Participant Burden

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Finding a balance between the benefits and risks of participation among disaster-affected individuals has long been a conversation among researchers.​1,2​

Many scholars have recognized the heightened risk of psychological and/or emotional discomfort from recounting traumatic events among those affected by disaster.​1,2​ Yet, as Collogan et al. note, less consideration has been given to more subtle risks, such as inconvenience to participants who are trying to recover and access important resources; attracting unwanted media attention to disaster victims; possible legal action; and/or breaches of confidentiality.​1​

The influx of researchers after a large-scale disaster can provide important information regarding the immediate needs and challenges of community members after an event. But it can also place an immense burden on participants, who may be approached by several researchers seeking the same information.​2–4​ Oversampling of a specific population, redundancy in study topics, and balancing the demands of multiple research studies can cause fatigue, burnout, and overall distress in study participants.​4​ This is particularly apparent within international or cross-cultural contexts where many outsiders descend upon a locally affected area. For instance, following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, dozens of outside researchers arrived in Houston, Texas requesting access to survivors. Emergency managers had to spend precious time revising researchers’ survey questions to ensure they were appropriate for the local context.​5​

Participant Burden Among Typhoon Yolanda Survivors

In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) devastated the Philippines, impacting 14 million people across 44 provinces. The super typhoon displaced more than 4 million people and killed more than 6,000.​6​ In the direct aftermath of this event, scores of international researchers descended on the country to collect perishable data. Despite the need to secure housing and food, local survivors were inundated with questionnaires from social scientists who did not coordinate before beginning their research.​5​ This led to multiple competing studies that enhanced participant burden among already vulnerable survivors.

People walking through debris from a typhoon
  1. 1.
    Collogan LK, Tuma F, Dolan-Sewell R, Borja S, Fleischman AR. Ethical issues pertaining to research in the aftermath of disaster. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2004;17(5). doi:10.1023/B:JOTS.0000048949.43570.6a

  2. 2.
    Packenham JP, Rosselli RT, Ramsey SK, et al. Conducting science in disasters: Recommendations from the NIEHS Working Group for Special IRB Considerations in the Review of Disaster Related Research. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2017;125(9). doi:10.1289/EHP2378

  3. 3.
    Barron Ausbrooks CY, Barrett EJ, Martinez-Cosio M. Ethical issues in disaster research: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Population Research and Policy Review. 2009;28(1). doi:10.1007/s11113-008-9112-7

  4. 4.
    Fleischman AR, Wood EB. Ethical issues in research involving victims of terror. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 2002;79(3). doi:10.1093/jurban/79.3.315

  5. 5.
    Gaillard J, Peek L. Disaster-zone research needs a code of conduct. Nature. 2019;575(7783):440-442. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03534-z

  6. 6.
    Reid K. 2013 Typhoon Haiyan: Facts, FAQs, and how to help | World Vision. Published online 2018.