Environmental Policy

Measuring social equity in flood recovery funding

Emrich, C.T.; Tate, E.; Larson, S.E.; Zhou, Y.


Deconstructing causal linkages between place attributes and disaster outcomes at coarse scales like zip codes and counties is difficult because heterogeneous socio-economic characteristics operating at finer scales are masked. However, capturing detailed disaster outcomes about individuals and households for large areas can be equally complicated. This dichotomy highlights the need for a more nuanced and empirically-driven approach to understanding financial disaster recovery support. This study assessed how social characteristics influenced federal disaster recovery support following the 2015 South Carolina floods. Ordinary linear and spatial regression models provided a mechanism for pinpointing statistically significant links between individual/compound vulnerabilities and resource distribution from four federal disaster response and recovery programmes. The study makes two unique contributions. First, exploration of how social characteristics influence recovery support is a critical, yet understudied path toward fair and equitable disaster recovery. Second, finer scale inquiry across a large impact area is rare in quantitative case studies of US disasters. While we found flood recovery assistance to be strongly associated with physical damage overall the relationship was more tenuous in places with higher social vulnerability. Results indicate that future disaster recovery programs focusing on both physical damage and social vulnerable would lead to a more equitable disaster recoveries. Findings provide new understanding of equity at the intersection of social vulnerability, impacts, and disaster recovery and showcase both best-practices and areas for programme improvements for future disasters.


Emrich CT, Tate E, Larson SE, Zhou Y. Measuring social equity in flood recovery funding. 2020;19(3):228 - 250. doi:10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578.