EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — June 29, 2005

Disaster Recovery in Florida
How Well Were the 'Lessons Learned' from Hurricane Andrew?

Betty Hearn Morrow, Ph.D.
Consulting Sociologist
Professor Emeritus, Florida International University

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "Disaster Recovery in Florida: How Well Were the Lessons Learned from Hurricane Andrew?"

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's speaker. Dr. Betty Hearn Morrow is a consulting sociologist specializing in qualitative studies of disaster response. She is Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and former director of the Laboratory for Social and Behavioral Research at the International Hurricane Research Center.

Over the last decade she has been part of a team of social scientists analyzing the long-term effects of Hurricane Andrew on South Florida, funded by the National Science Foundation and resulting in the co-authored book, Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender and the Sociology of Disaster. Please see the Background Page for further biographical information and links to topic-related material. Welcome to the Forum Dr. Morrow, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Betty Morrow: Hello! Thank you for attending today's discussion on long-term recovery. It is planned to begin a conversation about why some communities and households have greater difficulty recovering from a disaster. I'm sure each of you has seen examples of slow recovery, or even non-recovery, after a major disaster. Within most communities hit by a major event, such as a Cat 4 hurricane, some homes, even communities, are very slow getting back to where they were before the event -- and some never make it at all.

To give a current example, as you know Florida was hit by 4 major hurricanes last year. In fact 1 out of every 5 Florida households was affected to some degree. Damages totaled more than $45 billion. 1.2 billion people applied to FEMA for assistance, and 16,000 trailers or campers were provided homeless families. In all, FEMA expects to spend about $5 billion in Florida as a result of the Florida hurricanes. Important to today's topic is the length of time it is taking some households and communities to recover, in spite of the resources coming into the area.

Let's discuss community recovery first. Several factors influence the ability of a community to recover from a disaster. The extent of the destruction is a crucial factor -- not just the level of destruction, but how far it extends. It is much easier for a community hit by a tornado to recover than one hit by a wide-path hurricane. The larger the impact, the greater the demand and competition for resources, both human and material. For example, the demand for generators and building supplies after Hurricane Andrew caused shortages throughout the United States.

Accessibility is another factor. When an island, or even a peninsula, is affected, it is more difficult to obtain resources from outside the area. This was a major factor in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew decimated the southernmost region of Florida. Supplies had to be brought long distances to reach the area, slowing the process, particularly in its early stages.

The most important factor affecting a community's ability to recover is its resources, both human and material. A poor city with a low tax base will not have the funds to rebuild without outside help. It is likely to be self-insured or under-insured. Even if it eventually obtains outside assistance, it will not have the funds up-front to begin rebuilding in a timely manner.

Political power is also an important factor affecting recovery. A community's influence within the larger political scene can be an important factor affecting when and how much assistance it receives. Again, using the example of Hurricane Andrew, when we compared the assistance received by residents of the city of Homestead with the amount received by residents living it the neighboring municipality of Florida City (a smaller, much poorer, largely African American city), we found that Homestead actually received considerably more federal assistance per capita. Surprisingly, in spite of being poorer, fewer citizens of Florida City applied for FEMA assistance. This can be explained by several factors, including lack of knowledge about how the system worked. So, the popular myth that poor people get all the assistance bears close examination.

Now let's move to the household level. Several studies, including our Andrew work, reveal that poorer households sustain greater damage. Houses may not be built as well, are more likely to be in disrepair, and are less likely to have mitigation such as shutters. They are also less apt to have adequate insurance from reputable companies. We found that the larger insurance companies had not written policies in poorer neighborhoods.

Household recovery takes place in a highly competitive environment. A family whose home has been damaged needs the services of a member who has the personal resources, such as good health, adequate time and education to work the system, whether for relief supplies, insurance claims or assistance applications.

It helps to have a high ratio of able-bodied adults to dependents (children, disabled or elderly adults) within a household. Private transportation can be an important factor determining how soon and often they can get to sources of assistance. Most application processes, for example, require multiple visits. There also needs to be an adult at home when the insurance adjustor, contractor or FEMA inspector arrives. Many households lack these resources.

The extent to which the family is networked into the community is also important. We found that minorities, in particular, often received extensive help from relatives living outside the household throughout the recovery process. Similarly, churches and other organizations provided assistance to their members.

