While investigating the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans evacuees, a group of UCLA researchers stumbled across something they had not been looking for the deep level of distrust the largely minority victims felt toward public health authorities.
In a study appearing in the May issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, the researchers write that this distrust likely played a role in residents' response to evacuation warnings and advice.
"The statements of distrust were not solicited they were all spontaneous statements," said lead researcher Dr. Kristina Cordasco, a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar in the department of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "As we prepare for future disasters, I believe we have to account for this distrust in the shaping of the public health message."
The researchers interviewed 58 English-speaking New Orleans residents who had been living in one of three shelters in Houston. Researchers had been querying the residents about their evacuation experiences, including how they had been evacuated and who had helped them. They got answers to those questions and more.
"Because our semi-qualitative interviews did not include specific queries about trust and distrust, we were struck by the frequency, breadth and depth of distrust reflected in the spontaneous statements of the evacuees we interviewed," the researchers wrote.
This distrust may be rooted in the experiences of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when authorities performed controlled breaks along the levee to selectively flood poor areas in order to preserve the downtown financial district.
Some of the categories of distrust most often mentioned by evacuees involved the competency of authorities in handling the emergency; perceived equity that is, whether authorities treated the hurricane victims the same regardless of class, race and gender; fiduciary
Contact: Enrique Rivero
University of California - Los Angeles