Binder on a desk, open to a title page that says Emergency Response Plan

Summer Scholars to Assess Community Disaster Preparedness


A team of Summer Scholars are working on the project, "Preparing for the Unknown: Assessing Factors that Impact Community Disaster Preparedness." The team, consisting of Elise Pizzi, research fellow in the Policy and Politics and Media, Policy and Public Opinion Research Programs; Kylah Hedding, research fellow in the Media, Policy and Public Opinion Research Program; and Kajsa Dalrymple, director and senior research fellow in residence in the Media, Policy and Public Opinion Research Program; will be in residence May 31 through June 25.

Undergraduate students Chloe Clemenson and Isabella Mullins will assist with conducting interviews with key officials, stakeholders and journalists in the seven counties included in the pilot study, and will help analyze the collected data.

They plan to present their research to the American Political Science Association conference in September 2021 for feedback and revisions, and then submit it for publication.  The study will also be used to develop a National Science Foundation grant proposal for a larger research project looking at all 99 counties in Iowa. 


Local communities are on the front lines in responding to natural disasters, climate events, and other crises such as pandemics. While state and federal governments can support recovery, the preparation and immediate response to natural disasters relies on local governments. The ability of these local governments, particularly in rural communities, to respond to natural disasters has implications for the capacity to protect lives and livelihoods and adapt to climate changes and other crises. Our research analyzes local government preparation and communication strategies for times of crisis. We focuson seven counties that vary in natural and social conditions. We have begun gathering data and documentation related to disaster planning, and we have found that there are large gaps in the publicly available planning documents. We intend to use four weeks during the summer of 2021 to conduct interviews with key officials, journalists, and stakeholders in our seven pilot counties. We hope to gain insights into the disaster plans, access to key documentation that is not currently available online and explore the unpublished and informal sides of disaster response planning. We have applied to present a paper documenting our findings at the American Political Science Association in the fall, and we intend to submit our final paper to State Politics & Policy,Political Communication, or Environmental Communication.We will use the pilot study results to develop an NSF grant proposal for a larger research project looking at all 99 counties in Iowa. The goal of the larger project is to develop best practices for local government disaster preparedness and communication planning and implementation for local communities in Iowa and beyond.

Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and severity, and local governments are essential to reducing harm. Rural areas face particularly acute challenges due to limited resources and expertise. To support local communities’ efforts to save lives and livelihoods and promote timely and effective recovery, our project explores local disaster preparation and communication efforts.A major component of the success or failure of a disaster response plan is successful communication before, during, and after a disaster. While crisis communication research hasexaminedthe efficacy of specific communication strategies for organizations during and after a crisis, little is known about the preparedness of local governments for addressing communication needs during natural disasters. Our research seeks to understand what steps county and local administrators have taken to prepare for natural disasters and communicate with their constituents during times of crisis. For our initial pilot project, we will collect information about the content, comprehensiveness, and appropriateness of local disaster response and communication plans and processes.We will do this through interviews with local emergency planning and response personnel and other local stakeholders, state and federal emergency stakeholders operating in Iowa, and media or other entities responsible for communicating with the public. We hope these interviews will also allow us to gather and evaluate the content of county response plans.We willspend thesummer conductinginterviews and analyzing the datato include in a research paper and presentation in the fall. The summer research is part of alonger-term project exploring disaster response across Iowa. Our focus ison seven pilot counties that vary in terms of social and environmental challenges, experiences, and preparation for disasters.Once we have pilot data, and have demonstrated the effectiveness of our interview protocols, data collection, and analysis, we will apply for an NSF grant to support data collection for all 99 counties in Iowa.