Category Archives: Ongoing

Article accepted for publication: Natural Hazards

The Natural Hazards journal just accepted a journal article I wrote with Leah Campbell, Mai Nguyen, and Gavin Smith for publication. This article is: “(Mis)trusting the Process: How Post-Disaster Home Buyout Processes Can Degrade Public Trust.”

I’m pretty excited about this article for a few reasons. First, I’ve been working on collecting and analyzing this data with the rest of my co-authors for awhile. Second, this is really my first formal foray into qualitative research methods. Third, it’s always exciting to get that email that it is accepted.

The abstract is below:

Federally funded housing buyout programs are the dominant method of government-supported retreat in the United States. Done correctly, buyouts can reduce pre-disaster vulnerability and facilitate post-disaster recovery. However, the success of buyout programs hinges on successful coordination and implementation by local administrators, who represent buyout participants, manage the buyout process at the community level, and connect them to state and federal resources. Because of this, trust between local administrators and the members of their communities is crucial for project participation and successful outcomes. While local administrators play a critical role in the buyout program, their role in building trust throughout the process has been an understudied aspect of the buyout literature. To address this gap, our paper examines the perceptions of local buyout administrators related to trust. This is done through a study of the conditions following Hurricane Matthew’s landfall in North Carolina, USA in 2016 using in-depth interviews with 18 local HMGP administrators, and an analysis of over 300 local newspaper articles to study how trust is built and lost in the buyout process. Our findings indicate that a lack of program clarity, unclear communication about the program’s guidelines across all levels of governments, and extended time frames deteriorated public trust in a manner that hindered program success and diminished program results.

Aerial of Kinston, NC in recent floods. From the FEMA Media Library

ABD: Dissertation Proposal Accepted

I have recently passed the final hurdle of getting to ABD before the actual final hurdle of getting a PhD: my dissertation proposal is accepted, and the real work begins.

My dissertation focuses on environmental migration and displacement, which, because there are so many variations on the definition, I will define them in full here:

Environmental Migration: The movement of persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, as a result of a disaster, or in order to avoid the impact of an immediate and foreseeable natural hazard, are forced to leave their places of habitual residence, or choose to do so, for a period of greater than three months, and who move within or outside their country of origin or habitual residence.

Environmental Displacement: The movement of persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, as a result of a disaster, or in order to avoid the impact of an immediate and foreseeable natural hazard, are forced to leave their places of habitual residence, or choose to do so, for a period no greater than three months, and who move within or outside their country of origin or habitual residence.

It is a three paper dissertation which builds upon earlier work by myself and Dr. Todd K. BenDor about how residents in imperiled areas react to quick-onset hazards.

The first paper, tentatively entitled, “Increased movement and decreased discretion: migration in relation to major disaster events and risk exposure,” analyzes how repeated disasters can synergistically impact migration. The broad goal of this paper is to understand how the intersection of disaster exposure and risk affect migration destinations.

The second paper, tentatively titled “Do Floodplain Buyouts Mitigate Individual Risk?: Comparisons between Buyouts and Post-Disaster Migration” builds on Paper 1 and seeks to explain the relationship between federally-financed floodplain buyouts and retreat as a risk reduction strategy.

Paper 3, tentatively titled “Changing Perspectives After the Storm: A pre-post evaluation Unfortunately, while the data used in Papers 1 and 2 will allow novel analysis of Hurricane-driven migration as influenced by vulnerability at a household-scale, it will not facilitate examination of the risk perspectives or personal conditions that residents use when deciding to leave their pre-storm homes. Therefore, building on the patterns studied in Paper 1 and 2, Paper 3, tentatively titled “Changing Perspectives After the Storm: A pre-post evaluation of risk perception and adaptive decision making,” delves deeper into the explanations used by the residents’ themselves for engaging in adaptation decisions (i.e., migrating or protecting in situ) after disaster exposure.

Conceptualization for migration patterns reactive to multiple hazard events

For this work, I have the privilege of the support from an absolutely wonderful committee. The chair is my advisor, Dr. Todd K. BenDor, who’s work focuses on the environmental implications of urban development and land use regulations. Dr. Phil Berke offers support and expertise on planning analysis for disaster resilience. Dr. Miyuki Hino offers expertise on climate change adaptation, with specialized knowledge of managed retreat more specifically. Dr. Elizabeth Frankenberg is borrowed from outside the department, and is a sociologist who has studied migration and adaptation in response to natural hazards, and will help keep me honest with my demographic analysis. Finally, providing additional expertise from outside of UNC, Dr. Alex Greer, has done incredible work on outcomes for buyout participants that has inspired my own interest in this area.

