Learning from disaster: A natural experiment exploring disaster preparedness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic by houses of worship
Keywords:emergency preparedness, natural experiment, faith-based organizations, congregations and churches, organizational learning, COVID-19
This study illuminates how congregations adapted to an unfolding crisis in real-time and reveals areas of organizational learning and vulnerability. The driving question of this study asks “how has congregational disaster readiness changed during COVID-19?” From this, three measurable corollary questions emerge. First, how has experience during the pandemic changed risk assessment and planning? Second, how has disaster networking changed due to pandemic experiences? Third, did pandemic experience lead to a change in collaboration activities and actions? A natural experiment research design is used to answer these questions. Data collected from survey responses from 50 congregational leaders in 2020 are compared to their baseline responses and interviews as part of a more extensive study from 2019 of over 300 leaders. Descriptive analysis is used to evaluate how congregational leaders changed their risk assessment, disaster planning, disaster networking, and collaboration activities from 2019 to 2020. Open-ended questions provide qualitative context for the survey responses. Initial results support two themes for scholars and emergency managers: learning is immediate, and network maintenance matters. First, while awareness of pandemics has grown, congregational leaders narrowly applied the lessons they learned to temporally and spatially immediate hazards. Second, congregational networking and collaboration became more insular and local during the pandemic response. These results could have substantial implications for community resilience, especially given the role congregations and similar organizations play in community disaster resiliency.
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