How Resilient Communities Handle Natural Disasters

How Resilient Communities Handle Natural Disasters

The destructive nature of Hurricane Matthew—which resulted in hundreds of deaths in Haiti, dozens more in the US, and extensive damage still being assessed—was a test of strength in communications systems, infrastructure, and ultimately the resilience of communities.

In addition to Matthew, Hurricane Earl, Tropical Storm Fiona, Hurricane Gaston, Hurricane Hermine, and Tropical Storm Nicole are among the 14 named storms this Atlantic hurricane season—already more than 12 originally projected for the season, which extends into November.

The kind of devastation caused by storms like these is replicated elsewhere with losses increasing from tornadoes, floods, wildfires, excessive heat, and other costly and life-threatening extreme weather conditions.

From 2005-2015, extreme weather conditions resulted in the death of more than 6,500 people in the US alone. Since 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has contributed more than $26 million nationwide toward disaster preparedness—and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has spent about $1 billion in natural disaster resilience.

Scientists and urban planners are searching for ways to better help communities become more resilient so that they can prepare and recover more quickly when natural disasters occur.

Community disaster resiliency is broadly defined as the ability through policies, programs, and interventions to mitigate damage and quickly recover when disasters occur. Resiliency measures vary, and may include rates related to poverty, educational level, homeownership, and access to vehicles and telecommunications networks. Other measures include infrastructure density and the presence of hazard mitigation plans.

Laura A. Bakkensen, assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona, responds to four questions about natural disasters and the need to improve community resiliency.

Q: You and your collaborators have found that resilient communities are better able to recover from devastating disasters. What are the implications for such a finding, particularly as it pertains to community and economic development?

A: Natural disaster resilience is a common policy goal these days, and billions of dollars are being spent around the globe to try and achieve it. Despite risk-management actions to lessen impacts, disasters losses have increased over time. This, at least in part, has motivated the new resilience paradigm across multiple levels of government.

Effort must be tailored to the needs and unique local characteristics. However, in a recent publication, my coauthors and I show that resilience as a concept can be tricky to meaningfully quantify. One important implication is that communities should be careful about which metrics they use to make decisions, to be sure that money is targeted toward projects that can meet their specific goals.

Q: What does it mean to be a vulnerable community? Also, what are some of the essential tools present in resilient communities that are lacking in those that are vulnerable?

A: Broadly speaking, resilient communities are better able to bounce back and recover from adverse events, relative to more vulnerable communities. A growing literature quantifies vulnerability and resilience in disaster indices, grouping variables across economic, social, infrastructural, and other domains. However, resilience can often be elusive to pin down and quantify. Theoretically persuasive metrics of resilience do not always correlate with observed disaster outcomes, such as fewer fatalities or reductions in disaster losses.

Thus, policymakers should be careful when using resilience indices and select a resilience index that is a good measure of outcomes relating to their policy objectives. For example, we find the often-used Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) to be useful in explaining natural disaster damages, as areas that are more vulnerable, based on this index, have higher levels of damages in a regression analysis. However SoVI does not strongly explain fatalities from disasters, as areas that are more vulnerable, based on the index, do not have significantly more fatalities.

So, we recommend that policymakers be careful when choosing which index on which to base their decisions.

Q: You and your collaborators also call for improved research on the implications—some of them negative—related to how hurricanes are gendered in naming. Why do we need to have a better understanding about how something as simple as a hurricane’s name has an impact on the population?

A: Understanding disaster risk is a key component in deciding how to respond, be it evacuating from a hurricane zone or pulling over while driving through a dust storm. People must perceive that the threat is credible and that consequences from inactivity are bad enough. If we misjudge risks, this can result in people unknowingly putting themselves in harm’s way, with potentially fatal results. As such, a key area of my research analyzes how individuals understand disaster risk.

In the context of hurricane names, the good news for society is that my coauthor and I did not find evidence that individuals discount hurricanes with female names. However, in other current work, I find evidence that individuals do not always pay attention to tornado warnings broadcast by the National Weather Service, which leads to higher levels of tornado injuries and fatalities.

Q: Given the statistical rise in natural disasters—considering Hurricane Matthew, this year’s flooding in Louisiana and West Virginia, the Southeast blizzard from earlier this year, and also the more intense wildfires seen throughout the West and Southwest—how can communities become better equipped to respond?

A: Research has shown that certain advanced-planning strategies can, in essence, pay for themselves by reducing the magnitude of disaster damages. However, my current research in flooding shows that people can sometimes forget about disaster risk until a disaster strikes. Realizing this, one thing that communities and policymakers can do is to evaluate spending both before and after a disaster. Spending a little more up-front and preparing for disasters can, in some cases, make good financial sense. Of course, each policy should be evaluated based on its own costs and benefits.

