USA –-WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – How well residents evicted by Western wildfires know their neighbors will likely play a major role in how they cope and rebuild, says a Purdue University expert.
“The relationships people have with their neighbors are invaluable in the recovery from natural disasters from the moment an evacuation issue notice is granted to living in shelters and to how a community rebuilds after a wildfire, flooding or hurricane,” says Daniel Aldrich, an associate professor of political science who studies how people recover from natural disasters. “Supporting these social networks is just as important as the logistical planning of surviving and taking shelter from a natural disaster. My research shows that people who know their neighbors are more likely to survive and return to their communities to rebuild.”
In some cases, survival begins when neighbors know each other well enough to be aware that someone has a medical condition or is not mobile. This information can be essential during an evacuation period or for the long-term care of residents.
“Real social networks can save your life. Knowing your neighbor is especially critical in remote wilderness areas where people are more scattered,” says Aldrich, who has studied disaster recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Wildfires currently rage in Colorado and New Mexico where thousands of people have evacuated and hundreds of structures have been destroyed.
“Many of the people affected during Hurricane Katrina lived in city neighborhoods and it might have been easier to know neighbors and communicate with them during the evacuation,” says Aldrich, who is author of the upcoming book, “Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery.”
“Most people know to have a disaster kit prepared with essentials such as flashlights and water, but I encourage people to extend that to getting to know your neighbors and even being sure you have their phone numbers and other pertinent information. The reality often is that when disaster strikes, it may take the professionals a while to arrive, and residents need to rely on each other for help.”