Planning for the Resilient City: Emergency Preparedness (CHS)

Systems under Stress: An investigation of Community Resilience to Natural Disasters

Project Leader: Stephanie Chang
Project Summary


Systems under Stress: An investigation of Community Resilience to Natural Disasters
Centre for Human Settlements ∙School of Community and Regional Planning
College for Interdisciplinary Studies – University of British Columbia
Project Leader: Stephanie Chang
Project supported by: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant
Funding: $65,000
Period: April 1, 2007– March 31, 2011
This study inquires into the factors underlying community resilience to natural disasters. Recent catastrophes such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 serve as vivid reminders that losses from natural disasters worldwide continue to escalate. Moreover, the potential for catastrophes is increasing as urban populations in hazardous regions grow, the built environment ages and economies become increasingly connected. Traditional approaches to addressing this problem have emphasized identifying community vulnerabilities and investing in loss reduction; for example, through strengthening emergency response capabilities and investing in pre-disaster mitigations. Recently, the hazards research and practitioner communities have begun to embrace the broader goal of strengthening communities’ resilience—their ability to withstand and bounce back from a stressful event. The mission of the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, for example, is to build ―disaster-resilient communities.‖
This study addresses the pressing need for systematic, integrated, empirically-grounded research on what makes for disaster-resilient communities. It poses a fundamental question: how is the resilience of the community, as a system, related to the resilience of the individual agents (e.g., households and businesses) that comprise the system? Agents within the system interact—for example, businesses employ household labour and households consume business products—so that a community system is more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the micro-level choices, consequences, and conditions of an individual agent must be contextualized by macro-level influences, such as economic change and public policies. Addressing the core research question of system resilience will therefore involve an interdisciplinary approach that draws on studies of resilience in a broad range of fields, from psychology, sociology, and economics to geography, urban planning, environmental studies, public health, and engineering.
In contrast to many previous studies of resilience, this study adopts an approach based on computer simulation modeling. It builds on the Principal Investigator’s recent work on developing a computer model that simulates how communities recover from disasters. This model emphasizes linkages between elements of a community and is based on numerous empirical studies of disaster recovery. It is an agent-based model that simulates the recovery of individual households and businesses. The model has been applied and tested against two major disasters, the 1995 Kobe (Japan) earthquake and the 1994 Northridge (Los Angeles) earthquake.
The current study will build on this model in three significant ways to address the core research question. First, it will develop empirical knowledge about agent-level resilience by conducting a business survey. Second, it will incorporate these empirical findings into the computer model. Third, it will apply the model to a case study of Greater Vancouver and, through a series of ―what-if‖ scenarios, explore how a range of physical, socio-economic, and institutional factors influence resilience.
This research is expected to yield new insights into such policy-relevant questions as what factors have the greatest influence on community resilience, and how communities can most effectively increase their resilience to natural disasters, specifically, and stresses, generally. Such insights can help urban planners, emergency managers, non-governmental organizations involved in disaster relief and recovery, and government decision-makers to make informed decisions that enhance communities’ abilities to withstand and recover from future disasters.


The role of Coastal Ecosystem Degredation in Tsunami Damage

Co-PIs: Stephanie Chang, William Rees
Project Summary


The role of Coastal Ecosystem Degradation in Tsunami Damage
Project Leader: Philip R. Berke, Professor, Land use and Environmental Planning, Dept.
of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina
Co-PIs: Stephanie Chang, UBC School of Community & Regional Planning
William Rees, UBC School of Community & Regional Planning
Jackie Alder, UBC Fisheries Centre
Beverley Adams, ImageCat, California
Ratana Chuenpagdee, UBC Fisheries Centre and Co-Director, Coastal
Development Centre, Bangkok
Project supported by: National Science Foundation
Funding: $71,660 (at UBC)
Period: March 15, 2005 – February 28, 2006
In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, media accounts indicated that the
clearing of coastal mangrove forests for tourism and aquaculture may have greatly exacerbated
the human and physical damage caused by the tsunami. Indeed, there was compelling anecdotal
and scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that both corals and ecologically intact coastal
mangrove ecosystems provide significant insurance against storm surges and other marine highwater
events in the South Asia context. The disaster mitigation benefits of ecosystem services is
an important research issue, but had primarily been studied in the context of hurricanes and flood
hazards. Very little was known about the energy dissipation potential of coastal forests and their
potential as part of a tsunami hazard mitigation strategy. Given the vast geographic area affected
by the tsunamis in this recent catastrophe, remote sensing imagery provided an important tool for
scoping and targeting an investigation into the linkages between coastal ecosystem degradation
and tsunami damage.
An exploratory study was conducted on the role of coastal ecosystems in protecting communities
from the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, focusing on mangrove forests on the Andaman
coast of Thailand and how well villages were undertaking environmental conservation. Remote
sensing analysis identified pre-disaster mangrove change and post-disaster structural damage and
landscape changes. Field data from five sites, 20 villages, gathered via the VIEWS™ data
collection system, validated and supplemented this analysis. Key informants at several of these
villages were also interviewed. A preliminary comparison of villages that otherwise faced
similar tsunami exposure suggests that the presence of healthy mangroves did afford substantial