Measuring long-term post-disaster community recovery

Rathfon, Dana
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University of Delaware
Long-term post-disaster community recovery is a complex process that can define the character of affected communities for years to come. Currently, however, no comprehensive, well accepted method of measuring recovery at the community scale exists, impeding efforts to fully understand it. This thesis is part of a larger effort to develop a quantitative measure of post-disaster community recovery, and makes three primary contributions towards that goal. First, it introduces a systematic process by which a measure of post-disaster community recovery can be designed, identifying the important issues in designing a recovery measure, enumerating the ways they may be addressed, and discussing how one might choose among those alternative approaches. Second, the process is applied to develop a prototype measure of post-disaster community recovery for the housing sector specifically (with the idea that it could later be extended to other sectors). The housing measure includes three dimensions: (1) Degree of recovery, which captures the speed of recovery; (2) Sustainability of recovery, which represents the extent to which the recovery builds sustainability into the community for the future; and (3) Extent of change, which identifies permanent changes in the community as a result of a disaster and the subsequent recovery. By repeating the assessments at multiple time steps, one can trackthe recovery over time. The use of supporting data and an assessment of data quality are also addressed. Finally, the thesis presents a case study of housing recovery in Punta Gorda, Florida following Hurricane Charley (2004). The housing recovery is described in detail drawing on multiple sources of data, including remote sensing and aerial imagery, building permits, U.S. census data, and interviews with local officials. The strengths and weaknesses of different data sources are evaluated, and the housing recovery measure is then applied to demonstrate how it summarizes recovery for this case study.