ArticlePDF Available

Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy



The post-disaster context is one characterized by profound uncertainty. Those affected by the storm, or earthquake, or flood, must determine what strategies to pursue in response to the disaster and must find ways to coordinate their recovery efforts with others in their community. Ex ante it is not clear what strategies will be most effective. If communities are to recover after a disaster, community members must engender and engage in a process of social learning involving experimentation, communication, and imitation. This paper explores the post-disaster social learning process. Specifically, we focus on the importance of social capital in facilitating social learning after a disaster, including facilitating community members’ ability to communicate their desire to return, to assess damage, to overcome barriers to rebuilding through collective yet voluntary action, and to learn from and imitate others’ successes. Focusing on how this process took place after Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, New York, especially within the Orthodox Jewish community, we examine how community groups (a) adapted existing organization structures and (b) created new procedures and imitated the successful actions of others in order to spur recovery.
1 23
The Review of Austrian Economics
ISSN 0889-3047
Rev Austrian Econ
DOI 10.1007/s11138-016-0362-z
Social capital and social learning after
Hurricane Sandy
Virgil Henry Storr, Stefanie Haeffele-
Balch & Laura E.Grube
1 23
Your article is protected by copyright and all
rights are held exclusively by Springer Science
+Business Media New York. This e-offprint is
for personal use only and shall not be self-
archived in electronic repositories. If you wish
to self-archive your article, please use the
accepted manuscript version for posting on
your own website. You may further deposit
the accepted manuscript version in any
repository, provided it is only made publicly
available 12 months after official publication
or later and provided acknowledgement is
given to the original source of publication
and a link is inserted to the published article
on Springer's website. The link must be
accompanied by the following text: "The final
publication is available at”.
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Virgil Henry Storr
&Stefanie Haeffele-Balch
Laura E. Grube
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract The post-disaster context is one characterized by profound uncertainty.
Those affected by the storm, or earthquake, or flood, must determine what strategies
to pursue in response to the disaster and must find ways to coordinate their recovery
efforts with others in their community. Ex ante it is not clear what strategies will be
most effective. If communities are to recover after a disaster, community members must
engender and engage in a process of social learning involving experimentation, com-
munication, and imitation. This paper explores the post-disaster social learning process.
Specifically, we focus on the importance of social capital in facilitating social learning
after a disaster, including facilitating community membersability to communicate their
desire to return, to assess damage, to overcome barriers to rebuilding through collective
yet voluntary action, and to learn from and imitate otherssuccesses. Focusing on how
this process took place after Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, New York, especially
within the Orthodox Jewish community, we examine how community groups (a)
adapted existing organization structures and (b) created new procedures and imitated
the successful actions of others in order to spur recovery.
Keywords Disaster recovery.Social learning .Social capital .Hurricane Sandy .
Rockaway, NY
JEL classification B53 .D71 .D83 .Q54
Rev Austrian Econ
DOI 10.1007/s11138-016-0362-z
*Laura E. Grube
Virgil Henry Storr
Stefanie Haeffele-Balch
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
Beloit College, Beloit, WI 53511, USA
Author's personal copy
1 Introduction
Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the United States on Monday,
October 29th, 2012. The storm is the second-largest Atlantic storm on record, having
affected numerous Caribbean islands and states along the eastern seaboard. In the U.S.,
over 70 lives were lost, $50 billion in damages were incurred, and over 8.5 million
households lost power (Blake et al. 2013). While the storm was downgraded from a
hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone before hitting New Jersey and New York, the
combination of 80 mph winds and a massive storm surge of up to nine feet of water
devastated coastal communities (ibid.). On the Rockaway Peninsulaa relatively
isolated peninsula in Queens, New York also known as the Rockawaysthere was
five to six feet of flood water, wide-spread power outages (120,000 were affected), and
fires resulting from the storm.
Residents went weeks without power and heat and had
to figure out others ways to assess damage, obtain resources, and recover.
Post-disaster environments are characterized by profound uncertainty. Those affect-
ed by hurricanes, for instance, must determine what strategies to pursue in response to
the disaster and must find ways to coordinate their recovery efforts with others in their
community. Since it is not obvious ex ante which recovery strategies are likely to be the
most effective, if communities are to recover after a disaster, community members must
engender and engage in a process of social learning involving experimentation, com-
munication, and imitation. This paper explores the post-disaster social learning process.
We focus on the importance of social capital in facilitating social learning after a
disaster, including facilitating community membersability to communicate their desire
to return, to assess damage, to overcome barriers to rebuilding through collective yet
voluntary action, and to learn from and imitate otherssuccesses.
