A primer for social work research on disaster

Sally Dodds, Elane Nuehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


This paper offers to schools of social work a conceptual framework and specific tactics intended to position them for much-needed research roles in response to natural or technological disasters. Based on experience gained in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Miami, Florida in 1992, potential research themes, needs and opportunities are identified, along with policy, organizational, and resource barriers to investigation encountered in the post-disaster context. The necessity of advance preparation for disaster research is emphasized, along with strategies for readiness. Design and methodology are discussed, and specific approaches are recommended regarding framing questions, becoming immersed in the multidisciplinary disaster services research community before the fact, research design, instrumentation, and data collection process and administration. Based on Breznitz and Goldberger (1982), Derogatis (1982), Elliott (1982), Lazarus (1984), and Sarafino (1990), a stress-mediation theory is suggested for its capability to guide disaster-focused social work research at micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Pivotal research questions are posed, suggesting a disaster research agenda for social workers. Areas of inquiry best understood as exploratory and best approached with qualitative techniques are discussed, along with specific suggestions for the design and implementation of qualitative disaster research. Areas of inquiry best seen as descriptive of populations and explanatory of biopsychosocial phenomena are identified, along with recommended survey and quasi-experimental designs and recommended preparatory work to enable expedient sampling, instrumentation, and data collection. Investigation of the effectiveness of social work interventions in the post-disaster milieu is encouraged, along with feasible and methodologically sound quasi-experimental designs. Measurement of critical variables and instrumentation are discussed, along with ethical issues unique to the disaster context, the necessity of effective inter-organizational and interdisciplinary collaborations, and accessing the “national and international disaster research community” for input on funding, design, and methodological conundrums that impact this fast-moving, emotionally-laden, frequently chaotic research environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-56
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Social Service Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 30 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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