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November 1, 2012

Disaster recovery expert: Neighbors often save the day

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Neighbors and local friends are key to recovery, especially in the immediate days after a disaster when food, water and transportation issues are critical, says a Purdue University disaster recovery expert.

"If there was ever a time to be a good neighbor, it is now," says Daniel P. Aldrich, an associate professor of political science and disaster recovery expert. "When a disaster like superstorm Sandy strikes and subways are flooded, the normal providers of services like transportation, child care and so on have to be replaced by friends and family. Whether people are trying to survive or begin rebuilding, these social networks fill in the gaps left by the destruction."

Aldrich's research shows that communities that pull together are more likely recover and rebuild quickly, too. The government can also do a better job helping when people are organized, he says.

Examples of such organization in the wake of Sandy include a community in New York that set up a list of addresses of families with power generators and distributed it so that people who needed their cell phones charged or food refrigerated could find them.

"Similarly, farmers in Virginia are working together to ensure that they share fuel and are able to refrigerate their produce rather than having it spoiled," he says.

Aldrich, who is author of "Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery," has studied evacuation, disaster recovery and community rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Daniel Aldrich, daniel.aldrich@gmail.com