Despite efforts to improve community resilience to disasters, over the past 25 years the number and economic impact of disasters has increased each year and there has been little research into what conditions enable a community to recover after a disaster. Understanding the causal conditions that lead to recovery is fundamental to improving a community’s ability to recover after a disaster. This research seeks to transform our understanding of recovery by analyzing comparative cases using a multi-method approach to determine what pre-disaster factors and recovery strategies, combined or in isolation, lead to successful post-disaster recovery. Specifically, this research:

  1. identified recovery indicators and important causal conditions for community recovery across multiple disciplines 

  2. measured causal conditions and recovery indicators for villages in India impacted by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami 

  3. analyzed the pathways of causal conditions that led to recovery in the case study communities

This research builds a comprehensive theory of pathways to recovery following a disaster by linking pre-disaster measures of causal conditions to recovery outcomes. The results of this study support community planners in prioritizing and focusing their efforts on the causal factors that best strengthen the community’s ability to recover from a disaster. It also contributes to the development of a disaster recovery framework which can be expanded through future research.


Research Questions

  1. What indicators can be used to measure recovery at the community level? 

  2. What indicators of community resilience and vulnerability are important? 

  3. What combinations of pre-disaster community factors and post-disaster actions lead to successful recovery?


We encourage use of our methods for expansion and validation of the findings. In addition, if you would like access to the database from our studies in India, which contains transcripts, the data set, and truth table, please contact:

QCA Calibration Framework  QCA Calibration Guide

Research Methods

Answering these questions requires a multi-method approach, outlined in the figure below.

Research Methods

Phase 1: Variable Selection

Causal Conditions

Economic Infrastructure Institutional Social Recovery Strategy
  • Business diversty
  • Income
  • Income disparity
  • Insurance
  • Construction method
  • Construction quality
  • Maintenance practices
  • Protective structures
  • Supply chain redundancies
  • Urbanization
  • Access to government resources
  • Building codes
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Environmental degradation
  • Health services
  • Response agency capacity
  • Previous experience
  • Recovery planning
  • Zoning regulations
  • Access to transportaiton
  • Attachment to place
  • Community age
  • Disabled populations
  • Educaiton levels
  • Gender equity
  • Minority populations
  • Non-English speakers
  • Social networks
  • Access to information
  • Citizen participation
  • Emergent groups
  • NGO presence
  • Recovery funds
  • Recovery goals

Recovery Indicators

Economic Environmental Infrastructure Social
  • Emplyment
  • GNP/Government revenue
  • Housing values
  • Income
  • Number of businesses
  • Standard of living
  • Air quality
  • Debris removal
  • Erosion
  • Water quality
  • Facilties & lifelines
  • Housing repair
  • Transportation
  • Risk reduction
  • Mental health
  • Population return
  • Perceived quality of life
  • Social service availability

Phase 2: Data Collection and Analysis

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Recovery in Tamil Nadu, India

InterviewOver a period of five months, we collected data in 15 tsunami-affected rural hamlets along the coast in two districts of Tamil Nadu, India. We partnered with two local NGOs in order to identify and access these villages:

  • Building and Enabling Disaster Resilience of Coastal Communities (BEDROC) , Nagapattinam
  • Rural Education and Action for Liberation (REAL), Pondicherry

In each village we used semi-structured interviews to obtain information from community leaders and community members about the pre-disaster conditions in the village, the recovery process and recovery outcomes. In total, 106 interviews were completed. Unless the respondent objected, all interviews were recorded and then transcribed. In addition, we took detailed field notes including interview notes and observations.

Findings (India)

Infrastructure Recovery Results

We assessed the current status of infrastructure in each community, including:

  • Housing (type & quality) 

  • Water 

  • Wastewater removal 

  • Toilets 

  • Roads 

  • Transportation 

  • Electricity

8 of the 15 communities achieved infrastructural recovery, but the achievement of different aspects of infrastructure varied.

Infrastructure Results

Social Recovery Results

Social recovery based on: Community amenities (as compared to pre-tsunami)

  • Population return 

  • Perceived quality of life 

  • Social ties 

  • Equity

10 of the 15 communities had successful social recovery.

Social Results

Combined Social, Infrastructure, and Economic Recovery Results

Five communities achieved social, infrastructure, and economic recovery.

Combined Results