Although the literature on post-disaster community recovery has emphasized the
importance of social capital and has highlighted the social learning process that occurs
after disasters, there has been significantly less attention paid to the importance of
social capital in facilitating social learning after a disaster. The literature on the role of
social capital in facilitating disaster recovery has tended to stress social capital as a
source of mutual aid and information exchange (Beggs et al. 1996; Hurlbert et al. 2000,
2001; Nakagawa and Shaw 2004; Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009b;Aldrich2011,
2012; Storr and Haeffele-Balch 2012). Additionally, the literature on post-disaster
social learning processes has tended to focus on the actions of community leaders
who find ways to navigate the uncertainty and complications of providing assistance,
securing resources, and coordinating the return of displaced residents after a disaster
(see, for example, Chamlee-Wright 2010). Studies have, however, found that commu-
nity members can utilize their social networks to learn how to navigate the post-disaster
environment (Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009a,b,2010,2011; Chamlee-Wright 2010;
Storr and Haeffele-Balch 2012; Grube and Storr 2014). This paper makes explicit the
often implicit connection between social capital and social learning in the literatures on
post-disaster community recovery.
The literature on post-disaster community recovery has also highlighted the capacity
of religious organizations to help community members overcome the challenges
Information on damage from report BSandy and Its Impact^through, available at
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
associated with community revival after disasters. For instance, the congregation of the
Mary Queen of Vietnam Roman Catholic Church, an ethno-religious Vietnamese-
American community in New Orleans East, recovered more quickly after Hurricane
Katrina than neighboring communities (despite having experienced significantly more
damage) because of the efforts of religious and lay leadership in the church (Chamlee-
Wright and Storr 2009b). Similarly, Chamlee-Wright (2015) has shown how pastors in
New Orleans facilitated the delivery of relief services as well as longer term recovery
efforts in their communities after Hurricane Katrina. Although there is now quite a
sizeable literature on the role of religious groups after Hurricane Katrina, there has been
little scholarship to date on the role of religious organizations after Hurricane Sandy.
This paper helps to fill that gap.
The paper proceeds as follows. Section 2examines the literatures on social capital
and social learning after disasters and explores how community leaders can utilize
social capital to facilitate post-disaster social learning. Next, Section 3provides an
explanation of the research methods that we employ in the empirical section of the
paper. Section 4,then, explores how the communities in the Rockaways, New York,
were able to come together in order to respond and recover after Hurricane Sandy. The
analysis presented here is based on qualitative interviews conducted during the sum-
mers of 2013 and 2014. Specifically, we focus on how community leaders in the
Orthodox Jewish community in the Rockaways utilized available social capital to
facilitate social learning and so post-disaster community recovery after Hurricane
Sandy. Section 5offers concluding remarks.
2 Literatures on social capital and the process of social learning
after disasters
There are now quite sizeable literatures on the importance of social capital in facilitating
post-disaster community recovery as well as the social learning process that community
members rely on after disasters. Social capital, a term first thoroughly examined in the
social sciences by Bourdieu (1985), has been used to describe the resources that individ-
uals have access to because they belong to certain groups.
Woolcock (2001) identifies
three categories of social capital: bonding (i.e. the connections between members of close-
knit homogenous groups), bridging (i.e. ties between members of heterogeneous groups),
and linking (i.e. connections among members from very different social settings or
different positions of power within a community). Not surprisingly, scholars have found
that social capital can promote community recovery after disasters, providing emotional
support (Elliott and Pais 2006; Aldrich and Meyer 2015), enabling the exchange of
In section 5we discuss (briefly) how government assistance fits into the discussion of social learning.
Otherwise, we do not focus on the role of various government entities in post-disaster response and recovery
(e.g. the National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Flood Insurance
Putnam popularized the term social capital in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone. Putnam, however, has
sometimes used social capital to refer to the level of trust in society, or levels of civic engagement. In his
1995 article with Helliwell on economic growth in Italy, for example, the authors adopt an index of social
capital that includes newspaper readership, sports and cultural associations, and voter turnout. For our
purposes, we stay closer to the definitions offered by Bourdieu (and Coleman 1988). An interested reader
may want to consult Portes (2000) on the two meanings of social capital (article has the same title).
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
information (Beggs et al. 1996; Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009b), and making financial
and other resources available (Bolin and Stanford 1998; Nakagawa and Shaw 2004;
Aldrich 2012). Further, numerous studies have found that family members and faith
communities (i.e. bonding social capital) are an important source of immediate assistance
following disaster, and also play a key role in the decision to return and rebuild (Hurlbert
et al. 2000,2001; Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009b). Others have pointed to the impor-
tance of bridging and linking social capital to access extra-community resources (Haw-
kins and Maurer 2010; Storr and Haeffele-Balch 2012).
Disaster victims utilize social capital to facilitate social learning after a disaster. If
social capital facilitates the individual interactions, social learning refers to the ways in
which those interactions contribute to enhanced coordination. Within sociology, social
learning has been used to describe the processes through which organizations and
communities learn to solve collective challenges. As Webler et al. (1995)explain,
social learning involves the cognitive enhancement of group/community members (i.e.
their acquisition of knowledge about the problems they face and strategies to overcome
them) as well as the moral development of group/community members (i.e. improve-
ments in their judgments of right and wrong).
