Recovering from a natural disaster isn’t easy for anyone, but some communities are more heavily burdened than others.
Finding more equitable approaches to recovery is a central concern in the work of Sara Hamideh, assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) and an expert on disaster resilience.
“Depending upon the specific disaster and local conditions, in general, people of color, immigrants, individuals with limited English proficiency, low-income, renters, the elderly, those without high school education or employment, and women are more vulnerable to disaster impacts due to the pre-disaster socioeconomic disparities in our society that are exacerbated by disasters,” Hamideh said.
“Most important, often these features of social vulnerability are compounded in certain groups — for example, minorities — who more often tend to have low incomes and be renters,” she said.
Hamideh, whose research focus is coastal resilience, learned the importance of personal resilience as a child growing up in Iran.
She said it was her parents’ progress-oriented mindset that helped her and her siblings thrive during the years of the Iran-Iraq war through “a show-up-every-day philosophy and no-shortcuts-to-success signs along the road.”
She said there wasn’t one event in particular that was the catalyst for her journey of studying community resilience in the face of disasters. Rather, it was a series of self-described coincidences that put her on the path she is on today.
After Hamideh finished high school and took the national university entrance exam, her mother suggested she select urban planning — a relatively new undergraduate program in Iran at the time — while applying for college.
The timing couldn’t have been better.
Graduating from college in 2005, Hamideh began working at planning consulting firms in Tehran. She then pursued a master’s degree at the University of Tehran with a research interest in participatory planning, continuing to work at different firms and with institutes like Cultural Research Bureau, Tehran, until she left Iran in 2010.
After earning her doctorate at Texas A & M, she found that Long Island’s geography was ideal for her research — the study of community resilience following coastal storms. She said that Stony Brook, in particular, provides her with many opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration on disaster resilience with researchers and planning and emergency management practitioners in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area.
She also stays conversant with community disaster resilience in non-coastal areas through her involvement with federally funded research projects about community resilience, including the Center for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)-funded Center of Excellence headquartered at Colorado State University.
The Center’s team is composed of more than 90 individuals, including researchers, programmers/developers, NIST collaborators, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students. Working closely in teams on more than 40 tasks, the Center provides a common data architecture by collaborating with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications to ensure that data from around the world can be seamlessly integrated into a robust computational environment known as IN-CORE. IN-CORE enables users to optimize community disaster resilience planning and post-disaster recovery strategies intelligently using physics-based models of interdependent physical systems combined with socioeconomic systems.
In all her endeavors, Hamideh has found that certain groups are hit hardest by natural disasters like floods, and face more challenges to recover afterwards.
She said that low-income families, who often fit into the multifamily and rental housing categories, lack the resources for mitigation and protection against catastrophe.
“For example, public housing shelters some of the most socially vulnerable families who are sometimes threatened by stigma-driven and discriminatory decisions for exclusion and demolition of their homes after disasters,” she said.
At Stony Brook, Hamideh is helping to expand SoMAS’ Sustainability Studies program to include a master’s and PhD program.
She currently teaches a course titled Environmental, Design, Planning and Policy, which gives students “critical thinking skills and planning tools to tackle complex urban planning challenges at the intersection of built environment, policy environment and the natural environment.”
Through her teaching, mentorship and research, Hamideh said she strives to help reduce the unnecessary suffering of people who experience disaster losses and support them on the road to recovery.
“That means disaster research that leads to changing policies, disaster funding programs, land use practices, infrastructure investments, etc., in a way that we can reduce our disaster losses and make recovery after each disaster faster and more equitable with a build back better approach,” she said.
That lofty goal aside, Hamideh believes creating meaningful change begins in the classroom.
“I want to teach and inspire my students to pursue the goal of enhancing disaster resilience in their own careers,” she said.
- Community Resilience-Focused Technical Investigation of the 2016 Lumberton, North Carolina, Flood: An Interdisciplinary Approach
- Post-Disaster Recovery of Public Housing in Galveston, Texas: An Opportunity for Whom?
- Social vulnerability and participation in disaster recovery decisions: public housing in Galveston after Hurricane Ike
— Glenn Jochum