Disaster Recovery and the Role of Self-Governance

Laura Grube

Advisor: Peter J Boettke, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Christopher J. Coyne, Virgil H. Storr

Enterprise Hall, #418
April 09, 2015, 04:30 PM to 12:30 PM


Each year in the US, natural disasters result in hundreds of deaths and injuries and tens of billions of dollars in damage to property. Total disaster declarations and federal funding for disasters has been increasing in recent decades, with average yearly allocations to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) now over $5 billion. Those impacted by disaster are confronted with a variety of challenges, including questions about individual financial assistance, the task of cleaning up homes and businesses, the decision of whether to rebuild, and many more issues. Although federal funding following disaster has increased, there are still questions about how government assistance may or may not aid in recovery. Evidence from Hurricane Katrina, the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, and Hurricane Sandy suggest that other factors also contribute to community recovery. My dissertation brings together three papers that explore how individuals and communities engage in social cooperation to overcome difficult challenges such as natural disaster and the various types of resources that they employ in the process.

The first chapter argues that a community’s capacity for self-governance depends on the social coordination capacity of community organizations and associations, the ability of community members to effectively access both bonding and bridging social capital, the ability of community members to leverage their shared histories and perspectives, and the stability of social networks within the community. Jane Jacobs as well as Vincent and Elinor Ostrom have explored how a community’s capacity for self-governance affects its ability to solve complex problems (for example, managing common pool resources or dealing with crime, the provision of public goods, and problems of neighborhood blight). The greater a community’s capacity for self-governance the better able it is to deal with these complex challenges. This chapter examines how pre-disaster systems of self-governance aid in post-disaster community recovery. Our analysis focuses on the Mary Queen of Vietnam (MQVN) community and Gentilly, examines the effectiveness of their systems of self-governance prior to Hurricane Katrina, and explores the role these systems played in promoting community recovery after the disaster.

Research has not adequately acknowledged the role of commercialentrepreneurs in overall disaster recovery. The second chapter examines the particular roles that commercial entrepreneurs play following disaster, including (a) supplying resources to disaster victims, (b) serving as “focal points” which allow others to make decisions about recovery, (c) providing social spaces for victims to engage in knowledge exchange and reconstitute disrupted social networks, and (d) engaging in social entrepreneurship. The chapter offers evidence based on fieldwork conducted in New Orleans, Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina and following the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri.

The final chapter investigates newly released federal disaster assistance data. The chapter asks the question, do factors aside from damage explain federal disaster assistance levels? Indeed, literature suggests that federal disaster assistance can be linked to political considerations and is related to other factors such as income, educational attainment, and whether the applicant is an immigrant. Using zip code level data on federal disaster assistance, I examine the FEMA Individuals and Households Program (IHP) following Hurricane Sandy. The analysis suggests that the extent of the damage does appear to explain much of the differences in the size of the federal disaster award that individuals receive. However, other factors, including educational attainment, are also important. In fact, findings suggest that a 1% increase in educational attainment leads to a 5% increase in total damage assessment and a 2% increase in average damage assessment. Arguably, complexities in the process for applying for aid may have disadvantaged less educated applicants. This is consistent with qualitative data collected in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina where subjects expressed difficulties in navigating the disaster relief application process.