Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In the aftermath of disaster, it is often neighbors and other civilians nearby who respond first. Civilian disaster response, then, is not new. However, a new phenomenon emerged following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and again after the 2016 Louisiana Floods and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Civilians convoyed to New Orleans with their boats to rescue others after Katrina, and again in 2016 and 2017. The difference in these more recent events has been the official formation of these volunteers into organizations that conduct search and rescue (SAR) as well as other relief activities. These civilian volunteer SAR organizations have gained prominence and present a unique opportunity to understand organizational dynamics in disasters.

This dissertation draws from these civilian volunteer SAR organizations to explore gendered dynamics in disaster volunteering. I used ethnographic methods within the extended case method to extend existing theory in gender and disaster in three ways. First, the research shows the distinct division of labor within the organizations that extends from traditional gender roles and expectations. In the organizations, men typically undertake the role of boater and rescuer, conducting frontline operations in the public sphere—the area affected by the disaster—and women usually take on less visible roles—behind the scenes roles such as dispatching, communication, and coordination. Secondly, there were similarities and differences in health effects of volunteering based on volunteer role, which was gendered. Boaters and back-end volunteers both reported physical and mental health issues due to volunteering, but emotional labor was more common for back-end volunteers. Finally, many of the motivating factors to why individuals volunteered with these organizations had no gendered relationship though underlying ideals of masculinity can be seen in rescuers descriptions of their purpose and goals. This research combines and contributes to research on gender and disaster, SAR organizations, volunteerism in disaster, and organized behavior. My research fills a gap in the disaster literature as these organizations and the gendered dynamics within them have yet to be researched.



Committee Chair

Becker, Sarah



Available for download on Monday, March 31, 2025