Most communities learn the hard way that getting assistance to those in need after a disaster is a confusing, challenging process. Unfortunately, disasters also produce difficult, low-visibility conditions for survivors, service providers, and funders trying to understand the needs and assistance available.
The best time to connect with folks impacted by a disaster is during and immediately following the disaster. In the Houston area, we’ve also learned that to reach as many people as possible when making big decisions; we must work to understand the need together. That starts with coordinated surveying.
Our coordinated survey for Harris County, the Connective Survey, will now be published on behalf of the Harris County Long Term Recovery Committee and shared by Harris County after every major disaster. This will ensure we maximize the resources to our community, as federal funding depends on accurate quantification of the need.
Building a Coordinated Survey
Local governments need data to inform requests to unlock federal emergency funding, and funders need data to inform immediate and longer-term funding strategies. Importantly, survivors need information on where to get help. Assessing disaster damages and needs can become a major obstacle to recovery when delayed and when collection methods are not coordinated between public, private, and nonprofit sectors, resulting in inaccurate estimates and inequitable outcomes.
When multiple community disaster surveys deploy without prior coordination, the result is confusion, survey fatigue, incomplete and inaccurate assessments of disaster impacts, and poor engagement with impacted community members.
Instead, we recommend Coordinated Community Surveying. Coordinated community surveying always has two goals: capture contact information (and basic needs data, if possible) from survivors as quickly as possible and collect a reliable picture of the community’s needs so stakeholders have the information they need to act.
A successful, coordinated survey will:
- Be language accessible,
- Take no longer than 10–15 minutes to complete
- Be available in major spoken languages for its area
- Be available via web, call, or text for those with limited or no access to technology
- Provide respondents with resources that they need based on their unique responses
Here in Harris County, Connective has worked closely with partners throughout multiple disasters to develop a single community disaster survey. The survey is in two parts. The first part is completed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster to be able to direct resources and quantify needs. The second part is designed for completion in the weeks after a disaster to delve deeper into community needs as they evolve.
Impact To Date
The Connective community disaster survey was distributed during Tropical Storm Imelda and more widely after Winter Storm Uri. The survey was co-built with suggestions from 100+ partners, including the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HCOHSOEM) and the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee.
After Winter Storm Uri, we received over 9,000 responses to our survey, capturing the needs of over 5,300 households. We shared this data with recovery networks daily via email and our website. Through this effort, collectively, we 1) advocated for more resources for our community and 2) connected survey respondents to resources, such as home repairs.
Notably, the Kinder Institute leveraged our survey data as part of a mixed-methods approach to build a response assessment after the winter storm. They found the survey to give a “complete, countywide picture of the types of damage reported, including geographic extent of damage and severity to individual homes, unmet needs after the storm, needs by housing tenure, and storm preparedness.”
Moving forward, we aim to improve our collective outreach methods for getting the survey to those affected by disasters. We also will continue to build connections into resources, so those who fill out the survey and ask for assistance can get connected to programs that can help them.
In a disaster, you can access and share the survey at connectivesurvey.org.