The literature on social learning after disasters has focused on how social entrepre-
neurs bring about post-disaster recovery by making use of non-price signals about what
community members desire and which recovery strategies are most likely to be
successful. Chamlee-Wright (2010), for instance, has described the important role that
community leaders played in promoting social coordination and community recovery
throughout the Greater New Orleans region after Hurricane Katrina. Similarly, Storr
et al. (2015) explain how social entrepreneurs relied on their ability to attract donations
and volunteers as well as client demand to determine which courses of action to pursue.
These social entrepreneurs provide needed goods and services and signal to disaster
victims that community recovery is already underway. While Chamlee-Wright (2010)
and Storr et al. (2015) both stress the importance of social capital for community
recovery and focus on how social entrepreneurs promote post-disaster community
return by restoring disrupted social networks, they do not highlight the role of social
capital in facilitating social learning after a disaster. The connection between social
capital and social learning has remained implicit in these studies.
One reason that research on post-disaster recovery might have left the relationship
between social capital and social learning implicit is because that connection is obvious
in many respects.
Social learning is learning that results from social interactions and
The market order is perhaps the quintessential social learning process; however, in the market, prices
facilitate exchange. As Chamlee-Wright and Myers (2008: 152) explain, BSocial learning is the phenomenon
in which society achieves a level of coordination and cooperation that far exceeds the coordinating capacity of
any individual or group of individuals within society.^
Another reason that post-disaster research might not have explicitly addressed the connection between social
capital and social learning is that research has explored this relationship in mundane times. Burt (2001), for
instance, has argued that social entrepreneurs can improve upon existing social networks by finding and
exploiting informational opportunities within and across social networks. As Burt (ibid.) explains, in envi-
ronments where transactions are complex and information is imperfect, individuals may decide to imitate
others in their social network. They may imitate those who have a history of success (i.e. reputation) or those
who have received positive feedback. Through these innovations and imitations, social learning can take place
throughout the community, signaling which procedures and actions are likely to be successful and which are
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
involves the learning that takes place within groups. Social capital encompasses the
social networks to which individuals belong. As such, there is a clear connection
between social capital and social learning. Social learning necessarily involves leverag-
ing social capital. However, there is potentially much to gain by making explicit what
has previously been implicit.
Disaster victims utilize social capital to facilitate social learning after a disaster in
several ways. Social learning requires the transmission/communication of information,
improvement in individualsjudgments as a result of learning from others, and
imitation of successful others. Specifically, displaced disaster victims can utilize their
social networks to (a) communicate with key others their desire and plans to return and
rebuild; (b) aid them in assessing the damage to their homes and businesses and
deciding on a strategy for repairing the damage; (c) help them to overcome barriers
to rebuilding through collective yet voluntary action; and, (d) learn from and imitate
otherssuccesses. This post-disaster social learning often results in (1) community
organizations altering their existing structures in response to information and insights
garnered through their social networks, and (2) community leaders sharing and
adopting best practices from successful groups in nearby neighborhoods.
Post-disaster recovery presents a collective action challenge to those displaced by
the disaster (Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009b; Storr et al. 2015). One key question that
disaster victims need answered before committing to return is whether or not others
from their neighborhoods, churches, and community organizations will also return. One
key challenge that displaced disaster victims must overcome is locating and commu-
nicating with those key others. If community members do not find ways to overcome
this challenge and discover the answers to this key question, they will not commit to
returning and rebuilding. Community members can, however, utilize their social
networks to communicate their plans to return to members of their network. Commu-
nity members can also utilize their social networks to learn about the plans of others in
their network who were displaced by the disaster. These others might be individuals
who, because of the disaster, are difficult to communicate with directly or individuals
who are only weakly connected or are multiple nodes away in the network. Chamlee-
Wright and Storr (2009a), for instance, examine how the Vietnamese-American com-
munity in New Orleans East was able to return and rebuild quickly after Hurricane
Katrina by relying on the extensive network between the leadership and parishioners of
the Mary Queen of Vietnam (MQVN) Church. Father Vien, the churchspastoratthe
time, was able to visit displaced residents at multiple evacuation sites in the weeks
following Katrina, share with them details about how others had weathered the storm,
and encourage his displaced parishioners to return and rebuild. Nakagawa and Shaw
(2004) explain how social networks and a community development organization in the
neighborhood of Mano in Japan, five kilometers west of Kobe, were able to share
information about rebuilding efforts and even published a weekly community newslet-
ter following the 1995 earthquake. Through various methods of communication, the
development organization and other community groups signaled a strong return.
