Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 127–141 | Cite as

The Role of Community in Disaster Response: Conceptual Models

  • Olivia Patterson
  • Frederick Weil
  • Kavita PatelEmail author


We focus on the role that community plays in the continuum of disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and we explore where community fits in conceptual frameworks concerning disaster decision-making. We offer an overview of models developed in the literature as well as insights drawn from research related to Hurricane Katrina. Each model illustrates some aspect of the spectrum of disaster preparedness and recovery, beginning with risk perception and vulnerability assessments, and proceeding to notions of resiliency and capacity building. Concepts like social resilience are related to theories of “social capital,” which stress the importance of social networks, reciprocity, and interpersonal trust. These allow individuals and groups to accomplish greater things than they could by their isolated efforts. We trace two contrasting notions of community to Tocqueville. On the one hand, community is simply an aggregation of individual persons, that is, a population. As individuals, they have only limited capacity to act effectively or make decisions for themselves, and they are strongly subject to administrative decisions that authorities impose on them. On the other hand, community is an autonomous actor, with its own interests, preferences, resources, and capabilities. This definition of community has also been embraced by community-based participatory researchers and has been thought to offer an approach that is more active and advocacy oriented. We conclude with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of community in disaster response and in disaster research.


Community Disaster Risk perception Social capital Vulnerability 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Weil Grant No.0554572 and Patel Grant #: 0601731.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivia Patterson
    • 1
  • Frederick Weil
    • 2
  • Kavita Patel
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.the RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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