Several demographic characteristics have been found to be associated with slow household recovery. For a variety of reasons, racial and ethnic minorities tend to be at a disadvantage, as are female-headed households. Lack of economic resources partially explain the disadvantage, but it is compounded by issues of power and autonomy within the community.

Let's summarize some factors affecting household recovery:

Economic Resources:

  • Income and savings
  • Insurance
  • Access to financial assistance
  • Access to transportation

Human Resources:

  • Time
  • Literacy and education
  • Health and physical abilities
  • Social and family networks
  • Household structure
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Gender

It is important to acknowledge that many agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, take special efforts to assist disadvantaged households throughout the recovery process. In recent years I have observed many examples of responders reaching out to the most needy segments of the community.

Several factors seem to distinguish the agency responses that are most successful. Effective strategies for helping vulnerable households recover include:

  • Heavy involvement of locals in needs assessment and aid delivery
  • Coordinated response and requirements among agencies
  • Well trained staff for dealing with cultural minorities and the poor
  • Bottom up, creative approaches as opposed to standardized systems
  • Aid that targets the most needy first, not those that get there first
  • Extensive involvement of women at all levels

Let me end by briefly mentioning some of the findings from our research on recovery progress during the 10 years following Hurricane Andrew. In examining property tax portfolios, we found that most homes regained their pre-Andrew values within two years after the storm. However, we found ample evidence that some homes, indeed some neighborhoods, had still not recovered fully. Houses that had not been repaired 10 years after the storm tended to be occupied by minority homeowners of modest means who had received inadequate insurance payout and/or had been victims of contractor fraud. Mitigation had improved in the impacted region in general, but was less likely to have occurred in poorer neighborhoods or in rental housing.

Getting back to the 2004 hurricanes... As the new hurricane season begins, 9,800 Florida households are still living in FEMA trailers. Permanent repairs have not been completed on many homes. Blue tarp roofs still dot the landscape. Rental housing is nearly impossible to find in hard-hit communities such as Pensacola or Port Charlotte. Many local businesses have not reopened.

It is important to recognize, however, that there are many ways in which disaster response has improved since Hurricane Andrew. Outreach programs to locate and serve vulnerable families are common practice. Response agencies acknowledge that recovery can be a long process for many households. FEMA, for example, has expressed its commitment to staying the course in Florida. It still maintains several Long-term Recovery Centers. According to Scott Morris, FEMA's long-term coordinator for Florida, "FEMA will be here for as long as it takes, and we will do whatever it takes within our power to make sure that the state and its citizens recover."

As far as emergency managers are concerned, it is important to locate neighborhoods where there are concentrations of vulnerable populations, such as female-headed households, elderly households, minorities and the poor, when conducting Community Vulnerability Assessments.

These assessments should identify neighborhood capacities as well as vulnerabilities. For example, an important mitigation is to develop leadership networks within these communities that can be available to expedite reaching the most vulnerable with appropriate and timely emergency and disaster response.

In the interest of time, I have provided references for these findings to Amy who will append them to the session transcript. [See below.] I will be happy to respond to your questions and comments, and will now turn the session back over to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Betty. Now, to proceed to your questions.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Rick Tobin CEM: Have you assessed the impacts on neighboring states as Floridians fled into there jurisdictions for support?

Betty Morrow: No. But we are currently completing a study of Hurricane Ivan effects that includes Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. We have asked some questions there that may shed some light.

Peggy Peirson: In terms of reaching the most vulnerable populations with disaster information/education and prevention/mitigation or recovery information - do you have any tips on how best to do that from your research?

Betty Morrow: I think it’s very valuable to work through their children. School programs, etc. are one way. Also churches.

Joe Sukaskas: Dr. Morrow, I assume that Andrew interrupted communications -- both mass media/broadcast like radio news advising citizens how to respond, and direct telephone lines that citizens would normally use to communicate with public safety officials, family, and friends. To what extent did communications problems affect either the short-term response and assessment, or the longer-term return to normalcy for affected citizens?

Betty Morrow: It was a major, major factor. In fact I'm sorry to say that many officials in Dade County didn't even know how bad it was down in the southern portion of the county for several days! I do think communications are much better now. I was in Punta Gorda a few days after Charley and FEMA was just getting setup with telephones. There had been no telephone service, making their call-in program unfunctional.

