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Balakrishnan Balachandran

Florida State University

Breakout Room 4.


place attachment; relocation; disaster; policy

How can the human dimensions of disaster impacts be more accurately captured and represented in the analysis, modeling and simulation of disasters?

People live in risk-prone areas because of several types of place relationships; including place attachments and compulsions. These include  (1) Historical and cultural associations with place; (2) Social imperatives such as access to supportive social networks; (3) Economic imperatives such as access to place-based livelihoods (often traditional in character); (4) Social compulsions such as discrimination that exclude them from safer locations; and (5) Economic compulsions such as lack of affordable housing choices in safer locations; to name a few. While social scientists have studied these reasons for people choosing to live in risk-prone areas or being forced to do so; the mainstream discourses on disaster risk reduction policy frameworks have not developed methodologies for including them in the analysis; modeling; and simulation of disasters. Social scientists and scientists studying physical hazards need to collaborate with planners and policymakers to devise meaningful ways of measuring – qualitatively and quantitatively – place attachments to analyze the role they play in increasing risk exposure and vulnerability. Such measures should be used to study pre-disaster conditions in places with high disaster risk and actual post-disaster situations; to analyze the correlation between place attachments and impacts. Studies are also required to assess how residents subjectively assess the tradeoffs between place attachments of various kinds and the potential losses from disasters. The results of such studies can effectively inform the modeling and simulation of disasters and their impacts.

What type of data and supporting research infrastructure would be necessary to enable novel, transdisciplinary approaches to answering these and other human-centered disaster questions?

The following types of qualitative and quantitative data would be necessary to factor in the role of place attachments in communities’ exposure to hazards and the impact of disasters: place-specificity of livelihoods; historical and cultural place attachments; social networks; social capital; the effect of discrimination on locational choices; housing affordability in current unsafe location and possible safer locations; and opportunity costs of relocation. For some of these data points; methodologies for measurement exist; but for many; appropriate measures need to be developed. Methods of analysis also need to be developed for this combination of qualitative and quantitative data; which would reveal a holistic picture of locational choices and feed into the modeling and simulation of disasters and their impacts. The infrastructure required for collecting; periodically updating; and analyzing such a combination of qualitative and quantitative data is very different from that required for mainstream quantitative data. Close and culturally responsible interaction at the community level is required. Therefore; the data infrastructure should include community-based organizations or at least organizations that work closely with the relevant communities. They should be provided access to modern digital tools for collecting; securely storing; and analyzing data while protecting the privacy of community members and respecting cultural nuances. The data will include survey outputs; voice/ video recordings; visual imagery; and archival material; in addition to mainstream data on demographic and socio-economic parameters. Therefore; the data infrastructure will include organizational collaborations and technology for collecting and managing data.

In what ways can US-Japan collaborations advance these questions in new and important ways?

While Japan has experience in relocating communities collectively after major disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis; the US predominantly supports individual relocation choices through enabling policy frameworks and financial assistance. However; there has been extensive research in both the US and Japan on place attachment in disaster contexts; and scholars on both sides have developed methodologies for collecting and analyzing qualitative data to complement quantitative information. Both countries have also developed methods and systems for modeling and simulating the impacts of future disasters but have limited experience in incorporating place attachment data into such models and simulations. Both countries have places and regions with high levels of exposure to climatic and geophysical hazards. Many such at-risk places and regions also have traditional communities living there; with high levels of place attachment. Therefore; the US-Japan collaboration provides an ideal opportunity to collaboratively explore methodologies for incorporating qualitative and quantitative data on place attachments in modeling and simulating the impacts of future disasters. Social scientists and researchers of planning and policy on both sides can collaborate with scientists investigating hazard phenomena to develop methodologies that bring these disciplines together to provide actionable research support to planners and policymakers.

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