Short and Long-Term Responses to Emergency Situations

Unexpected events (e.g., broken water lines, extended loss of electricity, natural disasters) may require researchers to change their research procedures in order to accommodate concerns related to the emergency situation. Researchers can create emergency response plans and consider the following:

  • Establish specific priorities and identify critical functions in order to prepare, respond, and recover from an unexpected event (e.g., how to handle specialized equipment, ways to secure data and offices).
  • Develop a plan to assess immediate response to an emergency situation to ensure they are appropriate and sustainable.
  • Ask what priorities are necessary to keep research running and develop a research ramp-down plan (e.g., Research Ramp-Down Checklist). 
  • Map out ramp-down scenarios and conduct drills to ensure authorized personnel understand their role.
  • Identify and secure valuable or irreplaceable equipment, data, research materials, or processes. 
  • Assign key research personnel to respond to an emergency 24/7.
  • Create a “notification tree” and identify whom to notify first in the event of an emergency.
  • Follow a Job Safety Assessment to keep yourself and others safe and disseminate information.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted researchers to adapt their research projects, including a shift from in-person to online data collection. Researchers may consider other ways to adapt their research in response to COVID-19. The following text is adapted from a webinar hosted by Dr. Teresa Ober, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Notre Dame:

Ask yourself, did you begin the study prior to COVID-19 quarantine? If yes, how far along is the research? Specifically:

  • Did you already have a research question in mind before COVID-19?
  • Did you already develop a research design or method of data collection before the outbreak/impact of COVID-19?
  • Did you already start data collection before COVID-19?
  • Is your study ongoing and longitudinal?
  • Did the start of your study prior to COVID-19 align with a specific timeline? How is your research and timeline impacted? 

Began Data Collection Before COVID-19 Quarantine

If you have already started data collection prior to quarantine, you could consider these options:

  • Administer an instrument that captures information about how your participants may have been impacted by the pandemic. The instrument may be a simple survey that asks,
    “How has COVID-19 impacted your experiences?”
  • Reflect on nuanced vulnerabilities that may impact your participants now because of quarantine, that may not have existed prior to COVID-19 (e.g., displacement, loneliness, stress, work/life balance concerns).
    • How might those vulnerabilities impact your participants' ability to consent during research? 
    • How has COVID-19 impacted your enrolled participants?
    • How might you adjust study materials to respect the participants' current situation? 
  • Effectively end data collection early for the first wave (“pre-COVID-19”), and administer the study again to examine whether findings hold in a COVID-19 era (~mid-March 2020 or later).
  • Brainstorm ways to control for potential confounds that might be introduced into your research due to COVID-19.

Longitudinal Study Considerations

Longitudinal studies may face certain challenges in the time of emergency situations. Consider these options:

  • Collaborate with colleagues who study similar topics longitudinally.
  • Coordinate efforts to administer similar scales to participants.
  • Compare findings from pre-, during, and post-COVID.
  • Conduct an attrition analysis.
  • Consider how location or community-specific factors due to COVID-19 impact participants.
  • Ask yourself, are there any types of analyses that you can perform (e.g., change point analysis) that might provide information about development changes in light of COVID-19?

Began Study Plan Pre-COVID-19, But Did Not Collect Data

If you have already planned your study, but have not yet collected data, consider these options:

  • Can you conduct the study as intended, even in the time of an emergency situation? If not:
    • Consider analyzing existing/secondary data.
    • Engage in a detailed literature review.
    • Conduct a meta-analysis.
    • Develop new skills that could make future data collection possible.
    • Complete unfinished writing projects, manuscripts, or grants.
    • Consider how you can adapt your study to online settings or remote data collection methods.
    • Pilot test surveys to improve them in anticipation of their use when study procedures can restart.
    • Network with others in your field, build relationships and collaborations.
    • Ask yourself, how can your research on this topic contribute to understanding the psychological, physical, emotional, or social impact of the emergency situation?

Not Yet Begun Research

Individuals who have yet to begin research projects may want to consider adapting projects due to the emergency situation in the following ways:

  • State and local quarantine restrictions have unintentionally created a wide-scale social experiment, one which many have never encountered before. Researchers can learn a lot from this situation and this knowledge could improve current situations, or contribute to future thinking.
  • Consider new domains of research and how departments or individuals responded to the pandemic and if those responses are sustainable into the future.
  • Conduct a self-study to explore your responses or the responses of those close to you to the pandemic
  • If you are starting to develop a study, consider these options:

Explore COVID-19 Questions Using Remote Data Collection

Researchers can use existing/secondary data, publicly available data, or collect new data in remote ways (online survey, Zoom, etc.) to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on lived experiences.

  • What proportion have been affected by COVID-19...
    • Through illness themselves?
    • Through illness of a loved one?
    • Through lost income, job loss, food insecurity and/or disruption to educational plans and aspirations?
  • What behavior changes have occurred since the crisis began and how have they affected well-being including...
    • Effectiveness of lockdown or restrictions on movement?
    • Increased health and wellness awareness?
    • Positive health behaviors; beliefs about virus spread?
    • Access or limits to reliable information?
  • What are the short term effects of the pandemic on individual outcomes such as...
    • Health, including mental health?
    • Subjective well-being?
    • Educational attainment?
    • Employment and earnings?
    • Time use and care responsibilities?
    • Family life, social belonging, social status?
    • Self-esteem, motivation, or self-actualization goals?
  • To what extent has the pandemic had differential effects...
    • According to gender, economic sector, urban or rural residence, living in poverty, or other demographic factors?
  • What strategies and policies have had a positive impact in mitigating the immediate impact of the pandemic or promoting positive behaviors such as...
    • Access to cash transfers, or other monetary resources?
    • Food donation?
    • Credit relief, access to credit, or other forms of economic assistance?
    • Access to information about testing and/or treatment?


For More Information