Research

Guiding Concepts

I am driven by the desire to have an impact in human adaptation to anthropogenic climate change. Specifically, I focus on post-disaster adaptation, with an emphasis on hurricanes and coastal change, and out-migration. In this, I am most interested in a few key concepts and questions:

Adaptation: Why do some households adopt in situ strategies for adaptation, while others leave?

Migration: Do disasters disrupt existing migration patterns in and out of an area, or simply accelerate them?

Displacement: To what extent do displacement patterns increase permanent migration?

Temporal Change: How do people change their perspectives on adaptation strategies as environmental conditions deteriorate?

Governance & Policy: How do federal policies influence state and local plans, and therefore change the built environment?

Equity: How do we address historic inequities, especially those that have placed at-risk communities in harm’s way, during recovery?

I intend to develop a body of research that can inform improved hazard mitigation and recovery plans to increase resilience in two ways. First, by capitalizing on organic migration patterns to facilitate out-migration from vulnerable areas without replacement in-migration; and second, by emphasizing receiving communities to help fund and support those displaced in the direct aftermath of disasters.


Dissertation

My dissertation aims to provide evidence and insight into the patterns related to environmental migration and environmental displacement, referring to population movement attributed to environmental factors. This research is situated in a world imperiled by climate change, which is expected to increase temporary and permanent population movement due to resource scarcity, extreme weather events, and shifting temperatures.

The broader goal of my research is to better understand the tensions experienced by residents regarding the decision to leave or stay in a home and/or community under deteriorating environmental conditions, as well as the risks associated with leaving. Additionally, I will pay specific attention to the how quick-onset disaster events influence migration, using hazards that are related to climate change patterns. This dissertation will serve as the start to my development of a larger body of work that I hope will inform managed retreat from vulnerable areas, with an emphasis on tailored interventions to support community- and individual-led pro-active adaptive strategies. Additionally, I hope this work can be used to improve the predominant vehicle for government-supported post-disaster migration: household buyouts.

In my dissertation, I developed three linked papers, which substantively center on environmental migration and environmental displacement, specifically as driven by flood risk and hazards. The first paper analyzes how the intersection of flood risk and repeated disaster exposure can synergistically impact migration. Specifically, I examine the impact of Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) in affected and control areas across the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, employing a novel, panel dataset containing the addresses (and dates at those locations) of millions of individuals in North Carolina between January 2016 to July 2020. Compared to traditional migration research, my work addresses gaps in the literature by operating at a finer temporal scale and a higher resolution of observations, enabling a more nuanced understanding of migration flows (Hori and Schafer 2010). Early findings suggest increased outflows from impacted areas, which are offset in high-opportunity areas by new in-migration.

Building on this work, I am studying post-disaster migration in the wake of key policy interventions enabling retreat from high hazard areas. Specifically, I look at the efficacy of federally-financed floodplain buyouts as a household risk reduction strategy, using the buyout program implemented in Harris County, TX, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey (2017). Using a quasi-experimental design (i.e., propensity score matching technique to create control and experimental groups), I compare the socio-economic outcomes of households who accepted buyouts compared to those who moved without this Federal assistance. This analysis reacts to work by Greer and others (Greer and Binder 2017), which noted the limited evaluations of the benefits and risks of buyout programs. My findings suggest that buyouts have serious limitations to supporting household-level recovery.


Finally, to better understand the thought process residents use when engaging in adaptation decision-making, I created a pre-/post-evaluation tool to measure risk perception and adaptive decision making in the form of novel resident surveys implemented before and after Hurricanes Florence (2018) and Dorian (2019). This work focuses on a ‘canary in the coal mine’ case study within the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (APP) in North Carolina. This region is at the forefront of climate change impacts as more than half of the APP is less than 1.5 meters above sea level, and its position on the far eastern edge of the State places it in the path of frequent hurricanes. My analysis shows how repeated exposure is related to individuals being more interested in adaptation responses over time.


Conference Presentations and Posters

Frankenberg, Elizabeth, Todd BenDor, Philip Berke, Cassandra Davis, Nathan Dollar, Anna Gardner, Miyuki Hino, Nikhil Kothegal, Rene Iwo, Richard A Luettich, Tamlin Pavelsky, Brian Frizzelle, Michael Piehler, Nora Louise Schwaller, John Ratcliff, Anne Smiley, Antonia Sebastian, Conghe Song, Chao Wang, Ted Mouw. “The Dynamics of Extreme Events, People and Places—a Convergent Approach to Understanding Flooding Exposures and Impacts.” In AGU Fall Meeting 2021. AGU, 2021.

Schwaller, Nora Louise. Transformative Climate Planning: Incorporating, measuring, and actualizing equity. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, online (2021, October 7). Round table participant.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Todd K. BenDor. Changing Perspectives After the Storm: A Pre-Post Evaluation of Adaptive Decision Making. Presented at the Natural Hazards researchers’ meeting, online. (2021, July 15). Parallel session presentation.

Schwaller, Nora Louise. Dichotomous or progressive choices: in situ protection and retreat as strategies for climate adaptation. Presented at the At What Point Managed Retreat Conference, Columbia University, online. (2021, June 22). Parallel session presentation.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Mai Thi Nguyen, Leah Campbell. (2020, November 4, anticipated). (Mis)trusting the Process: How complications in the buyout process can degrade public trust. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Toronto, Canada.

Campbell, Leah, Mai Thi Nguyen, Nora Louise Schwaller. (2020, November 4, anticipated). Barriers to Effective Local Administration of Post-Hurricane Matthew Buyouts in North Carolina. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Toronto, Canada.

Branham, Jordan, Nora Louise Schwaller. (2020, November 4, anticipated). Changes in the Water: the impact of natural hazards vulnerability and exposure on population change. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Toronto, Canada.

Hino, Miyuki, Todd BenDor, Jordan Branham, Nikhil Kaza, David Salvesen, Nora Louise Schwaller, Antonia Sebastian, Shane Sweeney. (2020, November 4, anticipated). A Parcel-Scale Analysis of Municipal Floodplain Management in North Carolina. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Toronto, Canada.

Schwaller, Nora LouiseTodd BenDor. (2020, July 16, anticipated). Differential Residential Perspectives on In-Situ Protection and Retreat for Climate Adaptation. Presented at the Natural Hazards conference in Boulder, Colorado.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Mai Thi Nguyen. (2019, October 24). Finding Community When Hurricanes Hit Home. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Greenville, SC.

Schwaller, Nora Louise. (2019, July 15) Displacement and Return: migration patterns in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Presented at the Natural Hazards conference in Boulder, Colorado.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Jordan Branham. (2019, June 22). Disaster Exposure and Mitigation: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss. Presented at the At What Point Managed Retreat Conference, Columbia University, New York City, NY.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Jordan Branham. (2019, May 21). Disaster Exposure and Mitigation: The Impact of Major and Minor Flood Events on Population Loss. Presented at the Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation Conference, Cleveland, OH.

Schwaller, Nora Louise, Mai Thi Nguyen. (2018, October 26). Impacts of Hazard Mitigation Grants on Individual and Community Level Post-Disaster Resilience. Presented at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference, Buffalo, NY.


Like my work and want to know more? Interested in collaborating? I’d love to hear from you:

nschwall [at] live [dot] unc [dot] edu