Book review accepted for publication: Journal of Planning History

My book review on The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent, by Dilip da Cunha, was accepted for publication by the Journal of Planning History. I had a great time reading this book. And I was exciting to think of it from the perspective of planning history, with considerations for how we are living in an era defined by anthropogenic climate change.

Geographisches Institut (Weimar, Germany), 1966. Image reprinted in The Invention from the David Rumsey collection

Article Accepted for Publication: Climatic Change

A paper I have been working on with Dr. Todd BenDor has just been accepted for publication by Climatic Change. It is my second, first author publication in a peer reviewed journal.

This paper uses a SEM model to analyze results from an in-depth survey distributed in 2017 to better understand how residents of the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula, NC, which is highly vulnerable to climate change, are viewing adaptation decisions. Our results show that residents who are concerned about future trends are more open to moving away from their community. We find that an optimistic perception of flooding over the past two decades (i.e. flooding has gotten better, storms have gotten milder, etc.) is associated with reluctance to engage in protective measures generally. We also found that a resident’s pessimistic perception of past events, absent of concerns about the future, is correlated with a greater openness for in situ adaptation measures.

Our findings push forward the understanding of the factors that prompt resident willingness (and similarly, unwillingness) to consider taking measures to adapt to climate change. Understanding the process that leaves residents willing to retreat or protect themselves is critical to governments’ ability to mitigate long-term risk. Moreover, this information is critical to informing the strategies that local, state, and federal governments use in approaching and encouraging individuals to take proactive measures to mitigate increasing climate risk to their properties, livelihoods, and health.

These findings, and results from future studies, can be used to inform communication strategies that may prompt residents to take precautionary measures to reduce their personal risk, as well as the risk of their communities and the state at large. The abstract for the article is below:

The growing cost of climate-driven coastal impacts requires an improved understanding of how coastal populations engage with adaptation decisions. While many studies explore factors driving coastal adaptation, generally, few evaluate how residents consider relationships between in situ, protective adaption vs. retreat from at-risk areas. What is the relationship between residents’ exposure, perceptions of climate trends, and concerns about the future? How do these factors influence attitudes openness to different adaption strategies? Are these strategies considered to be progressive – where protection is indexed to minor threats and retreat occurs when protection measures fail – or are these dichotomous choices? We apply structural equation modeling to evaluate these decision pathways using a 2017 household survey in North Carolina’s (USA) Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (n=147). Our results reveal that residents commonly view protection and retreat as mutually exclusive, rather than progressive, methods for reducing risk, and that their preferences are correlated with different understandings of climate threats.

Paper Presentation & First Virtual Conference

Differential Residential Perspectives on In-Situ Protection and Retreat for Climate Adaptation

The growing cost of climate-driven coastal impacts requires an improved understanding of how coastal populations engage with adaptation decisions. While studies explore factors driving coastal adaptation, generally, few evaluate how residents consider relationships between in situ protective adaptation versus retreat from at-risk areas. This presentation addresses that gap by posing and responding to the following questions: What is the relationship between residents’ exposure, perceptions of climate trends, and concerns about the future? How do these factors influence attitudes and openness to different adaptation strategies? Are these strategies considered to be progressive – where protection is indexed to minor threats and retreat occurs when protection measures fail–or are these dichotomous choices? In this study structural equation modeling is applied to evaluate these decision pathways using a 2017 household survey in North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (n=147). The results reveal that residents commonly view protection and retreat as mutually exclusive, rather than progressive methods for reducing risk, and that their preferences are correlated with different understandings of climate threats.

The Virtual Conference:

For the past 45 years, the Natural Hazards center at University of Colorado Boulder has held a conference on Natural Hazards Research. This year was a little different. Because of the ongoing COVID crisis, the conference moved online.

This year, the conference’s theme was Active Hope. It was a response to the major disasters of the past few years, which has seen record breaking fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. This asks: How can we maintain hope in this era of environmental extremes? I don’t know if I got the answer to that question through this conference, but I saw a good spread of great research.

The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.

