Building Sustainable Communities

The ties that bind in disaster recovery

Strong ties to the community and a bond between neighbors can help areas affected by natural disasters recover faster, according to a survey conducted by Purdue University students and faculty.

The Resilient Communities Research Team surveyed almost 400 people from the rural southern Indiana communities of Henryville, Marysville, New Pekin and Chelsea, all of which were in the path of deadly EF3 and EF4 tornadoes in March 2012.

The brief survey asked residents to provide information on when, where and how they evacuated the area, and whether it was before, during or after the tornadoes hit on March 2-3, 2012. It also asked about each household's connection to the people around them and the extent to which those people came to their aid during the recovery process.

Results showed that people who were able to rely on their neighbors and community for help were able to bounce back from the disaster a bit faster than those who were not.

Satish Ukkusuri, professor of civil engineering, says that it is important to consider physical infrastructure – the power grid or roads – but it’s also important to understand people and encourage strong neighborhood and community ties that will be instrumental in helping people recover. This project was a part of the Center for the Environment Building Sustainable Communities initiative.

Seungyoon Lee, associate professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, says that there is much to learn about post-disaster recovery.

"Very little is understood about how people draw upon their social connections after a disaster and how we can encourage strong neighborhood and community ties that will be instrumental in helping people recover," she says. "We encourage community leaders and policymakers to consider the importance of social, neighborhood and community factors as they prepare for disasters."

- Megan Huckaby, Purdue News Service

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