Kyle Cleveland: From Ohio, I came to Punta Gorda two days prior to Charley. Very disappointed in FEMA's initial response, though ARC was great! My parents, elderly, though physically and mentally quite capable, have found that entities from insurance adjusters to contractors have attempted to "gouge" them more than their younger neighbors

Betty Morrow: Absolutely. Elderly people are victimized; especially single elderly women. I interviewed a woman in a domestic violence shelter who had come to Florida after Andrew with her partner. He was a so-called contractor who specialized in scamming non-English speaking elderly women.


Ly: How would you rate FEMA's effort in the recovery process? Good? Fair? Where do they need to improve?

Betty Morrow: I think FEMA is much more responsive to vulnerable populations today than in 1992. They try to get translators there quickly, for example. I do wish there was more opportunity for people to talk face to face with intake workers. The telephone system is very scary to many people.

Peggy Peirson: I'm interested in the post-hurricane psychological community support needs. Anything identified as a need; lingering psychological affects and how was it addressed?

Betty Morrow: Not to my knowledge. The psychological services are there more quickly than they used to be. I think the really hard part comes several months after an event when many people are not seeing much progress and get very frustrated. Also the workers have burned out by then.

Michaela Kekedy: Regarding families seeking assistance. Language barriers were a problem. In our Red Cross Service Center in Homestead and Florida City, Creole and Spanish interpreters were a lifeline. Even so, it was often a young child from the family who served as the interpreter. A few ideas: 1) More education materials in the local languages 2) preparing a list of volunteer interpreters who can quickly respond if such an area is hit by a disaster could be helpful, 3) providing training to the children in school with age appropriate materials could be helpful and 4) in the case of areas repeatedly in danger, perhaps more community meetings focused on preparedness and how to work with the recovery agency would help the households.

Betty Morrow: Yes. Often immigrant and migrant communities are pretty close. Their leaders need to be incorporated into the response ASAP. Also minorities tend to rely more on radio, so announcements there (in their language) is an essential piece.

Burt Wallrich: I have seen a great study on business recovery, which also included a lot about household recovery, which was done by Burger King (their corporate headquarters was destroyed by Andrew). It used to not be generally available. Have you seen it? Is it now more readily available? It should be.

Betty Morrow: That's very interesting. I have never seen it! Yes, Burger King took a major hit. They have since moved their headquarters inland. I will try to find out about that report. I assume the household recovery was about their employees. I just completed a business recovery study of the Florida panhandle from Ivan. It is interesting that a major theme was how much better large employers are able to help their employees.

Kyle Cleveland: True, regarding phone service in Punta Gorda (landline AND cell). Back to subject at hand. My parents' physicians and clergy all remarked to me that the divorce and suicide rate has skyrocketed in Charlotte County. Folks are stressed, as well, because so much debris is still left from last year and we're in this year's season. Anything being done in the public health domain to address "acute" psychological issues for these current stressors?

Betty Morrow: Not that I know about, but that doesn’t mean it isn't happening. After Andrew, I studied domestic violence and divorce rates. It's hard to get an accurate account because so many people left the area, but there was an increase in both within months of the storm. Yes, debris and other frustrations keep making things look gloomy.

Isabel McCurdy: Is there an advocate for people to help with the filling out of the paperwork?

Betty Morrow: I'm not sure that anything was organized. Certainly seems like an excellent idea.

That would be great to have already setup. The fact that you have to first apply to SBA for a loan, be turned down, and then apply for FEMA assistance grant remains confusing.

Michaela Kekedy: Has anyone looked at the long-term psychological impacts on responders, city employees and disaster volunteers (in state & out of state)?

Betty Morrow: Yes. I believe there were several studies of responders after disasters. I know many organizations have retreats and also cycle people in and out to help with this. Teachers I think are the neglected group. School administrators are anxious to get schools open, as our parents. So often they start before the school buildings or teachers' homes are better. It makes for a lot of stress for teachers. I really saw that after Andrew.

Burt Wallrich: What have you found specifically about the impact of disasters on undocumented immigrant (or mixed legal status) households following major events? Certainly, this is a significant population in Florida.

