Understanding Social Connectivity In Disaster Recovery

During a disaster, the most vulnerable communities are often disconnected from the decisions and processes that impact their ability to recover. Our work considers how planners, community organizers, and nonprofit leaders can work together to accurately assess community needs and coordinate equitable emergency response.

Identifying Community Needs and Network Structures for Equitable Recovery

Through field visit observations, interviews, and extensive research on the limitations of current disaster response methods, our research team learned that disaster response is often driven by networks of community leaders who provide support, information, and resources to households when the presence of federal aid is no longer available. 

Conversations with community leaders also indicated that geographically and socially vulnerable communities still do not receive the adequate support or aid needed for equitable and resilient recovery. Therefore, as emerging disaster management policy and technology continues to evolve, it is imperative that the consideration of community networks and locally-identified assets are included in disaster planning models. This understanding has guided our efforts to consider how effective community engagement and network analyses can create disaster preparedness and response methods that leverage the assets and relationships found within local communities.

This page contains an overview of select strategies to build on the significance of community network building and vulnerability assessments within disaster preparedness and recovery frameworks. It also hosts opportunities to merge these insights into applications for emerging damage assessment technologies.

  View the Community Asset Mapping Documentation

Community Asset Mapping

Integrating community asset identification into emergency preparedness and vulnerability assessment frameworks for equitable and resilient disaster management.

Case Study: St. Charles Parish

In the map below is a visualization of an asset map for St. Charles Parish. Each asset is marked on the map with a colored point corresponding to the category of service provided. These points are shown on the map along with parcel boundaries. For this particular analysis, the number of assets within 1.5 miles of each parcel has been calculated for each parcel. When visualized, this can show us the location of resource rich areas (shown in dark yellow) and resource poor areas.

Why create an asset map?

Asset mapping is the process of documenting key services and resources within a community, such as individuals’ skill sets, organizational resources, physical spaces, sacred spaces, local environmental systems, and local institutions. Through this process, communities can better understand the landscape of organizations, resources, and leadership present within the region in addition to possible geographic or social vulnerabilities that may be acting as barriers to disaster preparedness and recovery capacity.

Process recommendations for context-driven asset mapping
Complete a preliminary web-based search of local assets
Prepare a baseline survey for local distribution
Preparing for asset mapping
Create an Asset Map

Other Community Analysis Opportunities

Together with community asset mapping, the following processes can help to create a holistic community assessment that can be used by planners and emergency managers to better understand local context and prioritize resources more equitably. 

Social Network Analysis

Community network analysis is the process of identifying the relationships found within a community and exploring how these relationships can be leveraged to better streamline resource distribution and communication strategies before, during, and after a disaster takes place.

Community network analyses can be further expanded to understand how these smaller networks connect to larger networks at the city level, and even larger networks at the regional level.

During our field visit, communication among organizations was one of the greatest challenges for community organizations. Many felt that they were not fully aware of the resources available or of other organizations participating in similar forms of outreach.

Process Recommendations for Community Network Analyses

The following process recommendations should be understood as happening parallel to the asset mapping process. The two processes complement each other and accomplish similar goals.

  1. Utilize the baseline survey completed during the asset mapping process

To collect data that can be used for the creation of community network analyses and visualizations.

To understanding methods of communication, frequency of contact among community organizations, and geographic reach

  1. Create a community network visualization

To better comprehend the complexity of relationships existing in a community.

To get an indication not only of an organization’s resource capacity and breadth of services offered, but also its connections and relationships with other local, regional, and national organizations.

To inform how multiple networks can be coordinated within disaster planning and response strategies.

To provide an indication to emergency managers about the importance and impact of a particular organization within a community. 

To later prioritize resource distribution to these organizations which can be passed on to smaller organizations and households that they support.

Social Vulnerability Index

Asset mapping and community network data can be utilized within social vulnerability analysis through two modes. The first is using the asset mapping process to also identify communities or neighborhoods who are especially vulnerable during expected and unexpected disasters and who are not receiving prioritization during immediate and long term recovery periods. The second mode is using asset maps that have been visualized using GIS mapping tools, such as ArcGIS, to create datasets that can be used to analyze and visualize vulnerable communities.

Learn more about the role of SVIs in damage assessment technology and the disaster preparedness process. [ Button to rSVI Page] ← 

Applications within Emerging Technologies

In addition to complementing the processes needed for accurate and equitable community network and vulnerability analyses, opportunities presented by the asset mapping process can also contribute to emerging technologies within the disaster management sector.

Machine Learning Applications

Machine learning is a technology currently being explored as a tool for more efficient and rapid damage assessment processes. Machine learning can utilize photo captured imagery to train computer software to identify and predict visual patterns which, within the context damage of emergency damage assessment, may include structural damage to homes and physical infrastructure. To learn more about Machine Learning Models within disaster recovery frameworks, visit street view analysis.

As it stands, current machine learning models will result in emergency response that focuses solely on structural damage imagery which can fail to accurately categorize damage severity. It can also remove damage assessment from the surrounding local context that greatly informs household need.

Opportunities for socially built technology: 
  1. Combine local asset maps and social vulnerability assessments to use as a reference for disaster assessment prioritization during the machine learning training and analysis process
  2. Explore how machine learning training models can combine data from image capture, locations, and geo-located social vulnerabilities to make rapid damage assessment and the prioritization of aid distribution as holistic and equitable as possible.

Explore our sources:

National Equity Atlas. (2022). Policy Link, USC Equity Research Institute https://nationalequityatlas.org/our-work/community/arts-culture/plan

Healthy City.(2012) A Community Research Lab Toolkit. A Community Research Lab Tool Kit. https://communityscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AssetMappingToolkit.pdf

UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (http://healthpolicy.ucla.edu/programs/health-data/trainings/documents/tw_cba20.pdf)


FEMA (2018) Engaging Faith-based and Community Organizations Planning Considerations for Emergency Managers (https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/engaging-faith-based-and-community-organizations.pdf)

FEMA (2011), A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways For Action. 1-24 (Link)

Mitcham, D.; Taylor, M.; Harris, C. Utilizing Social Media for Information Dispersal during Local Disasters: The Communication Hub Framework for Local Emergency Management. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 10784. https:// doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182010784 (Link)