Hurricane Harvey: A Study of Police Leadership and Resilience



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Background: The Houston Police Department (HPD) is interested in understanding more about their leadership resilience and their performance during and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The interest is to discover and examine the factors that affected the robustness of the HPD leadership and its officers during the crisis. Understanding these factors will help the members of the HPD to learn and improve from this natural disaster and to become better leaders to citizens for future disasters. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the factors that affected individual police officers’ resilience and robustness during Hurricane Harvey of 2017. Research studies associate several categories of employer support and wellness to individual resiliency. The factors are tied to the availability of resources available to the police officers during times of crisis. Analysis of the results can provide a framework to improve the existing resources and training of HPD so that it can be more resilient in future disasters. Methods: This mixed-methods study used archival data from a wellness and resilience survey and semi-structured interviews with police officers from various divisions of the HPD, including the leadership of the divisions that faced the hardest challenges during Hurricane Harvey. The analysis of the interviews used the Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis approach that identified patterns of meaning in participants’ accounts. Archival survey data was based on the Department of Justice’s Vicarious Trauma-Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG) and was administered after Hurricane Harvey. VT-ORG recommended using the results to find rationales for the responses, tasks to maintain or build upon, and identify responsible parties (or leaders). Results: The mixed-methods study utilized data collected from archival survey responses and semi-structured interviews. The quantitative and qualitative data were analyzed for emergent and common themes. Interview data revealed strengths and weaknesses in HPD leadership, disaster preparation, communication, family support, and wellness. Analysis of the VT-ORG survey data revealed two significant areas of concern: communication and wellness. The VT-ORG produced a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .88 overall and confirmed it to be a reliable and valid questionnaire. Conclusion: Upon completion of the data analysis, testimony from the archival survey data and interviewees provided ample evidence that the factors of leadership, resources, wellness, and experience played a large role in resilience and job effectiveness during Hurricane Harvey. The results of the study suggest that HPD can pursue a number of clear avenues in order to increase resilience for a future crisis. It can also improve everyday policing by offering increased support to officers, staff, and leadership.



Hurricane Harvey