More than 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, scientists are learning what makes some survivors more resilient than others
Some of those [Hurricane Katrina] survivors, wherever they ultimately ended up, are proving more resilient than others. "One household or family manages to recover," says David Abramson, a public health researcher who studies disasters at New York University in New York City. "The other remains dysfunctional."
Abramson has been surveying people affected by Katrina every few years since the storm. Poor, predominantly black families on cheaper property in lower-lying areas faced disproportionate damage from Katrina—and a harder road to recovery. But with the passage of years, the paths of survivors have diverged in complex, hard-to-predict ways. "Initially, I thought that those with the least would do the worst," Abramson says. "That wasn't always the case."
Abramson is one of three social scientists leading a project called Katrina@10. It's looking for long-term predictors of resilience—factors that cushion the shock of disaster and set the course for recovery. In their three long-running studies, the researchers have found a range of factors that seem to help, such as financial resources, social and cultural ties, and access to stable housing after the event, which all seem to help. Now, they're combining their cohorts to see whether those results will generalize. If the predictors they identify hold true across other natural disasters—and that remains to be seen—Katrina@10 could help policymakers and disaster recovery programs pick out especially vulnerable groups. It might even steer them toward interventions that do the most good.