Reaching vulnerable populations in the disaster-prone US Gulf Coast: Communicating across the crisis lifecycle


  • Elizabeth L. Petrun Sayers, PhD
  • Andrew M. Parker, PhD
  • Rajeev Ramchand, PhD
  • Melissa L. Finucane, PhD
  • Vanessa Parks, MA
  • Rachana Seelam, MPH



vulnerable populations, communication, channel preferences, trust, US Gulf Coast, crisis lifecycle


Delivering risk and crisis communication to US Gulf Coast residents poses a unique challenge to individual and organizational responders. The region has endured several natural and man-made disasters, spanning Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and more recently Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In the future, the US Gulf Coast is expected to remain susceptible to a range of disasters. At the same time, the region is experiencing a growing population, struggles with systemic disparities between residents, and is home to major energy, tourism, fishing, and shrimping industries. Engaging in pre-crisis planning with vulnerable populations, and assessing response strategies, can help the region prepare for future disasters. In support of understanding vulnerabilities in the US Gulf Coast, the authors conducted a survey in 2016 of n = 2,520 adult residents of the targeted geographic region. The authors examine how demographic characteristics affect communication channel preferences (ie, television, Internet, print [newspapers, magazines], radio, word-of-mouth, or another specified channel) and trust in sources (ie, the national news media, local news media, business leaders and organizations, religious leaders and institutions, academics and academic institutions, friends and family, and doctors) in the US Gulf Coast. Weighted prevalence estimates or similar summary statistics (mean, standard deviation) are provided for both outcomes. Findings for channel preferences and trust in sources are examined by sex, race/ethnicity, age, and education. Weighted multinomial logistic regression is used in a multivariate model. Weighted linear regression is used to examine differences in trust in each source of information. Results highlight significant differences in channel preferences and trust across respondents. The authors also place these results in context to more readily accessible national estimates of these outcomes, emphasizing takeaways for the region.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth L. Petrun Sayers, PhD

Full Behavioral and Social Scientist, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia

Andrew M. Parker, PhD

Senior Behavioral and Social Scientist, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Rajeev Ramchand, PhD

Senior Behavioral and Social Scientist, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia

Melissa L. Finucane, PhD

Senior Behavioral and Social Scientist, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Vanessa Parks, MA

Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Sociology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Rachana Seelam, MPH

Research Programmer, Research Programming Group, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California


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How to Cite

Petrun Sayers, PhD, E. L., A. M. Parker, PhD, R. Ramchand, PhD, M. L. Finucane, PhD, V. Parks, MA, and R. Seelam, MPH. “Reaching Vulnerable Populations in the Disaster-Prone US Gulf Coast: Communicating across the Crisis Lifecycle”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 14, no. 2, Apr. 2019, pp. 121-36, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2019.0323.