Active Hope Synopsis

Article accepted for publication: Environmental Science and Policy

Article entitled “From abstract futures to concrete experiences: How does political ideology interact with threat perception to affect climate adaptation decisions?”, co-authored with Sophie Kelmenson, Todd K. BenDor, and Danielle Spurlock, has been accepted for publication with Environmental Science & Policy! Abstract below:

Climate change forecasts predict impacts that will increasingly expose coastal residents to existential risks, necessitating aggressive adaptation. While the polarization of climate change attitudes in American politics represents a barrier to climate adaptation efforts, it is not well-understood how political ideology mediates how individuals connect the abstract concept of “climate change” to concrete experiences with environmental risks. Understanding this link in the context of adaptation decision-making is important, as the effects of many, household-level adaptation efforts compound over space and time, affecting community flood risk and vulnerability. This paper asks, how do political ideologies interact with threat perception to affect coastal climate adaptation decisions? We frame this analysis using the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and Protection Motivation Theory (PMT). Using responses from a survey of residents (n = 164) in North Carolina’s (USA) Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, we examine how measures of residents’ subjective norms, threat-appraisals, and self-efficacy influence their intent to retreat or topographically adapt. We find that, despite political polarization around climate change, generally, when given concrete examples of risk, respondents’ political beliefs appear unrelated to their plans to protect their property and livelihoods.

Ghost forests from the study area, the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula

ACSP 2020: Four Abstracts Accepted

I have presented the past two years at the 2018 ACSP conference in Buffalo, New York; as well as the 2019 ACSP conference in Greenville, SC, so, I am comfortable with the process by now. However, was a little surprised to reflect back on the work I’ve done the past year, on my own papers and on teams with other researchers, and realize I’ve been a partner on four different projects that are being presented on for this upcoming conference (theoretically still taking place) in Toronto.

A quick list of the paper authors and the other authors are below:

The-Storm.2(MIS)TRUSTING THE PROCESS: HOW COMPLICATIONS IN THE BUYOUT PROCESSES CAN DEGRADE PUBLIC TRUST
Abstract ID: 199

SCHWALLER, Nora [presenting]
NGUYEN, Mai [primary author]
CAMPBELL, Leah [co-author]

 

flood parcel

A PARCEL-SCALE ANALYSIS OF MUNICIPAL FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT IN NORTH CAROLINA
Abstract ID: 379
HINO, Miyuki [presenting author]
BENDOR, Todd [co-author]
BRANHAM, Jordan [co-author]
KAZA, Nikhil [co-author]
SALVESEN, Dave [co-author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]
SEBASTIAN, Antonia [co-author]
SWEENEY, Shane [co-author]

 

CHANGES IN THE WATER: THE IMPACT OF NATURAL HAZARDS VULNERABILITY AND EXPOSURE ON POPULATION CHANGE
Abstract ID: 885
BRANHAM, [presenting author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]

 

Hurricane-Regional-meeting-1024x682

BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LOCAL ADMINISTRATION OF POST-HURRICANE
MATTHEW BUYOUTS IN NORTH CAROLINA
Abstract ID: 368
CAMPBELL, Leah [presenting author]
NGUYEN, Mai [primary author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]

Blog Post on Phil Freelon

I wrote a new blog post for Carolina Angles on the the passing of local and global architect, Phil Freelon. An excerpt is included below:

Philip Goodwin Freelon, local architect and the Architect of Record for the lauded National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., died on July 9th, 2019, at the age of 66. His death was due to complications from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In addition to being a nationally prominent architect, Mr. Freelon was an important local figure. He graduated in 1975 from North Carolina State University’s College of Design. Later, he served as an adjunct professor at his Alma Mater and designed both the Partner III building and the contemporary expansion of the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, both on NC State’s campus. At 25, he became the youngest architect to ever be licensed in North Carolina.

Read more at Carolina Angles

Natural Hazards Center’s Hazards Workshop: Poster Presenter

The Natural Hazards Center is an National Science Foundation-designated organization dedicated to furthering knowledge on the social dimensions of natural dimensions and facilitating research and coordination between academics and practitioners. It is run through the University of Colorado at Boulder. For over 40 years, it has been hosting an annual conference on Natural Hazards research and Applications. For this current workshop, I am participating in a poster session to showcase some of my work of post-disaster migration.

My poster analyzes post-disaster displacement from and return to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, specifically focusing on the following questions:

1) Are disaster migrants displaced to areas with comparatively low-levels of vulnerability?
2) Do patterns of settlement by post-disaster migrants resemble pre-disaster migration trends?
3) Do these patterns influence individuals’ decisions to return or to remain?

 

At What Point Managed Retreat 2019: Presenter

Recently, the Climate Adaption Initiative at Columbia University’s Earth Institute hosted the Managed Retreat conference. I had the privilege of presenting work that I have been developing with Jordan Branham on Disaster Exposure and Migration: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss for the panel on Migration as Adaptation.

I had an absolutely fantastic experience, and met some scholars that I have been reading extensively (including Elizabeth Fussell), met with some colleagues my age that I am beginning to become familiar with through these types of events, and learned a lot. This conference had multiple panels and presentations on buyouts, on how we should even approach the term ‘managed retreat’, and conversations with local community leaders and members of indigenous groups who’s homes are threatened by sea-level rise.