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

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. From a transportation perspective, household relocation decisions are important. As significant disaster events reveal unrecognized vulnerabilities to the natural environment and/or the limits of mitigation, preparedness, and response capabilities, the number of households that choose to stay or go makes a difference for those charged with investing in repair and/or re-development in these communities. Those choices need to be calibrated to the demand shifts that areas might face in the aftermath of a major event. The outcomes of those household decisions are a critical input as communities make difficult repair and development decisions in a post disaster environment. Simply stated the number of households that remain should influence the demand for infrastructure and as a result the need for investment in different areas. Similarly, it is important to know where people who leave are moving to. Depending on the distribution of these households very different infrastructure rebuilding and expansion projects could be warranted. Estimating that demand however is complicated by the prospect of significant resettlement, particularly in the case where governmental agencies are incentivizing such choices. It is further complicated by the fact that we know very little about what factors influence this kind of household decision-making. Most of the resettlement studies either focus on forced resettlement outside the U.S. or more short-term sheltering issues (Oliver-Smith 1991; Sastry 2009). In response to this problem, the proposed exploratory study will focus attention on voluntary resettlement. The purpose of this study is to 1) better understand how households decide to either resettle in a new location or rebuild in situ following a disaster including how that decision is influenced by the state of the infrastructure, and 2) determine what critical elements of those decisions could be used to inform planning models. Initial data will come from semi-structured interviews with households that have decided to stay as well as those planning to leave areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $100000.00
  • Contract Numbers:



  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation

    Rutgers University
    100 Brett Rd
    Piscataway, NJ  United States  08854-8058

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    University Transportation Centers Program
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Szary, Pat

    Munson, Steve

  • Performing Organizations:

    Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation

    Rutgers University
    100 Brett Rd
    Piscataway, NJ  United States  08854-8058
  • Principal Investigators:

    McNeil, Sue

  • Start Date: 20130901
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20140831
  • Source Data: RiP Project 35635

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01497796
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT12-G-UTC16, CAIT-UTC-037
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 8 2013 1:01AM