Another set of questions that disaster victims will want to have answers to before
committing to return concerns the level of damage their homes and businesses
sustained and the strategies for repairing the damage that are most likely to be
successful. Assessing the extent of the damage is more difficult than it might appear
at first blush. Wind damage from tornadoes and hurricanes can cause structural damage
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
to buildings and flooding can cause damage, like mold, that is difficult to detect with
the naked eye and to identify without particular skills. Additionally, identifying the
viable strategies for recovery after a disaster and deciding between them can be quite
daunting. The carpenters, electricians, engineers, and contractors that disaster victims
must rely on to figure what repairs have to be made to their homes and businesses (and
to repair them) are sometimes members of their social networks and are often located
with the aid of members of their social networks. Johannisson and Olaison (2007), for
instance, examined the role of entrepreneurship after Hurricane Gudrun in Sweden and
found that Bemergency entrepreneurship^relied on bonding social capital to restructure
and integrate efforts after the storm.
And, Smith and Sutter (2013) explain how a local
insurance agent helped his customers and neighbors with claims after a tornado
destroyed homes and businesses in Joplin, Missouri.
In addition to the challenge of rebuilding their damaged homes and busi-
nesses, disaster victims often face other barriers to recovery. Disaster recovery
often depends on the restoration of public and community goods and services.
Moreover, disaster recovery can also require navigating a difficult and inflexible
bureaucratic process and even overcoming regulatory barriers that can stand in
the way of recovery. For instance, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission,
which was tasked with developing a comprehensive plan for New Orleans
recovery after Hurricane Katrina, originally designated some the communities
that suffered the most damage as potential green space and suggested that some
displaced residents not be allowed to rebuild unless they could prove that their
neighborhoods were viable. In several of these neighborhoods, social networks
proved to be important in teaching displaced residents about the threat to their
communitys rebuilding efforts and sharing information about how they might
work together collectively to overcome that threat. For instance, Chamlee-Wright
and Storr (2011b) describe how the MQVN community, organized around the
Catholic Church and led by Father Vien, were able to assemble 2000 parish-
ioners for Sunday mass two months following the storm, and therefore illustrated
the need for electricity to the local power company. When the city announced
plans to locate a landfill near MQVN, the community rallied together, and
members of the Vietnamese-American Youth Leadership Association (VAYLA)
protested in front of City Hall (ibid.). In another example, Storr and Haeffele-
Balch (2012) explain how in initial plans for the city Broadmoor was slated to
become green space. One week after the plans were released, the Broadmoor
Improvement Association (BIA), led by LaToya Cantrell, held a meeting on the
fate of the community. In addition, the BIA wrote a petition against the Bgreen
dot,^created a website to assist in outreach and rebuilding support, and orga-
nized their own Revitalization Committee to bring planning and rebuilding under
the communitys control (BIA 2006).
Finally, disaster victims can learn from and imitate those members of their
social networks that have successfully navigated the recovery process. Those
who return and rebuild most quickly not only serve as focal points around whom
While Johannisson and Olaison (ibid.) conclude that bonding social capital is the only type that can be
immediately Bput to work,^our analysis shows that it can be used in conjunction with bridging and linking
social capital to spur community recovery.
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
others can coordinate their recovery efforts, but also as guides through the the
recovery process. Patterson et al. (2010) emphasize the importance of community
and social capital in disaster decision-making and seek to develop a model which
identifies the role of community in risk perception, evacuation (e.g. residents
often look to their neighbors in deciding whether to evacuate), rebuilding (e.g.
residents share information about how to eliminate mold, what contractor to use,
or what permits are required), and recovery. Smith and Sutter (2013:176)
describe how businesses in Joplin, Missouri met together at the local chamber
ofcommerceandusedtheirnetworktoshareBspace, expertise, services, and
goods^to ensure successful recovery. Further, recognition of successful strategies
following disasters also inform preparation for future disasters and other chal-
lenges. Aldrich (2012: 101) notes how residents in Tamil Nadu, India recognized
that a neighboring community had made use of a local governance system (uur
panchayat) to coordinate relief following the 2004 tsunami, and upon seeing the
successful coordination, decided to organize a panchayat of their own.
Post-disaster community recovery depends on social learning and social
learning depends on social capital. The ties that bind community members to
each other and community leaders to those outside their communities facilitate
necessary social learning that can quicken post-disaster recovery. The rest of the
paper examines how communities in the Rockaways, New York utilized
existing social capital to address emergent needs and how social learning took
place within those communities after Hurricane Sandy. We argue that not only
is bonding social capital critical for facilitating social learning, but linking
social capital (i.e. the social links between members of different social groups)
is a vital mechanism for social learning in the midst of disaster recovery. The
experiences in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy highlight the importance
of social capital to social learning in the post-disaster context.
