Friday, September 29, 2017

OSCAR Student Alexis Garretson Investigates Community Recovery from Hurricane Katrina

As a summer URSP student, I am working under Dr. Stefanie Haeffele-Balch investigating the determinants of federal disaster aid after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Haeffele-Balch and her colleagues at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University have been investigating the causes of community recovery from Hurricane Katrina as part of the Gulf Coast Recovery Project for the past few years. The aim of my summer project was to use the recently-released Federal Emergency Management Association data on the Individuals and Households Program and investigate what social determinants affected the amount of funding received by different communities. The Individuals and Households Program provides assistance to people affected by a disaster to address needs and expenses not met through other forms of disaster assistance or insurance. IHP often covers costs related to personal property compensation, medical care, dental care, and funerals. The goal of this program is to help individuals and families most at risk after a disaster, especially those without insurance. However, prior literature has suggested that FEMA is limited in determining how to allocate resources after a disaster. Furthermore, many researchers have argued that vulnerable populations (in terms of income, education, disability, political capital, and other such factors) are less likely to receive assistance. This summer, I reviewed the prior literature on individual and community disaster recovery in order to determine what demographic factors led to post-disaster struggles to recover. This literature review has guided our selection of variables to investigate as potential factors that could have affected the aid received by a community. Through this process, we decided to investigate a range of demographic features (for example, average education level, average number of adults per household, voter turnout, and community racial makeup) and spatial variables (distance from medical centers, flood levels, and dependency on nearby communities). Over the next few weeks, we will use spatial econometrics to investigate the relationship between these variables and IHP funding. Through this project, we hope to learn more about how FEMA allocates funding after disasters, and how we can better ensure that post-disaster support reaches those most in need. I have learned a lot through this project, and read more papers than I can count! The summer URSP program has given me the chance to explore my interest in community resilience, crisis response, spatial econometrics, and learn key skills that will help me in graduate school and beyond.