March 1997 (VOL. 15, NO. 1)
We examine the kinds of information that can be obtained from well-designed, standardized, population-based surveys and demonstrate that some things which, in the past, have been considered barriers to the use of surveys following disasters provide insights into postdisaster behavior and may be advantageous. In specific, we examine: the use of standardized surveys to compare community behavior across time, events, and locations; the extent to which surveys represent the population of interest in the aftermath of a disaster; the receptivity of respondents to being interviewed after a disaster; the ability to utilize telephones for interviews after a disaster; the extent to which the data collected in a survey are perishable and subject to memory decay; the use of surveys as quasi-experimental designs for obtaining information on “control groups”; the use of surveys as a source of baseline or denominator data for ascertaining what other, more specialized datasets represent; the maintenance of verbal data collected within the context of a survey for later postcoding and analysis; and the storage of surveys in archives for use in secondary analyses by other researchers. Overall, we conclude that well-designed, standardized population-based surveys can provide an accurate picture of a community’s behaviors and attitudes with regard to disasters as well as describe the impact of a disaster on a population.