3 Research methodology
Our research is an extension of what began as the Gulf Coast Recovery Project,
carried out by Mercatus Center scholars and researchers following Hurricane
Katrina. The Gulf Coast Recovery Project sought to examine the political,
economic, and social aspects of recovery and adopted qualitative methods
(primarily in-depth interviews) to investigate post-disaster community redevel-
opment across New Orleans (Boettke et al. 2007). As social scientists trained in
the Austrian tradition, the scholars who participated in this project were eager
to understand how individuals on the ground were making plans, forming
expectations, carrying out action, and learning throughout the process. Further,
these scholars were interested to see how entrepreneurial action contributed or
did not contribute to larger social coordination. In order to closely examine and
interpret individual actions to access these individual plans, how expectations
are formed, and what is learned investigators adopted the method of in-depth
interviews. As Chamlee-Wright (2011: 160) has argued, qualitative methods can
serve as Ban essential component of operationalizing an economics of
meaning.^According to Chamlee-Wright (ibid.), investigators, through
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
proximity with the individual and the use of structured, though open-ended
questions, can begin to develop a more rich understanding of decision-making
on the ground and how it contributes to larger social change.
Similarly, we rely on qualitative data in our study, derived from in-depth interviews
conducted in Queens, New York on the Rockaway Peninsula during the summers of
2013 and 2014. The Rockaway Peninsula was selected as the location for interviews
because various socioeconomic indicators for the area were roughly equivalent to New
York City-wide averages and the damage sustained was similar to the damage found in
other areas. In addition, the communities on the Rockaway Peninsula contain residents
who reside there full-time, unlike some of the coastal areas (particularly in New Jersey)
that are primarily second homes. According to 2010 Census figures, the high school
graduation rate for the Peninsula is approximately 78 % (compared to the City average
of 80.1 %) and median household income is $49,498 (City is $52,737), with a poverty
rate of 20.8 % (City is 20.6 %).
The City averages are only slightly better than those
for the Peninsula. The damage sustained was not as significant as in some communities
(e.g. Staten Island), however, flooding did result in property losses.
The interview guides used after Hurricane Sandy are based off of the interview
guides used for the Gulf Coast Recovery Project. The guides are constructed to ask
questions about pre-storm history (e.g. How long have you lived in the community?
What was the community like before Hurricane Sandy?), storm-story (e.g. Did you
evacuate? How did you weather the storm?), and post-Sandy life. Because of the robust
activities among civil society groups following Hurricane Katrina documented by the
Gulf Coast Recovery Project (for example, see Chamlee-Wright and Storr 2009a,b;
Storr and Haeffele-Balch 2012; Grube and Storr 2014), and our own interests on the
role of civil society post-disaster, we focused our interviews on residents and non-profit
groups. We interviewed several different organizations, including Catholic Charities
Brooklyn and Queens, the Rockaway Youth Task Force (a group made-up of young
leaders on the Rockaway Peninsula), members of the Orthodox Jewish community, and
a club that organized return and rebuilding among the surfing community. The orga-
nizations were selected from newspaper and online research of activity in the Rocka-
way Peninsula, and we deliberately sought out groups that served different demograph-
ic groups.
As we were walking the communities and interviewing several residents of the
Orthodox Jewish community, it quickly became clear that the community had carried
out a well-organized response to Hurricane Sandy. In order to understand the relation-
ships and various organizations involved in the effort, we elected to do a deeper dive
into the Orthodox Jewish community rather than continuing to broaden our study. In
this case, we intentionally followed up with references named in earlier interviews. The
individual stories provided information on how relationships and experiences of the
community were utilized to coordinate a collective recovery. This discovery process
revealed the embedded nature of the Orthodox Jewish community, where residents who
are members of different synagogues are nonetheless connected by networks of rabbis,
An interested reader might go to Chamlee-Wrights(2011) article, where she articulates the connection
between the interpretive turn in economics (of which Chamlee-Wrights teacher, Lavoie, was a key voice) and
the use of qualitative methods in economics.
From 2010 Census data for zip codes 11,691, 11,697, and 11,694. Available online at http://factfinder2.
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
schools, and various club goods that their religious leaders provide. Further, we learned
how this community engages with other groups in the broader Rockaways. These
insights into the community highlighted the importance of personal relationships and
interactions in post-disaster recovery that we could only gain from talking to residents
and community leaders.
In total, we conducted sixteen interviews. The interviews lasted between 30 min and
2 h. The interviews were recorded and then transcribed. Whenever a personstruename
is important, or details of the individual presented divulge their identity, we use their
actual name. Otherwise, we use pseudonyms for our interview subjects, which are
denoted with the B
^symbol. In addition to the interview data, we used secondary
sources (e.g. news stories, magazine articles, and written histories) to find information
and corroborate data.
4 Social learning in Rockaways, New York
The Rockaway Peninsula is the outer most area of the Borough of Queens in New York
City. The Peninsula was once a popular summer resort getaway for wealthy New
Yorkers, but has since become a mixed-income residential area, including numerous
public housing buildings as well as middle- and upper-class residential areas. However,
over a third of the seven square miles of land on the Peninsula is still dedicated to
recreational use and open space, including Fort Tilden and the Rockaway Boardwalk
and Beach, which are frequently utilized by New Yorkers seeking a daytrip getaway.
