Understanding the Relationships between Household Decisions and Infrastructure Investment in Disaster Recovery: Cases from Super

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CAIT project no.: CAIT-UTC-037

Fiscal Year: 2013/2014

Status: Final

Rutgers-CAIT Author(s): Sue McNeil, Ph.D., Patrick Szary, Ph.D.

External Author(s): Steve Munson, Associate Transportation Analyst

Sponsor(s): FHWA - RITA, NYSDOT


Hurricanes, storms and floods damage roads, bridges, transit lines and other elements of our transportation infrastructure. Restoring the transportation infrastructure is widely recognized as an important element of short-term recovery as the reconstruction of the built environment and the other elements of the long term recovery are dependent on a functional transportation system (Smith and Wenger, 2006). However, in the long term, changes in development and settlement patterns occur and additional or different investments in transportation infrastructure are required to deliver safe and efficient transportation.  We know very little about how, where, when and why these changes occur. This exploratory research project aims to better understand the role transportation infrastructure plays in the disaster recovery process. By documenting transportation infrastructure damage and repair, conducting interviews to understand community and household attitudes, and researching incentives and resources related to household decisions regarding relocation and rebuilding in two communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy we will better understand how to provide transportation infrastructure recovery activity that meets the needs of communities impacted by disaster.  Recovery research is not new.  Community level studies of disaster recovery date back at a minimum to Eugene Haas’ work in the late 1970s. Through the mid-1980s recovery research continued (Olshansky 2005; Quarantelli 1999). Even so, numerous researchers have noted that the recovery phase is the least-understood phase of the disaster cycle (Berke et al. 1993; Bevington et al. 2011; Mileti 1999; Olshansky 2005; Rubin 2009; Rubin et al. 1985). That problem is beginning to change as recent catastrophes and disasters, such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese Tsunami, and Hurricane Sandy, have inspired increased attention to recovery.  Policymakers, researchers, and the media are all devoting more attention to the recovery phase of disasters.  One dimension of that increased attention has included intensified discussion about whether resettling is a better option than rebuilding in some situations.  Another issue is whether to invest in mitigation and repair or just repair of transportation infrastructure (Croope and McNeil, 2011). While many have discussed these issues in passing, research devoted to recovery and research on resettlement is still relatively sparse, and research on the impact of transportation infrastructure on these decisions is even more sparse.