Resilience of Citizen Engagement to Local Disasters: Studying the Emergence and Dissolution of Community Networks 

This research project will study how citizens merge into responsive communities, make an impact, and then dissolve during and after a disaster. It will bring into light locally significant disasters that do not earn national headlines and where the local community turns to their own resources to respond. Too often these local disasters and citizen responses are not studied but they are vital to deepening of our understanding of community resilience and the dynamics of citizen engagement. We will uncover the dynamics of community emergence in response to a disaster. Questions considered will include: who organizes citizens into a community, how, and why? How do they respond to the disaster? How is technology, especially social media, mobilized for community organization and relief operations? And finally, what leads to the disbanding of these communities and is there any institutional memory preserved? Consisting of a series of in-depth case studies, made up of first-person accounts and interviews together with a review of secondary sources, the research will look at three stages of a spontaneous community response: the assemblage; the action and impact; and the dissolution of the community. We will study how these emergent communities use technology creatively in the various stages of the community formation as a catalyst to overcome the lack of formal response mechanisms or response planning.

Principal Investigators: Kevin C. Desouza and Maggie Cowell

Graduate Students: Jack O’Byrne and Lauren Bulka

Sponsor: Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE)Virginia Tech