The Rockaways population was just under 115,000 people in 2010, and the percentage
of the population on income assistance is roughly the same as New York City as a
whole, at 35 % in 2013.
Far Rockaway is one of the largest communities on the Peninsula, with roughly half
of the total population. According to a profile in the New York Times in 2008, Far
Rockaway consists of a large immigrant population as well as a large Orthodox Jewish
community constituting approximately one fifth of the population (Hughes 2008). The
communitydiverse in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and incomehosts com-
muters who work in New York City as well as locals that maintain a relatively isolated
life out on the Peninsula.
The Orthodox Jewish community has thrived in the area, forming dozens of
synagogues, schools, and other organizations. Residents live within walking distance
of their synagogue and shop in the local kosher groceries and restaurants. Organizations
have been created to help residents abide by the laws of the Torah and navigate
medical, legal, and financial issues, including the Hatzalah volunteer ambulance service
and Achiezer Community Resource Center.
This close-knit community had numerous
social networks to rely on after Hurricane Sandy, including a network of local rabbis
and preexisting organizations like Achiezer as well as ties to the broader Orthodox
Jewish community in New York City. Across town, there are neighborhoods consisting
primarily of public housing units and apartment complexes where heterogeneous
For these statistics and more, see the profile of Queens Community District 14,
For more information, see and
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
groups have weak social connections. However, non-profit organizations, such as the
Rockaway Youth Task Force, were able to utilize these weak ties to provide disaster
assistance to the community.
In both groups, community leaders were able to (a) utilize previously established
networks and organizational structures to provide resources and information in the
immediate aftermath of the storm and (b) create new initiatives to tackle pressing
problems and imitated the successful efforts of others within their community. As the
following examples will highlight, the strong ties of the Orthodox Jewish community
enabled them to recover by capitalizing on their expertise and relationships without the
need of much government assistance. Further, despite the loosely-connected heteroge-
neous character of more densely populated neighborhoods, community leaders were
able to utilize their existing organizational structures and imitate the successful efforts
of the Orthodox Jewish community to fill the gap of immediate assistance while they
waited for formal reinforcements.
4.1 Altering existing organizational structures
4.1.1 Achiezer and the Community Assistance Fund
The Achiezer Community Resource Center is a crisis center in Far Rockaway, New
York, which was established in 2009 as a multi-faceted support center for the Orthodox
Jewish community in Far Rockaway. Rabbi Boruch B. Bender, the founder and
president of Achiezer, decided to start the Center after experiencing a sudden illness
and subsequent surgeries and hospital stays. He realized he could help others navigate
the medical system, and soon Achiezer became a one-stop-shop for providing assistance
with health, financial, and legal issues. The Center incorporates and utilizes the complex
network of local rabbis, who refer clients, give advice, and assist the Center in providing
goods and services to the community that are consistent with their religious beliefs.
Whenever unexpected issues arise, people turn to Achiezer for help. As Hurricane
Irene approached in 2011, Achiezer received more than 500 phone calls asking for help
in preparation of the storm. And Rabbi Bender made sure they could help, working with
Hatzalah, the local volunteer ambulance service, to transport 70 disabled and elderly
citizens to inland shelters (Bensoussan 2012). While Hurricane Irene did little damage to
the area, it became clear that people would turn to Achiezer if a similar crisis arose.
As Hurricane Sandy approached, Rabbi Bender held a meeting at Achiezer with
community leaders, organization representatives, and local officials on Sunday after-
noon. At the meeting, they discussed contingency plans in case the storm proved more
powerful than expected. Achiezer also issued email notifications with information
about the storm including road closures, evacuation procedures, reports on damage,
as well as resources for response and recovery. They started by utilizing their
preexisting email database of roughly 9000 contacts, and over 1180 people requested
to be added to list in the days following the storm. The next afternoon, as the storm
came closer and as the weather got increasingly worse, the phone calls started coming
in. That first night, Rabbi Bender estimates that they received 500 phone calls and
coordinated assistance efforts as residents dealt with flooding, power outages, and
For more information on the Rockaway Youth Task Force, see
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
damage. After the Achiezer offices lost power and telephone service, they moved the
entire operation to Rabbi Benders house and set up in his dining room. For the next
week, Achiezer fielded approximately 1500 phone calls a day and helped transport over
300 families whose houses had flooded to temporarily relocate to Brooklyn, Queens,
and other locations (Bensoussan 2012).
The communitys connections with other Orthodox Jewish communities across the
country proved vital to getting resources. Three synagoguesthe Young Israel of
Wavecrest and Bayswater, the White Shul in Far Rockaway, and the Shor Yoshuv
Institute in Lawrencestarted getting volunteers and donations and became relief
centers for the community. Achiezer helped field donations, secure generators, and
distribute supplies. For example, kosher food came in from Brooklyn, Queens, and
upstate New York, gas and generators were delivered from Baltimore, and trucks
arrived to take damaged holy books and give them a proper burial, as required by
religious doctrine and customs.
