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Community Resilience Following Hurricane Katrina Focus of Southern Miss Study PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Contact David Tisdale, 601.266.4499   
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – The resilience of coastal communities in Mississippi and Alabama affected by Hurricane Katrina will be the focus of a federally-funded study by two University of Southern Mississippi professors.

Dr. David Butler and Dr. Edward Sayre, faculty members in the Department of Political Science, International Development and International Affairs, are co-principal investigators for a project examining social and economic trends in the Mississippi and Alabama coastal communities hit by the storm.

The two-year study received $800,000 in federal funding through the Department of Homeland Security and will cover the time frames of January 2001 to Aug. 30, 2005 and Aug. 31, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2008. The project will also include research opportunities for Southern Miss graduate students.

“We want to see what these communities looked like before and after Katrina and at the impact of the damage caused by wind, water and debris, and overlay those three to determine total community impact,” Butler said.

“We’ll also examine social and economic activity in these communities in those time frames, look at the ones that have recovered the fastest from the storm and ask ‘Why.’”

Community housing starts, taxes, crime rates, unemployment, household income, church attendance and other social and economic indicators in those time periods will form the social cohesion and economic impact indexes to be used in the study’s visualization model. 

Other factors such as levels of insurance coverage and a community’s level of affluence will also be considered, Butler said, and how they impacted recovery.

The second phase of project will include interviews with individuals and groups to gain information through firsthand accounts from those impacted directly and how they handled the aftermath of the storm. The assistance of Southern Miss graduate students will be enlisted during this phase.

“Having been through the Katrina experience, these researchers are uniquely qualified to address some of the key policy issues related to community resiliency,” said Southern Miss Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dr. Cecil Burge.

Butler and Sayre will work with coast community leaders, elected officials, and non-profit and volunteer organization leaders, as well as partners within the university to conduct their research. One of those partners will be the Center of Higher Learning’s Visualization Center, located at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

The Visualization Center is a scientific visualization research facility where images of scientific data are created using real-time three dimensional immersive computer graphics applications. Joe Swaykos, director of the CHL, said the visualization technology can make the major points of a research project easier to understand, including in movie and Internet format.

“It can really make information come alive through sequential graphics, so you can see what’s happening in front of you, and makes it easier to understand for the common citizen as well as emergency planners and economic developers,” Swaykos said.

Sayre, who has expertise in labor economics, has studied post-disaster recovery and migration including in the post-war Middle East. Following Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people in the affected areas were forced to relocate, with many never returning. This has impacted the area’s labor force, tax base and participation in civic and cultural life.

He hopes the pair’s research will reveal information that can be used as a model to examine other disasters, whether man-made or natural, to determine the best use of resources in policy implementation, such as through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or Red Cross.

“Using the information we collect, we’ll run simulations for a visual model to see how recovery occurs under various scenarios, and what would happen to various communities under different policy scenarios,” Sayre said.  

David Butler

Edward Sayre 

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at -30-
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