urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

The Role of Faith-based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Read complete document: PDF

PrintPrint this page
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Digg Share on Reddit
| Email this pageE-mail
Document date: December 01, 2008
Released online: January 22, 2009

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full brief in PDF format.


This research brief examines the relief and recovery services provided by faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) in the Gulf Coast region after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The study included a telephone survey of 202 FBCOs that provided services and in-depth case studies of eight organizations. The brief explores how FBCOs functioned during this time-i.e., what they did, who they served, and with whom they collaborated-and offers lessons learned for planning for future disasters. The brief summarizes the findings from the full report "The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Post-Hurricane Human Service Relief Efforts," available here.


By almost any measure—geographic reach of the storm, population displaced, destruction of property, costs of disaster relief, and the prospective costs of rebuilding—the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 represent the largest single natural disaster on U.S. soil in the past 100 years. The storms and the breaking of the levees devastated a major population center and totally obliterated large swaths of coastal areas. By one account, more than 100,000 square miles of land were affected—roughly the size of Great Britain—and about 160,000 homes and apartments were destroyed or suffered major damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated damage at $37.1 billion— or four times higher than the costs associated with the World Trade Center attack in 2001.

The events surrounding the storms also produced one of the largest disaster response efforts by nongovernmental, charitable organizations. These included faith-based and secular groups, religious congregations both locally based and from other states, national organizations with substantial experience in human services delivery, and groups with specific disaster response expertise. By some accounts, the response of charitable groups was regarded as more effective than that of federal, state, or local governmental agencies.

There have been few systematic studies of how faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) function during emergency situations—what they do, whom they serve, and with whom they collaborate. To fill this gap, the Urban Institute conducted a two year study for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to obtain detailed information on the relief efforts provided by FBCOs in the 2005 hurricanes, and suggest how these groups might help in future disasters. The study included a telephone survey of 202 FBCOs that provided hurricane-related human services in the Gulf Coast region and in-depth, field-based case studies of eight organizations in Louisiana and Mississippi that provided such services. The telephone survey offers quantitative information on the types of FBCOs that participated in relief and recovery efforts, the services provided, individuals served, and the monetary and human resources and networks and collaborations used to provide such services. Information was collected between November 2007 and February 2008 from a stratified random sample of FBCOs in the Gulf Coast region. Of the 202 respondents, 120 self-identified as faith-based organizations and 82 as secular nonprofits. Most of those who identified as faith-based were religious congregations, though a small number (14) were professional human service providers.

The case studies used field-based semi-structured interviews with leaders of the study organizations and others with whom they interacted or who may have influenced the assistance provided. Site visits were conducted between May and July 2008. The purpose of the case studies was to understand how eight organizations in different communities and with different purposes before the storms responded to the disaster. The case studies explored what motivated these organizations to respond as they did, how they related to the larger web of disaster responders, and whether the efforts of these generally smaller or nontraditional responders will be sustainable over time or replicable in future disasters.

(End of excerpt. The entire brief is available in PDF format.)

The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Post-Hurricane Human Services Relief Efforts (Full Report)

Topics/Tags: | Governing | Nonprofits

Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page