In order to coordinate the influx of monetary donations, Achiezer and the Davis
Memorial Fund, reinitiated the Community Assistance Fund (CAF) bank account,
which had previously been used to help community members during the recession.
They developed a structure for assessing claims and distributing funds, led by a three-
person board of trustees. Further, they recruited local community members with needed
expertise (for example, attorneys, an accountant, and a professional fundraiser). The
CAF team also enlisted the help of 48 rabbis, located throughout Far Rockaway, to
work as representatives to spread the word about the program and help residents apply
for funding. The representatives served many functions during the process, often
listening to peoples stories, providing emotional support, and recommending contrac-
tors and vendors. Once residents filled out applications, the representatives submitted
them to the board of trustees, who would review the applications and make final
decisions on funding.
The CAF program was broken down into three phases.
The first phase, called
emergency cash assistance, was $20003000 per household for generators and emer-
gency resources. Phase 2, the coming home project, averaged around $10,000 per
household and went toward removing water and mold and other repairs so families
could return to their homes as quickly as possible. And finally, phase 3 provided major
financial assistance for the rebuilding of homes damaged by the storm. Overall, $11.3
million was raised and distributed to over 1000 families. Less than a year after the
storm, Rabbi Bender expressed pride in his teams ability to raise and distribute the
funds quickly and efficiently,
the staggering fact from this, which I am extremely proud of, and I want you to
watch the media and the Attorney General speaking about the fact that a lot of
places who raised money for Sandy, but it still didnt get out. We raised it, $11
million, and we gave out $11 million and there was no overhead costs.
By utilizing the preexisting organization and networks of the community,
Rabbi Bender turned Achiezer into a disaster crisis center that funneled and
For more information see this video on CAF:
For more information, see
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
distributed needed information and resources. This effort was possible given the
strength and connections embedded within the Orthodox Jewish community,
which utilized both the bonding and bridging social capital as Achiezer relied
upon the network of rabbis to implement CAF to their various congregations.
4.1.2 Young Israel relief center
Within a day after the storm, the Young Israel of Wavecrest and Bayswater transformed
into a relief center for the Bayswater community, where residents could get hot meals
and supplies, access power and the internet, and coordinate efforts to clear debris and
repair their homes. The synagogue is in many ways the center of the community and
was the logical place for residents to turn to after a disaster.
Shaindle Russell, or Mrs. Russell as she is referred to by her neighbors, is a
longtime resident of Bayswater. The morning after Sandy hit, she was relieved
that her house was not flooded and went for a walk with a friend to check out
the rest of the neighborhood. They came upon Agudas Yisroel of Bayswater and
mourned the devastation of the synagogue and holy books. It was then that she
realized the damage inflicted on her neighborhood. In a piece for Jewish Action,
Mrs. Russell (2013) recalled, BThatswhenithitme:myhousewasfine,my
family was fine, but my neighborhood wasnt. I had to help.^They then went to
Young Israel and spoke to the Rabbi about addressing the need to provide
electricity and food. As Mrs. Russell recalls, BIsaid,You are going to have a
food issue.So he goes, Okay, we are opening a food pantry and you are in-
charge.So I was like, Okay, no problem.^
Mrs. Russell got right to work preparing the kitchen and calling in requests for
donations. She explained that within a few hours they received food from the
Jewish Community Council, and by the third or fourth day they were serving 300
400 people three hot meals a day as well as snacks. She received food from
catering companies in Brooklyn and placed orders for fresh produce and other
goods from a local grocery store. Mrs. Russell and three of her friends ran the
kitchen from 7 AM to midnight every day for 2 weeks. They set up the food,
cleared dishes, and talked with residents.
Young Israel became a needed social space, not just a place to receive food
and supplies. As Mrs. Russell recalls, BAnybody who needed anything was
the word got out through lots of phone calls that we were the resource in the
area.^In between meals, Mrs. Russell and her friends would talk to the other
residents, providing emotional support and sharing information, including how to
apply for CAF assistance. When spirits were down, Mrs. Russell helped people
cope by bringing up imagery of summer camp. She recalled that, BItold
everybody, Okay guys, when the chips are down this is summer camp, sing,
just stay happy.^
Further, the Rockaway Citizens Safety Patrol (RCSP), a volunteer group in
Bayswater and Far Rockaway, set up their headquarters at Young Israel to aid the
recovery effort. While the RCSP is a primarily Jewish organization, they are concerned
with the overall safety of the community and patrol the entire neighborhood and
maintain a 24-h hotline. As Jason Shtundel, the founder of the RCSP explains, BOne
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
of the benefits of having a citizens patrol is that we know our neighbors and we know
what is out of the ordinary. If I see a stranger in a car that I know belongs to my
neighbor, I do not have to think twice about calling the police^(The Wave 2013).
The RCSP expanded their role in the community in the days before and after Sandy.
