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UAlbany Social Welfare Professor Leads Comparative Study of Disaster Recovery Efforts in U.S. Gulf Coast Communities and Haiti

Loretta Pyles of UAlbany School of Social Welfare, back row far left, will continue to aid recovery efforts in Haiti and the U.S. Gulf Coast through a three-year comparative study project.

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 14, 2011) – The dynamics of disaster recovery efforts in rural communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Haiti are the focus of a research project led by University at Albany School of Social Welfare Associate Professor Loretta Pyles. The three-year project will analyze the interactions between international organizations and communities during recovery efforts, and how that influences the capabilities of individuals affected by disasters.

"Our research will culminate in the production of a training guide based on research findings of the most effective and sustainable practices for international organizations working in disaster-recovery settings," said Pyles. "Our overarching goal is to enhance the capacity of rural communities to respond to, and recover from, natural disasters."

Destruction caused by 2010 Haiti earthquake

The 2010 Haiti earthquake caused massive destruction and loss of life. Recovery efforts that followed are the focus of a research project by UAlbany School of Social Welfare Associate Professor Loretta Pyles. (Photo: AP Photo/ Carel Pedre)

The project team will interview individuals from local and external organizations involved in recovery efforts in a total of six communities: three communities on the U.S. Gulf Coast hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and three communities in Haiti affected by the devastating 2010 earthquake. The six communities will then be surveyed to gauge individual disaster recovery, as well as participation, social capital and capabilities-based recovery. Researchers will also analyze public policies, media discourses and organizational documents with an eye toward understanding the social production of disaster recovery. The team will develop a case study for each community, comparing intervention practices, especially participation and recovery capabilities.

The project is funded by a $399,650 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Disaster Resilience in Rural Communities program.

"Our aim is to advance our understanding about what capabilities are most important to facilitate sustainable disaster recovery in rural settings," said Pyles.

Pyles has been helping Haitian communities rebuild through a participatory action research project with rural community development groups there. Pyles was a former faculty member at Tulane University in New Orleans where she conducted extensive community-based research related to recovery from Hurricane Katrina. She also serves as the faculty liaison for service learning trips to New Orleans led by students in the master's of social work program of the School of Social Welfare. Pyles is director of UAlbany's Community and Public Service Program.

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