Betty Morrow: Yes. They are often afraid to come forward. Also they are often "overlooked" in the early response. That was certainly true of farm workers in central Florida last year. They are still suffering. It is very important to have non-uniformed responders in immigrant communities.

Ly: Going back on the subject of the SBA loan, FEMA requires people to go through the loan process because people who have the capability of helping themselves should. Those who don't qualify for a loan would then get the government's assistance through FEMA. Anyone heard of the Kora Brown foundation? I think that's the right name.

Betty Morrow: Of course. But don't you agree that calling it a "Small Business" loan is very confusing?

Lori Wieber: During your study of the recovery issues did you encounter anything of interest regarding families with pets, or the loss of their pets, and impact on the family stability or stress re: human-animal bond etc.?

Betty Morrow: Well, our surveys have found that pets are an important reason why many people do not evacuate. There is a movement to allow people to bring pets to some shelters, but they remain rare. I don’t know of any study specifically related to the positive effects of pets on recovery, but I feel sure it's there.

Avagene Moore: I find this topic fascinating because the TV cameras move on to the next sensational story and we never hear what the status is with disaster victims. Is the recovery in FL slow because of the magnitude of the disaster, lack of funding (insurance or otherwise), or what? I know those folks in temporary shelters, etc. are very frustrated and concerned about the current projections for this hurricane season.

Betty Morrow: A number of things make recovery slow. First is the magnitude of impact Florida experienced last year. It has taxed all responders. Another reason is the high living costs in many areas. There has always been a shortage of modest cost housing and now it's much worse. There is a tendency to building back "better", i.e. more expensive. But, you're right. The media and public lose interest quickly.

Amy Sebring: I am not sure about the proper term, but the post-disaster community disaster committees that are supposed to coordinate other types of NVOAD and NGO assistance, did you find whether that concept was working out?

Betty Morrow: I have been told that every county affected has a Long-Term Recovery committee in place. I have not studied their effectiveness though. I believe they are supposed to replace the Unmet Needs Committees that have worked in many areas in coordinating response. I know the one in Miami was active for a number of years after Andrew.

As many of you know, the real problem is not so much sheltering during the storm, but temporary long-term housing afterward.

Joe Sukaskas: A comment re: pets -- I recently read (but cannot recall where) that a jurisdiction located professionally-staffed temporary animal shelters near (e.g., across the street from) human shelters, with the end result that more people followed evacuation requests/orders, knowing that their pets would not only be cared for professionally, but also nearby for comfort visits. I would encourage such practices if they indeed help both sectors.

Kyle Cleveland: I found that the local Florida media have increased residents' stress by making much hay about the 2005 season forecast being so gloomy, yet folks are powerless to prepare when they haven't even been able to recover from 2004. The news stories always feature dramatic music and footage to boost theatrics.

Betty Morrow: I agree. But I don't know what can be done about it. Of course, you want some anxiety -- should lead to mitigation and preparation. I studied media response to Charley and frankly I was quite impressed with what some of the local stations have done, both before, during and after a storm.

Kyle Cleveland: I agree, Betty, to the local media's work during the immediate timeframe surrounding Charley. Their efforts were nothing short of heroic in getting alternate broadcast sites online and providing near-instantaneous storm updates (provided you had a generator to view the TV!)

Betty Morrow: Yes. And cell phones have changed things in interesting ways. Even though the coverage was spotty it was sometimes available. An interesting anecdote; When I interviewed the CO at the Pensacola air base he said he was concerned that parents would be worried about the recruits they had sheltered in town so he went to check on them. Most had been in contact with their parents throughout the storm, or soon afterwards via email, cell phones, etc.

Ly: What happens to the real estate value right after a hurricane? What does a person need to know or expect if he wants to leave Florida after a hurricane?

Betty Morrow: Real estate prices go down in the short term, especially in heavily damaged homes. No one is anxious to move into a blighted area. We were surprised that most homes were assessed back to their pre-storm value in 2 years. However, this masks the fact that many took much, much longer, and some have never recovered. Some people, however, received good insurance payouts and then sold their damaged homes as is for someone else to fix up. I've heard some people made out really well doing that. However, I also know that insurance companies are not as generous as they were after Andrew -- at least the major companies.

Burt Wallrich: I want to make my usual pitch for having a community network of faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations, which includes but goes beyond the traditional VOAD organizations, in place and trained BEFORE a disaster. I think this is the only way to reach the most vulnerable populations with preparedness, warning, and recovery information.

