Natural Disaster UX Design Project

Moving forward with wrapping up research and going into synthesis there have been many unique situations that have unfolded. From the last blog post on service design models and evacuation centers: Natural Disaster Relief Service Design Project, more information has been collected and interviews completed. The biggest step forward in the last weeks was getting interviews from the survivors of the Onion Creek Flood. This has provided rich data to help during synthesis and the goal is to depict it in a timeline format for a cross analysis with the evacuation service design model. This post outlines everything that has build up to this point in IDSE 203.

I grew up in Colorado, a beautiful place but also constantly threatened by wildfires and floods. For the last couple years the frequency and severity of danger have increased substantially. Its almost now an annual event for to get pictures from family and friends at evacuation. Recognizing the way natural disasters affect so many people to is one of the reasons that I was drawn to research it AC4D.

The other reason for wanting to focus work on disaster relief was from prior career experience. One of the first jobs I had when moving to Texas was providing housing to homeless individuals. I worked with Hurricane Katrina survivors almost every day. Almost a decade later, many of the people many of the people that relocated to texas from New Orleans are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Almost a decade later, many of the people that relocated to Texas from New Orleans are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Focusing on immersion in the problem space and building rich mental models is the best method for extracting qualitative data. As a design researcher, I wanted to experience first hand the process of what it is like to be involved in relief efforts. Early on one thing I learned about was the importance of maintaining an awareness of the trauma that individuals are going through. For many people in disasters, dealing with loss becomes an overwhelming emotion and needs to be addressed with the utmost care.

It was important to keep this in mind while beginning to reach out to the local Red Cross. The best way to volunteer was to go down to the evacuation center and ask to be a volunteer. After the floods in South Austin an Evacuation Center was set up at the Dove Springs Recreation Center that provided an area for design research. In the Red Cross this is a person who is referred to as a “spontaneous volunteer”. These are usually people who are local and want to help in the efforts in supporting their neighbor. The following is an outline of the information collected from the research portion for IDSE 203 project.

Photos From Dove Springs Evacuation Center

Focus Statement: The focus of this research is to make communication more transparent and accessible for natural disaster relief efforts.

Here is a breakdown of what information collected during research:

Recorded Interviews: Around 325.27 minutes

5 Red Cross Volunteers

5 Flood survivors of the onion creek flood

1 survey from Austin Disaster Relief Network

Non recorded interviews

Private Case Manager meetings with survivors.

To capture this experience I transcribed the events that unfolded from my own personal experience into a narrative.

Volunteer Areas: 3 Days

Intake area, security, ERV distribution, CM, sleeping quarters.


167 personal

40 from flood survivor

Contextual Inquiry:

4 Highlighted in bold below in a timeline format.

Here is where the entire research plan can be viewed.

Each disaster is unique and the severity of their impact on a community isn’t just about measuring wind speed or rain fall in a storm. Its about understanding how the disaster and its aftermath are experienced by the victims. Putting a timeline on the most recent events here in Austin the focus is going to be to use it as tool to compare with other models. One model will be the service model map from the first blog post . It will serve as a stable point to anchor new ideas and design insights.

Below is an overview of the timeline of events that unfolded through research. This is a brief of events that unfolded congruently to the design research recently completed.

October 31

A major flood turned a community on the south side of Austin into a disaster area overnight. Immediately response teams came to help victims. Some delays happened along the way because of a faulty flood gauge and many roads were blocked preventing responders to get to the disaster area quicker.

The local news reported that more than 1,000 homes were affected. Many people were rescued by being airlifted from the roofs of their homes to safety. One story that stuck out to me was from one survivor who was airlifted off of their roof to safety. The next day they called into work to report what happened and that they could not make it in. Their boss responded with reprimanding them on leaving their uniform in the house. This is a good example of how disconnected the rest of Austin was to the events unfolding around Onion Creek.

Homes Damaged in Onion Creek Flood

Organizations like the Red Cross and the Austin Disaster Relief Teams began working in the affected area once the flood waters receded.

The area near Onion Creek that morning had cars piled on top of each other and personal belongings from other neighborhoods scattered all over. Many survivors did not know what to do next. Efforts by non-profits included going to the disaster zones “affected area” in large ambulance looking vehicles called ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles). They provided immediate assistance and presence to the community that people are there to help. Teams would begin the process of filling out paperwork and handing out warm food, blankets, and other donations.

Red Cross Handing Out Supplies to Survivors

November 8th

To begin the research the goal was to get first hand experience with what it is like to be involved in disaster recovery. To achieve this Case Managers at the Red Cross were shadowed for 3 days at the Dove Springs Evacuation Center. This style of research provided perspective from users in their environment. Being exposed to first hand it was not hard to feel the emotional stress and exhaustion that was weighing on everyone’s shoulders.

Contextual interviews with responders were done in a variety of different ways and often spontaneous. One CI was done by having a CM walk through the paperwork that they fill out in process a survivor through an evacuation zone. This was insightful when it came to understanding the perspective of a CM. Another CI was conducted by having some of the RC volunteers show me the different memorial pins they get at each disaster. Every pin had a story or a different chain of events that told a story. A common thing that was said by many of the volunteers is that every disaster is different.

Being a volunteer at an evacuation site exposes research to everyone that comes in contact. People that were working for the city or other agencies would discuss events of the flood. They would openly share conversations and opinions with people they saw as relatable. City of Austin employees at the evacuation center provided (non recorded) information. Most of it ended up being no different that what publicly has already been addressed.

November 17th

The following week was set to focus on the survivor. Neighborhoods along Onion Creek was an affected area that received high levels of damage. Being there was an experience in its own. People’s homes were destroyed and their belongings were being shoveled into large dumpsters that lined every street. People whose homes were damaged and destroyed said that this was the first time anyone had come down to interview them. They were excited to have someone listen to their story.

Example of how many families are living after the flood. This camper is on the main street in the neighborhood and has been a image for news reports for the flood.

Getting to speak with survivors and listen to the stories of what they went through was shocking. Neighborhoods of people spent that night on the roof of their homes watching cars and other large debris barrel down the street. One of the survivors showed me around the area where they were during the flood. They pointed out that every house on the block had holes cut in the roof as the community struggled to get above the flood.

One of the survivors shared with me photos of the flood unfolding. During our interview he spoke of each picture and what he was experiencing. In one of the pictures he described the feeling of looking in to an aquarium as the water on the outside rose faster and higher than the water that was in their home.

Another resource for information was the Austin Disaster Relief Network. The work they do is different in the way that they provide most of the same relief services as well as long term disaster care. For this project they They provided thorough information in response to a questionnaire on disaster communication. This was extremely helpful in understand the techniques used in disaster communication.

The best way for sense making amidst the wealth of information from research is a process called synthesis. To do this photos have been printed out and put on the office walls. The interviews were transcribed, broken down into utterances, and then put on the wall. Expanding the data puts all of the information out in front of you to be better sorted and organized into groupings through affinity diagramming. The next steps will be to continue breaking down the groups of information into smaller groups in search of similarity. There are already many clustering of patterns that can lead to insights.

Utterances Being Formed into Groupings.

Contact has been maintained with individuals in the community. As research it would interesting to reach out again for clarification to make more thorough design decisions.