Disaster recovery

CAR has 25 years experience of monitoring, evaluating and advising on recovery after major disasters, ranging from formulating civil protection plans, producing design guidelines for building repair and reconstruction, urban regeneration plans, and advising on conservation of architectural and cultural heritage.

Specifically, we have been conducting a series of field surveys and case studies aimed at measuring the speed and quality of the key aspects of recovery, including access and communications, permanent housing, the local economy, employment and infrastructure.

To date we have conducted eleven case studies of major earthquakes and seven case studies of storms and floods. Fourteen of these studies involved field trips and surveys of both survivors and experts in the affected region and country in question.

One of the key findings is that decisions made, and actions taken in the immediate aftermath of a disaster have a profound impact on the long term recovery and reconstruction of the affected settlements and the communities which inhabit them. Natural disasters, while a tragedy for the stricken communities, also present a ‘window of opportunity’ to build back better.

In general, countries with centralised autocratic governments recover more quickly, but the quality of recovery, in terms of greater safety, better economy and improved housing, is better where local communities are involved in decision-making.

CAR’s expertise in measuring the speed and quality of disaster recovery and in analysing the underlying causal factors in recovery is of interest to national and regional governments in hazard-prone countries, to disaster management professionals, to insurers and reinsurers and to international aid organisations and funders.

Earthquake recovery case studies
Northridge, USA 1994
Bam, Iran 2003 (survey 2014)
Indian Ocean 2004 (survey 2009)
Kashmir, Pakistan 2005 (survey 2006)
Wenchuan, China 2008 (survey 2012)
L’Aquila, Italy 2009 (survey 2012)
Maule, Chile 2010 (survey 2011)
Christchurch, NZ 2011 (survey 2012)
Tohoku, Japan 2011 (survey 2013)
Van, Turkey 2011 (survey 2012, 2013)
Nepal, Gorkha 2015 (survey 2018)

Storm and flood recovery case studies
Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan 2003 (survey 2018)
Bangladesh floods 2004
USA Hurricane Katrina 2005
UK Cyclone Kyril floods 2007 (survey 2018)
USA Hurricane Sandy 2012
Germany Cyclone Xavier floods 2013 (survey 2018)
Vietnam Typhoon Haiyan 2017 (survey 2018)

Stephen Platt

Stephen Platt

Tel: 01223 460475

Email Stephen
Christchurch city centre, February 2012

Disasters leave huge scars in people’s lives, the economy and infrastructure. Yet despite the damage there are opportunities to ‘build back better’. The process of recovery involves planning at various levels including international, national, regional and local. We need to understand a disaster and track what is happening with the recovery to help plan reconstruction and to learn lessons to mitigate future disasters.

With financial support from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) CAR director Stephen Platt went to Chile and New Zealand to better understand how post-disaster planning and reconstruction is managed. The main aim was to inform our method of using satellite imagery and spatial databases to aid the design, planning and monitoring of post-disaster recovery.

In Chile he was based in Concepción, visiting the affected area and meeting academics, urban master planners, municipal planners and local residents. He also spent time in Santiago and the surrounding area and met people in the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Housing and Urbanism.

In New Zealand he was based in Christchurch, interviewing over 20 people involved in planning recovery and surveying the affected areas.

Key lessons
Rules and regulations
Engineering analysis and scientific research needs to be used to modify building codes, risk maps and land use zoning.

Organisational structures
Coordination of the many ordinary and extraordinary organisations involved in both relief and recovery needs to be defined and rehearsed well before any disaster.

Behavioural norms/social and cultural factors
There needs to be comprehensive public consultation on the options for change and stakeholder involvement in strategic decisions.

Further research is needed to define key indicators of recovery, for example the construction of permanent homes and the restitution of livelihoods and local economies.

The trips have provided many insights about how spatial systems can store, analyse and visualise the information planners need to manage reconstruction, how this information can be used to involve local residents and businesses in decision-making and how the process of recovery can be monitored and evaluated.

This is part of a programme of research being conducted by ReBuilDD, a consortium of architects, engineers and remote sensing scientists based at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Architectural Research Ltd and ImageCat Inc.

Download ReBuilDD reports