Disasters cause incredible damage and destruction to infrastructure, particularly in the housing sector. To respond to these events and to mitigate potential damage in future events, practioners and scholars have emphasized community participation and the importance of "building back better." However, there remains a dearth of literature that analyzes the expected safety of reconstructed shelter and how households understand the safety of their shelter. This research seeks to assess the expected safety of reconstructed shelter, analyze household understanding of shelter safety, characterize differences between assessed and perceived safety, and identify strategies to improve shelter safety. This project is focusing on understanding local perceptions of shelter safety and structural performance of homes built after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. 


Research Questions

  • What is the existing local understanding of safe shelter?

  • How are post-disaster shelters expected to perform in future hazard events?

  • What conflicts exist between local understanding of safe shelter and engineering assessments of safe shelter?

  • What kind of communication design will enable local organizations to most effectively address and resolve these conflicts?

Research Methods

This research will occur in three phases. In the first phase, we will collect data on household understanding of the safety of their shelter through a survey. During the next phase, through interviews, observation, and document collection, we will gather data on the design and construction of shelter built after disaster events. Using this information, we will create structural models of the different shelter typologies and conduct performance assessments to determine their expected safety in future hazard events. We will compare the results of our performance assessment to household survey responses, identifying any differences. We will use the results of the study to create a communication intervention that displays best practices to improve shelter safety.


This research will allow for greater understanding of the physical characteristics of post-disaster shelter and of household understanding of safety. Additionally, the results of this research hold the potential to improve design strategies that enhance the safety of shelter and provide recommendations for improving post-disaster training and participation programs.