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Article accepted for publication: International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters

Article entitled “Stuck in the Middle: The Challenges of Local Government Administration of Post-Hurricane Disaster Mitigation” was just accepted for publication at IJMED, led by my co-author Leah Campbell. It is a companion piece, in a sense, to our work on (Mis)trusting the process, in that it relies on much of the same data and also focuses on local government’s role in buyout programs. However, while the prior article focused on the role of trust between different levels of government and the residents, this one focuses on the precarious position of local government officials and how they have the greatest direct responsibility to their constituents, but often have the least power in the HMGP process.

Abstract below:

The use of buyouts as a climate change adaptation and risk reduction strategy has become increasingly common. Little research to-date, however, has examined the experience of local administrators of buyouts, despite the critical role they play as on-the-ground implementors. We interviewed 18 county and town officials from North Carolina who administered the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Our goal was to better understand the difficulties local administrators face in program implementation and the complexities of their relationship with other program stakeholders. We identified several recurring challenges facing these officials, including limited capacity; staff turnover, program delays; and a lack of flexibility, clarity, and communication. These issues make implementation challenging for administrators and strain their relationships with program participants and higher levels of government, in turn reducing program success and credibility. These results provide valuable insight into the perspective and experience of local administrators as HMGP implementers.

Hobbies: Drafting up a new board game

Board games are one of my favorite ways to ruin long standing friendships over theoretically benign competitions – just kidding (mostly). From the living room – I’ve built and razed cities, engaged in clear cutting forests for fun and profit, created endearing bird sanctuaries, lost space cargo to asteroids, and homesteaded on medieval farms. And now, to deal with dissertation stress, I’m making my own.

Tentatively titled: The Tragedy of the Commons, my board game is designed to push players to overuse common space in an attempt to secure victory before the ecosystem collapses. Here’s some early artwork of the process:

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

Teacher of record: PLAN 247

When I first signed up to teach PLAN 247: Solving Urban Problems it was the Fall of 2019. It was a simpler time, Covid was not yet a household name, classes occurred on campus, and, while racial tensions were brewing beneath the surface, they had yet to spill out into the streets in the form of protests through most of our major cities.

I had expected to teach in one of the familiar classrooms in our familiar department building on our familiar campus. Instead, the first class I taught was online, first from an office set up in a spare room of my parents house, and, later, in an office nook set up in my own home. While I have been training, in some sense or another, to teach a class in person through a series of TAships, I came to the online classroom with very little experience in how to make this work.

That said, I’m a millennial, and I had a few ideas up my sleeves that I wanted to trial out.

I made google slides the backbone of my course lecture style. I invited all the students to join the document and gave them permission to edit, leaving open spots where they were explicitly required to do so. I broke up my slide decks a couple of different ways.

First, I had traditional lectures. In these, I went through different concepts and then assigned them discussion questions that highlighted key takeaways and invited them to write down and later explain their positions to the class:

Second, I had case studies. In these, I presented controversial planning solutions and showed multiple sides of the argument for or against them, using 5-10 different perspectives.


Afterwards, I asked them to take opposing, argumentative positions (even if they didn’t agree with them!), and led small debates on different features of the issue at hand.


Finally, I created a range of activities. These classes began with a lecture on the issue at large, then broke out into parallel exercises that students put together live. I left blank slides for them to fill in, with directions on what sort of pictures they should include, what questions they should answer, and links to relevant resources. Each student had an assigned city that they followed throughout the class. To keep time, and to show without having to go into a overload of detail, I went through the exercise myself with my own city.

Overall, I think it ended up being very successful. The students were wonderfully engaged for such a rough time of the year, and for such a complicated shift in their learning structure. They participated in class, talked to each other, and, in the end, presented policy recommendations to solve urban problems in their case study city. It was an odd first go around of teaching, but I honestly enjoyed it more than expected, and look forward to finding new ways to engage students in the future.

Article under Revise and Resubmit

I came from a very different corner of the academic universe than the social sciences – Architecture. Anecdotally, it’s the sort of field where smart, quirky people who never learned the difference between their/there and those with severe dyslexia can end up and find success through a potent mix of projected confidence and all-nighters. It takes hard work, iterative work, and just about zero publications.

As a result, this is my first round through the peer-reviewed publication process, and I am double-dipping to catch up. In the past week and a half I have received two revise and resubmits from two different journals on two different articles (on work produced from just one survey, while we’re counting).

There is a lot of discussions out there on how academic publishing, and it’s importance to the success of a career in academia, are part of a broken cycle in a deteriorating system. There’s certainly some credence to that, and people a lot smarter than me with a lot more experience have written extensively about it. But, for the time being, I’m pretty stoked on these results; I’m happy-anxious about the feedback, and excited to get it wrapped up and accepted.

