD, director of Disaster Mental HealthOperations for the Louisiana Office ofMental Health and scientific collaboratoron the study. "We have reports of peoplebeing confronted with overwhelming situationsand not being able to go on."
Because survivors have been dispersedaround the country, the researcherswill use cell phone numbersand other contact information from 1.34million families who turned to the RedCross for aid. Interviewers also will visithotels and motels where the FederalEmergency Management Agency housesevacuees, as well as making randomcalls in the hopes of reaching other displacedsurvivors.
Members of the advisory group willparticipate in telephone interviews every3 months. The interviewers will ask avariety of questions about the experiencesduring and after the hurricane, therecovery process, physical and mentalhealth problems, health care issues, andopinions about the performance of governmentand private relief efforts. Theparticipants will be asked to give an oralhistory of their experiences during thedisaster to build a permanent archivethat can be used by policy makers, historians,and the public to understand themagnitude of the disaster.
The project, which is funded by a $1-million grant from the National Instituteof Mental Health, will last 2 years. Formore information, visit the initiative'sWeb site at www.HurricaneKatrina.med.harvard.edu.