Category Archives: Events

Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University

Following the completion of my Ph.D. I am starting a postdoc at Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center under Dr. Elizabeth Fussell. Here, I will be working on two related projects: first, an analysis of post-Hurricane Katrina migration from New Orleans, LA, compared to migration outcomes from control communities; and second, an analysis of neighborhood attainment through migration comparing the aftermaths of the economic crisis and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

This builds on my work studying compounding hazards and post-disaster migration from the perspective of a City and Regional Planner, and my experience developing and using big datasets. It also gives me the opportunity to expand on my background in demographic research. Further, it puts me in contact with both researchers whoI have admired for a long time, and emerging scholars who seem poised to make an impact in their respective fields.

Dissertation Defense, Submittal, Approval

It’s been a long journey – five years after moving cross-country to start the Ph.D. program at the Unviersity of North Carolina, and I’m finally closing it out. I cannot say more about how fortunate I have been during my time here – I’ve received opportunities, support, and guidance. I’ve made good friends, and found space to ride out the worst of the pandemic. And I think I produced some pretty good research at the same time.

My dissertation has been accepted by my committee and the graduate school. There is currently a restriction on viewing it online as I work to publish the papers at the core of it in peer reviewed journals. However, I would be happy to share it with those who are interested.

Abstract below:

In recent years, anthropogenic climate change has moved from a future concern to a current reality (Trenberth 2018). Now impacting every region on the planet, the effects of climate change are “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” (IPCC 2021). It is therefore pertinent to think of how we can adapt to a changing and more hostile world (Robinson et al. 2020). To this end, this dissertation focuses on environmental migration outcomes. This is accomplished with three distinct analyses.

The first study uses a multi-level, mixed-effects analysis on responses to two waves of a survey distributed across the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula, North Carolina to consider how residents’ opinions and beliefs change as they are exposed compounding disasters. The findings show that saltwater intrusion, a slow-onset hazard, is associated with heightened risk perception; and that repeated hurricane exposure, saltwater intrusion, and heightened risk perceptions are associated with a greater acceptance of migration as an adaptive strategy.

The second study utilizes survival analyses on a novel dataset to track movement for all individuals with credit records in eastern North Carolina, considering compounding hazard exposure and pre-established vulnerability. It finds that the co-location of exposure and vulnerability is associated with more resilient migration patterns. However, State-level vulnerability remained constant as immigration into floodplains occurred at approximately the same rate as out-migration. This “vulnerability replacement” dynamic represents a missed opportunity to capitalize on the organic post-hurricane process of flood vulnerability reduction to achieve broader improvements.

The third study utilizes propensity score matching on another novel dataset to analyze post-buyout migration in Harris County, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey (2017) in contrast with a counter-factual group of residents who moved from similar areas within the same time frame without the benefit of federal support. The results show that buyout participants were less likely to move into a floodplain than members from our control group. Otherwise, however, buyout participants did not experience significantly different outcomes to those of non-buyout movers. The findings suggest that buyout programs have a limited influence on the established migration system within which they operate.

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.

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

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:

Abstract ID: 199

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


flood parcel

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]


Abstract ID: 885
BRANHAM, [presenting author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]



Abstract ID: 368
CAMPBELL, Leah [presenting author]
NGUYEN, Mai [primary author]
SCHWALLER, Nora [co-author]

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.

First Prize: ASFPM Student Paper Competition

This is an update to my earlier post on being named a semi-finalist for the ASFPM 2019 Conference Student Paper Competition.  I wrote a paper with Jordan Branham entitled “Disaster Exposure and Migration: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss.” I presented the paper on Tuesday, and, today, was awarded first place for this work.

See more about the final paper here!

ACSP 2018: Presenter

I presented on a topic that looked at how repeat events were related to disaster exposure.

There are communities inland within North Carolina that are inherently vulnerable. As climate change progresses, they will be at risk of disaster events with increasing frequency. Due to this, and due to vulnerable development, some of these communities will become obsolete, and their citizens will become climate refugees.

In the context of Hurricane Matthew: we have some understanding on why communities, and the individuals within them, choose to pursue buyout
programs. However, our understanding of why individuals mitigate in place is less certain. But, it is quite possible that physical characteristics of place, particularly the natural characteristics of the towns, play a significant role.

climate refugees

Modern Conspiracy: Panelist

Piscataway Park was the first park in the nation established to conserve a viewshed. It is across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s ancestral home, and was protect the view from his porch, so that it might maintain the look of the region familiar to his time and era. It also encompasses an area known as the Moyaone Reserve, a semi-planned community with restrictive planning regulations, designed to safeguard a