Also, I got the second notice on my 30th birthday, it would have been a real bummer if that had turned out to be a flat out rejection.

Passed Comprehensive Exams

Today, I finished a new milestone in working towards my PhD: passing comprehensive exams. The way that our department structures comprehensive exams is split into two sections. In the first section, I completed five written exams over a seven day period: three four hour exams for Theory, Research Design, and Research Methods; and two six hour exams for my focus areas: Migration and Disasters.

After a brief review period and feedback from my committee members, I entered the oral exam segment. In this portion, I sit with all of my five committee members as they take turns asking me questions about the responses to my written exams, and whatever else they wanted to query me on. Once that was done, I left the room so they could deliberate, and returned to hear that I had passed my comprehensive exams!

Next step: dissertation proposal.

Carolina Planning Journal: Published Book Review

For the most recent Carolina Planning Journal: Changing Ways, Making Change Volume 44, 2019, I wrote a review on The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy, by Anna Clark. An excerpt is included below:

Possibly because the Flint water crisis does not have one true cause, The Poisoned City does not have one true narrative. Clark’s account follows multiple historic arcs that range from the founding of the city to the rise and fall of leaded gasoline to power vehicles… [Taken together] Clark’s story, and the anecdotes that fill the pages, is enough to make you want to buy a water filter and test your taps.

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!

Climate Change Adaptation Panel: Moderator

Today, I had the privilege of moderating a great panel, Climate Change Adaptation: Communities at a Crossroad, for the 6th annual Climate Change and Resilience Symposium hosted by UNC’s school of public health. A quick description of the panel is below:

“With the Communities at a Crossroad panel, we will hear from academics and practitioners engaged with planning for hazards and climate change in North Carolina. These panelists have diverse experience in academia, planning consultancy firms, and local governments; their work to support local communities offers valuable lessons learned for communities facing a shifting environment in the era of climate change.”


ASFPM Foundation 9th Annual Collegiate Student Paper Competition: Semifinalist

Recently, the abstract for a paper that I wrote with a fellow PhD student, Jordan Branham, was accepted as a semi-finalist for the ASFPM Foundation’s 9th  Annual Collegiate Student Paper Competition. We will be editing the paper for submission in April, and presenting on the topic in May; after which the first, second, and third place entries will be selected. The abstract is included below:


The effects of sea level rise and an increased propensity for major precipitation events caused by global climate change are expected to drive a dramatic reduction in the availability of habitable coastal land and induce population migrations away from particularly vulnerable areas (Allen et al. 2018; R. A. McLeman 2011). However, there is little understanding of how changing risk exposure influences individual decisions to relocate or the thresholds at which these decisions are made (Black, Adger, and Arnell 2013; Bardsley and Hugo 2010). In this paper, we seek to understand how the interaction of different scales of hazard events impact population change over time. To do this, we focus on exposure and vulnerability to flooding events. These events can range from repetitive ‘nuisance’ flooding caused by light weather to storm surges and severe rainfall precipitated by major hurricanes.

We address this research question by examining how minor and major floods between 1990 and 2016 impacted population movements during the same time period in North Carolina. Our study area is home to both coastal and riverine flood hazard areas, affording us the opportunity to tease out the marginal effects of flood vulnerability, exposure to disaster in the form of hurricanes, and the combination of these two factors on population change. Specifically, we use disaster declarations to quantify exposure to major disasters and define a census tract’s vulnerability based on the proportion of buildings within floodplains. Our analysis employs multiple regression with an interaction term in order to assess how our key explanatory variables individually and collectively influence population growth, while controlling for a number of mediating factors such as demographics, economic indicators, geography, and population trajectories.

Our findings suggest that populations have differential responses to environmental risks based on geography, particularly when compounded by joint exposure to both major and repetitive events. More specifically, while coastal communities have experienced significant population growth despite high levels of flood vulnerability, those subareas that are exposed to multiple disasters possess a negative relationship with population growth, suggesting that major disasters can act as focusing events that trigger population shifts (Birkland 1997). Comparatively, it appears that areas subjected to riverine-based flood risk are inclined to population loss in reaction to moderate risk, but less reactive to major events. We expect that these risk-responses will become more pronounced in the era of climate change as both major and minor flood events become more common and out-migration becomes self-supporting. Further, as population loss leads to reduced community resilience, the potential for the rise of non-linear migration exoduses will continue to increase (R. McLeman and Smit 2006; Massey et al. 1993). Therefore, while this study produces important initial findings, it is also presents a methodology that can continue to be used for a more rigorous longitudinal review that will be possible with future Census data.