Researchers find natural disasters affect coastal residents unevenly

Shannon Van Zandt

Shannon Van Zandt

Walter Peacock

Walter Peacock

Wesley Highfield

Wesley Highfield

Age, income and race are primary factors influencing the vulnerability of populations in coastal regions to climate-related natural disasters, according to a recent study by researchers at Texas A&M’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. The study found that vulnerable populations, such as low-income families, tend to live in areas more susceptible to disaster damage and face higher recovery costs.

The study, exploring the demographic aspects of disasters’ effects, took a nontraditional approach to hazard assessment, according to an article in Planetizen, a website serving the urban planning, design and development community. “Most disaster mitigation,” the article states, “has only focused on the physical elements of structures and their hazard exposure.”

Published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, the study was led by Walter Gillis Peacock, director of the HRRC, Shannon Van Zandt, director of the Master of Urban Planning Program and Wesley Highfield, assistant professor of marine sciences at Texas A&M-Galveston.

Within disaster-stricken regions, they found areas with high proportions of nonwhite residents and lower-valued homes received more damage than residents in higher-valued homes in predominantly white areas, even when farther from or outside high-risk areas.

Students from Texas A&M coastal management classes and researchers collected data for the study from 1,500 randomly selected houses on Galveston Island and nearby Bolivar Peninsula in the wake of Hurricane Ike, which struck Sept. 1, 2008.

The 2008-13 study was funded by consecutive grants from the National Science Foundation totaling $518,671. 

posted August 4, 2014