Betty Morrow: I couldn't agree more, and it should include local leaders of minority and vulnerable populations.

Avagene Moore: Betty, back to the title of this presentation - were "lessons learned" from Andrew? In your opinion, based on your research, were the folks of Florida better prepared in 2004 with codes in place and enforced, etc? Was the response and recovery (such as it is) better?

Betty Morrow: Absolutely. The biggest change we saw was that newer built homes were much stronger. There was a statewide tougher building code adopted as a result of Andrew. Also out studies show consistent improvement in hurricane knowledge, preparation and mitigation. Still a long way to go though.


Isabel McCurdy: Is there a volunteer organization that goes out to help the vulnerable prepare their household against impact of hurricanes? The vulnerable lack funds to do it themselves, they are just trying to survive daily.

Betty Morrow: I know of no such organization. It would be wonderful. It's not easy putting up hurricane shutters, for example. A frail person couldn't do it unless they had the expensive kind. You're absolutely right. It's hard for people who are having a struggle just getting through daily crises to get excited about a hurricane.

Burt Wallrich: Isabel: If the local emergency management agency wants to use mitigation money for low-income household projects it can, and it can contract with local nonprofits willing to actually do the work (and create some jobs in the process). It has been done in LA, working through Emergency Network LA, providing non-structural mitigation such as tying down high furniture, cabinet latches, etc.


Michaela Kekedy: Just a comment regarding the role of animals and their owners in disasters. FEMA has two very good courses (Animals in Disasters, Module A and B, I believe) on its website that covers all phases of a disaster and in all types of disasters. The information is not only helpful for planning to deal with pets and livestock but also how humans can be better prepared and protected. Knowing that their animals are safe helps them to focus on what they need to do day after day to recover. Mitigation and preplanning is stressed.

Betty Morrow: Thanks, Michaela for mentioning the resource. I might also mention that we wrote a course on reaching vulnerable populations for the FEMA higher education program that could be useful in any training, I think.

[See Social Vulnerability Approach to Disasters (summary) at http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/CD%20FINAL%20%20FEMA.zip and additional materials at http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/edu/socialvulAdd.asp ]

I really appreciate the interaction today. I think it's vital to keep everyone, including local governments, focused on the vulnerable groups in their areas. Their concentrations should be located on all GIS Vulnerability Maps, for example.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much Dr. Morrow for an excellent job. We hope you enjoyed the experience. Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Dr. Morrow for a fine job.

[Presentation References:]

Bolin, Robert with Lois Stanford. 1998. The Northridge Earthquake: Vulnerability and Disaster. London: Routledge.

Dash, Nichole, Walter Gillis Peacock and Betty Hearn Morrow. 1997."And the Poorer Get Poorer: A Neglected Black Community." Pp. 206-225 in Peacock, W.G., B.H. Morrow and H. Gladwin, Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender and the Sociology of Disasters. London: Routledge. (Paperback available from the International Hurricane Research Center, Florida International University.

Enarson, Elaine and Betty Hearn Morrow. 1998. The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes. Miami: International Hurricane Research Center. Florida International University.

Miami Herald. June 21, 2005. FEMA Plans Extended Sate Stay. 8B.

Morrow, Betty Hearn. 1999. "Identifying and Mapping Community Vulnerability" Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management. 23(1): 1-18.

Morrow, Betty Hearn. 1997."Stretching the Bonds: The Families of Andrew." Pp. 141-170 in Peacock, W.G., B.H. Morrow and H. Gladwin, Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender and the Sociology of Disasters. London: Routledge. (Paperback available from the International Hurricane Research Center, Florida International University.

Peacock, Walter Gillis and Chris Girard. 1997. "Ethnic and Racial Inequalities in Hurricane Damage and Insurance Settlements." Pp. 171-190 in Peacock, W.G., B.H. Morrow and H. Gladwin, Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender and the Sociology of Disasters. London: Routledge. (Paperback available from the International Hurricane Research Center, Florida International University.

Provention Consortium. Resource materials for conducting various types of disaster-related assessments and for reducing risks. www.proventionconsortium.org/toolkit.htm.

Recovery News. February 9, 2005. FEMA Joint Information Center.