Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

The Development of Metrics for Community Resilience to Natural Disasters

Chris Burton

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter



How communities recover following a disaster is often conceptualized in terms of their disaster resilience. While numerous research efforts have sought to explain the causal structure of disaster resilience, the ability to measure the concept is increasingly being seen as a key step towards disaster risk reduction. The development of standards and metrics that are succinct, quantifiable, and meaningful for measuring resilience remain a challenge, however. This is partially because there are few explicit sets of procedures within the existing literature that suggest how resilience should be quantified or how to compare communities with one another in terms of their resilience.

The primary purpose of this dissertation is to advance the understanding of the multidimensional nature of disaster resilience and to provide a robust variable set and procedure for measuring resilience at sub-county levels of geography. The following broad research questions are addressed:

  1. What set of indicators provide the best comparative assessment of disaster resilience among communities?
  2. To what extent do these indicators predict a known and measureable outcome, such as disaster recovery?

To accomplish this end, this dissertation is concerned with the development of a common set of metrics covering environmental, social, economic, institutional, infrastructural, and community-based dimensions. An indicator set for measuring resilience is proposed and refined using a set of methods that address validity, simplicity, reproducibility, and vi uncertainty. The validity of the indicators is addressed via real-world application using Hurricane Katrina and the recovery of the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a case study.

The results indicate that the widespread impacts and a differential recovery from Hurricane Katrina were not random, but manifested in everyday patterns of social interaction and organization. The event’s differential recovery resulted from a set of interacting conditions, some the result of geography and location, some the result of the economic vitality of communities, some with the dwelling, and some having to do with the social capacities and demographic attributes of the people living there.

PDF icon Dissertation