Mechelle Smith successfully defended her dissertation titled ‘Social Vulnerability and Hurricane Evacuation Behavior in Hampton Roads, VA: Emergency Management Stakeholders’ Perceptions of Low-to-moderate Income Households in a Social Construction Paradigm’ on June 19, 2020.

Her dissertation committee was chaired by Dr. Wie Yusuf. Committee members were Dr. Gail Nicula and Dr. Joshua Behr.

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to examine current emergency management (EM) evacuation policies and practices with respect to vulnerable populations’ hurricane evacuation behaviors. The response of vulnerable households and local and state governments’ implementation of emergency evacuation policies and practices provide possible linkages to continual problems faced by local governments in addressing its most vulnerable residents. Using social construction as a theoretical foundation provides context for the consideration of vulnerable populations in emergency management policy and hurricane evacuation. The overarching research question is: To what extent do local government policies and practices address the evacuation behaviors and needs of socially vulnerable populations facing the threat of a hurricane? Specifically, to what extent do local government policies and practices address the evacuation behaviors and needs of low-to-moderate income households facing the threat of a hurricane? The research questions frame the narrative to generate a better understanding of the relationship between social vulnerability and emergency management. This research is a qualitative case study of emergency management policies, practices, and perceived household evacuation behaviors in several cities of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The research area consists of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Hampton. This study uses the phenomenological method of inquiry to obtain information about experiences and practices of EM practitioners and stakeholders. Study participants include emergency managers, engineers, planners, a local government executive, a school board member, a vice mayor, and social justice activists. Representatives from nonprofit disaster-supporting and regional transportation organizations were invited to participate but declined. Throughout this case study, social construction theory provides a framework for understanding whether EM stakeholders’ experiences and perceptions about low-to-moderate income households’ evacuation behaviors inform policies and practices. During this research process, areas are identified where social construction theory provides efficacy in explaining the findings. During the interviews with emergency practitioners and stakeholders, the conclusion was although other socially vulnerable populations such as the elderly, homeless, disabled, and medically fragile receive EM policy considerations, income, specifically, low-to-moderate income households, is not considered a primary factor of social vulnerability in EM policies and practices. This research finds this to be the case even though throughout the research literature, income is a primary factor for social vulnerability in environmental hazards and natural disasters. This research informs policy decision making and implementation at local government’s multiple levels. Additionally, this study informs research disciplines rooted in policy theory about how social construction theory affects policy creation and implementation. Lastly, this case study’s research findings will better inform the planning and implementation of current and future EM and other related policies and practices to allow more inclusive considerations for Hampton Roads’ diverse populations.

Congratulations Dr. Mechelle Smith!!