This CAREER project investigates community adaptation to changing environmental disasters and highlights the significance of dependence and external linkages in times of rapid environmental change. An increase in environmental disasters around the world compounded by a possible increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme climatic events and an increased probability of their occurrence in different locations poses serious challenges for people. This research project investigates the way that communities adapt from one disaster to another by examining coastal Louisiana's shift from frequent hurricanes to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Such a transition increases dependence on others, and dependence, instead of or in addition to self-reliance, is addressed as a missing cornerstone of research on community adaptation. As a result, external linkages become more important as communities depend on nonlocal inputs. The research focuses on the dynamic interactions between external linkages and internal community cohesion and capability that facilitate the penetration of external resources and knowledge at the community level. The project applies and tests an innovative approach to coupling community management with the theories of organizational innovation. The investigation begins with the structured content analysis of archival and documentary evidence and key informant interviews. The data analysis addresses the effects of changed regulatory structures on community adaptation to disasters and the extent to which previous adaptations to adverse environmental events can increase community vulnerability. It is followed by the selection of two of the most impacted communities in coastal Louisiana to examine whether dependence on external resources and knowledge after the oil spill has increased. It will also investigate the nature of the dependence and external linkages of these communities using participant observation and in-depth interviews. The project culminates with the collection of survey data to assess the communities' ability to absorb resources and knowledge. Data analysis using multilevel structural equation model will evaluate the relationship between internal and external linkages and the role of boundary organizations in the examination of community adaptation and innovation.
This project provides an improved understanding of vulnerability to new threats at the community level. It enables governments and aid agencies to formulate plans and policies to foster and sustain those external linkages necessary for anticipatory adaptation to future disasters. It also encourages and supports the capacity of communities to absorb new resources and information. This research also contributes to advancing knowledge regarding multiple hazards approach by studying and comparing the effects of different hazards and their adaptation mechanisms in the same location. Results from this research will be of utility to emergency managers, policy makers, and community leaders concerned with climate change, hazards, and disaster management. In addition, the integrative education plan focuses on student-society interactions and peer mentorship. Student participation at local workshops and service learning will provide students with valuable experiences. This project also includes the participation of undergraduate and graduate students and offers new courses and summer scholar programs. These educational activities will help students build careers in adaptation research and practice.