On an individual level, information really is power when it comes to natural disaster preparedness. Some tips are:

  • Know the natural disaster risks in your area. For example, you can find out the flood risk for your home at Flood Smart.
  • Have a plan in place to be ready for a disaster. Familiarize yourself with advice from the organizations such as the Pima County Office of Emergency Management or the Red Cross.
  • Consider options such as insurance to cover the disaster risk or the costs and benefits of damage mitigation strategies.
  • Keep updated with good information in the moment. Extreme weather such as flash floods can develop quickly in southern Arizona. Check out the National Weather Service Tucson’s Twitter feed for instant updates on hazardous conditions.

While we cannot directly control the weather, preparedness and information can help empower us to know that we will be ready to deal with whatever comes our way.

Source: University of Arizona

Related Books:

Product Description: On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast near Mustang Island. Our resort was significantly impacted, and this book shares our journey through the storm and first year of recovery.

You’ll see inside our crisis management, community service, training, leadership development, and physical rebuilding - from the darkest days to the celebration of each milestone.

We hope this book is a testament to resilience, teamwork, faith, courage, and a spirit of service.

We are #portroyalstrong, and this is our story.

All proceeds from the sale of this book (less direct printing costs) are being donated to the Port Royal Strong Foundation.

Product Description: As Category 5 Hurricane Andrew was bearing down, people huddled in their closets and under their mattresses were tuned to "the man who talked South Florida through". This is the story of the storm that set the benchmark for damage - almost four times the previously most expensive U.S. disaster - and the TV coverage that kept people safe and sane through the hellacious night. Bryan Norcross was on the air with life-saving guidance for every minute of Andrew's onslaught. Cities in South Florida declared Bryan Norcross Days in his honor.

This is the story behind the acclaimed TV coverage, and why Bryan was first to raise the alarm. Learn untold stories about the storm that rewrote our understanding of hurricanes. How will we deal with extreme storms in the future? Bryan considers the lessons we learned from Andrew, the lessons we should have learned, and what steps we need to immediately take.

If you think you know the story of Hurricane Andrew, it is likely you do not. Relive the incredible event from Bryan’s vantage point as the man who was connected to South Florida residents through the terror of the storm and the horror of what came after the Great Hurricane of 1992.

List Price: $19.00
Sale Price: $19.00 $18.99 You save: $0.01
Product Description: This pioneering book by a career industry insider and 9-11 survivor spotlights why the multi-trillion dollar Us built environment is increasingly failing. His analysis exposes policies and interests that to this very day are the root causes of vulnerability. It discusses why the green movement has fallen short in addressing sustainable building development. The book extracts 30 lessons for nations aiming to build a more disaster-resilient future. Guaranteed to stir building, policy and sustainability circles, it signals a time for change.

English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Dutch Filipino French German Hindi Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Persian Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Urdu Vietnamese


Jay Inslee Tells Hayes That He Wants To Gut The Filibuster To Fight Climate Change
Washington Governor Jay Inslee is running for president on the single issue of climate change and argues that doing…
Causes and Effects of Climate Change
by National Geographic
What causes climate change (also known as global warming)? And what are the effects of climate change? Learn the human…
Extreme Weather and Global Warming
by NASA Goddard
Is the frequency of extreme weather events a sign that global warming is gaining pace and exceeding predictions? Bill…
Thanks to Climate Change, Wet Winters No Match for Drier California Summers
by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
If the emerald-green hills around Northern California have you thinking recent rains have put a damper on the fire…
Climate Change Is Not One Issue
"Climate change is not one issue," said David Wallace-Wells, author of "The Uninhabitable Earth," but is…
The Heat: Climate change
by CGTN America
Images gathered by NASA show an increase in foliage in China and India. The greening effect is mainly due to ambitious…
No company is doing enough to combat climate change: Jeremy Grantham
by CNBC Television
Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO, on climate change and what needs to be done to combat it.
Power Plants Are POISONING Groundwater All Over America
by The Ring of Fire
According to a new report, 90% of coal-fired power plants across the country have completely contaminated the…


Default Image
Come on, UK weather forecasters – tell it like it is on climate change
by Adam Corner
They have a national reach that most climate campaigners would die for. They are familiar and respected experts on the…
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
by David Roberts
One of the elements of the Green New Deal resolution that has caused the most consternation among critics on the right…
Default Image
UK environmentalists target Barclays in fossil fuels campaign
by Matthew Taylor
A UK-wide campaign is being launched to persuade one of the country’s biggest high street banks to stop investing…
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
by Tim Radford
What does oceanic carbon uptake achieve? Greenhouse gas that sinks below the waves slows global warming a little and…
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
by Global Warming & Climate Change
“Climate change plus growth equals an existential threat,” Mr. Bevan said. To avoid severe water shortages, he added,…
Default Image
Record high US temperatures outpace record lows two to one, study finds
by Associated Press
Over the past 20 years, Americans have been twice as likely to sweat through record-breaking heat rather than shiver…
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
by BBC News - Science & Environment
Image copyright PA Image caption Low water levels at Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton in the UK heatwave in July 2018 Within…
Default Image
Why you'll never meet a white supremacist who cares about climate change
by Rebecca Solnit
As the news of the Christchurch mosque massacre broke and I scoured the news, I came across a map showing that the…