Below, you will find outlines of ‘what we know’ from evidence about the role of built capital in disaster recovery, including how it can affect wellbeing and interact with other recovery capitals. These statements summarise academic evidence, but they do not represent the entire evidence base. You can find original evidence sources in the reference list below.
You will also find prompts to consider when applying this knowledge to disaster recovery support efforts.
The recovery capitals are deeply interrelated – look out for the little icons which highlight points of relevance to the other capitals.
WHAT WE KNOW
When restoring buildings and infrastructure, prioritise what is central to community activity, such as roads, bridges, schools, community halls and thriving local businesses.
WHAT WE KNOW
The location, density and design of buildings influence risk from hazards such as floods, fires and earthquakes (15,16), including risk of injury (17) and reduced business activity Planning and building regulations can reduce these risks (18), but this can also create problems in recovery by raising the cost of rebuilding, resulting in shortfalls in insurance payouts and higher ongoing premiums (19,20).
What risks might this community face in the future? Consider resilience to future emergencies when making rebuilding decisions.
WHAT WE KNOW
While some infrastructure is crucial to preparedness, response and recovery (including telecommunications and transport) (21–23), there is evidence that some physical disaster mitigation infrastructure (such as sea walls against tsunamis) is less protective than social factors such as social capital (24,25).
Social strategies need to be developed alongside infrastructure strategies to support preparedness, response and recovery.
WHAT WE KNOW
Choosing to live locally or relocate elsewhere is likely to alter the recovery experience, but not necessarily long-term personal wellbeing (5).
After Black Saturday, sense of community was enhanced for some by the shared processing of the disaster experience and rebuilding, and this supported wellbeing. For others, sense of community was lost through damage to property, disruption and disharmony, and they were more likely to leave. They had fewer opportunities to process the disaster, but benefited from being removed from the ongoing disruptions and challenges in the bushfire-affected community (5).
Decisions about relocation may be further complicated for Aboriginal peoples whose rights, interest and connection to Country remain specific to the disaster-affected area (13,14).
Provide information to people facing decisions about rebuilding or relocating about the sorts of stressors and benefits they are likely to face in each scenario.
Recovery support packages (and case support worker approaches) should be tailored to match the stressors that people are likely to face based on whether they are staying locally or relocating.
WHAT WE KNOW
Rebuilding is an important part of recovery, allowing those affected by disasters to re-establish routines, sense of place and identity (8–10). Rebuilding can also foster community resilience and enable economic activity, which in turn provides resources for further recovery (7).
However decisions and uncertainties about rebuilding shared spaces can be major stressors after disasters (4), and disagreements about rebuilding can damage the social environment (5). A range of strategies can enhance these processes, including allowing time for reflection before making less urgent decisions (11).
New and temporary accommodation arrangements can influence social connectedness, with poorly designed housing leading to social isolation (12). By contrast, social connectedness can be fostered by enabling survivors from the same area to live near each other in new or temporary accommodation (12).
Timing of rebuilding is important – where possible, rebuilding early can have benefits, however be mindful that rushing to rebuild can place strain on communities and lead to different decisions than might be made with more time and consideration.
What may be causing uncertainty for people around rebuilding? What strategies could reduce this uncertainty? For example, clear community information, and opportunities for people to access expert advice.
Arriving at consensus can be very difficult when there are different points of view. Careful, inclusive processes are needed to support collective decision-making e.g. have group discussions led by someone with facilitation and public participation expertise.
When mass relocation is needed, enable people from the same area to live near each other.
This resource has been developed through the Recovery Capitals (ReCap) project, which is an Australia-Aotearoa New Zealand collaboration. The ReCap project is being undertaken by the University of Melbourne and Massey University in New Zealand, with the support of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. Australian Red Cross is the lead partner organisation. Illustrations by Oslo Davis. ReCap logo by Alana Pirrone and Oslo Davis.