Volunteers helped to evacuate sick and elderly individuals in the community prior to the
storm and helped to distribute hot food prepared in the kitchen by Mrs. Russell and
coordinate debris, water, and mold removal in the weeks following the storm. They also
extended patrol hours to cover the neighborhood 24/7. The Bayswater community did
not suffer from looting after the storm.
As the recovery effort went on, and more and more goods and services were
funneled through Young Israel, the Rabbi asked a resident, Tom Schmitz
and coordinate operations. Schmitz mediated between the Red Cross, National Guard,
and other groups that came to Bayswater and wanted to donate or help with the
recovery effort in some way.
Young Israel quickly became the hub for disaster relief and recovery in Bayswater.
The preexisting organizational structure of the synagogue and its members enabled an
easy transition to provide goods and services after the storm. Further, the neighbor-
hoods leaders, including Mrs. Russell, Shtundel, Schmitz, and others, stepped up to
fulfil the immediate and longer term recovery needs of the community. Their efforts
exemplify the importance of bonding social capital to facilitate post-disaster recovery.
4.1.3 The Rockaway Youth Task Force distribution center
Across town, families and elderly residents were stuck without electricity and hot water
in a neighborhood of densely populated apartment complexes and public housing units.
Milan Taylor, the founder and president of the Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF),
realized he could help his community in the days immediately following the storm.
Taylor started RYTF in 2011 in order to encourage young residents of the Rockaways
to engage in civic and community affairs in order to address social ills, such as gang
violence, teen pregnancies, and unemployment. Taylor, a college student raised in the
Rockaways, was able to use his interest in criminal justice and his passion for his
community to inspire others to do the same. After Hurricane Sandy, Taylor utilized his
connections and experiences from RYTF, including his prior community disaster
response training, to provide resources to the community.
Taylor evacuated for the storm, but returned the next morning and immediately went
to work. He arranged to set up a distribution center in the space of a local co-op and
used social media to ask for volunteers and donations. Within 3 days, Taylor and over
100 volunteers were distributing bags with 2 daysworth of supplies to residents in
three large apartment complexes (Miller 2012). As one RYTF member, Shalaka Cox
told CBS News,BTheres times when it might be overwhelming but then I think about
what were actually doing. I think in the last few days weve been able to reach over
The RCSP works closely with the 101st Precinct, the nearby police station. The RCSP can follow-up on
reported suspicions before calling the police, and the RCSP can also monitor a situation while waiting for
police to arrive.
Admittedly, the concern over looted following disaster is perhaps overstated. For example, see Barsky et al.
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
500 families, so knowing that keeps me going^(ibid.). The distribution center operated
for about a week, until the electricity was restored to the neighborhood.
Because of the RYTFs familiarity with the community, they realized that many of the
residents, particularly the elderly, would have a difficult time climbing the dark stairwells
of their apartment complexes in order to go to the National Guard and FEMA distribution
centers. Instead, they decided to bring supplies to the residents. Taylor recalled,
[P]art of what I saw, when we were collecting the food from the National
Guarda lot of people were standing in lines for this food. And I just thought
about, okay if you are an elderly or disabled person, how are you getting the food,
so we actually werent a traditional distribution site. What we did is we worked in
two phases, the first phase, we did a canvas, where we knocked on door-to-door,
and we saw who needed goods and services. And then on the second visit, which
we did the same day, we kind of created a checklist for each household. And then
we went back and created custom [bags] for them.
During that week, Taylor proved that he knew the needs of the community and could
provide the local knowledge needed to obtain and distribute resources, highlighting the
importance of bridging social capital in loosely-connected, heterogeneous groups. In an
interview with CBS News, Taylor concluded that, BThere is no community leadership
guiding FEMA, guiding the Red Cross, because theyre not from this community, so
they dont know where the needs are^(ibid.). And in the months following the storm,
Taylor worked a liaison for the Red Cross in an effort to share his experiences and
lessons from the storm. The bridging social capital formed through participating in the
RYTF proved useful when calling on volunteers to work the distribution center and
check on elderly neighbors in the immediate days after Hurricane Sandy.
4.2 Innovation and imitation from within and outside of the community
4.2.1 Implementing the Community Assistance Fund
As mentioned previously, the Community Assistant Fund was organized by Achiezer
and the Davis Memorial Fund. They enlisted the help of 48 rabbis to spread the word
about the Fund and help residents with applications. Once applications were submitted,
the board of trustees would review and approve requests for funding. While CAF was
structured to ensure that the funds were handled appropriately and distributed to
residents in need, they also relied on local rabbis to implement the Fund in their
neighborhoods. The decentralized nature of using representatives allowed for innova-
tion in how rabbis disseminated information about the Fund and collected applications.
The story of Rabbi Mordechai Kruger, a rabbi at the Agudas Yisroel of Bayswater
and CAF representative for the Bayswater community, exemplifies the innovations that
came out of implementing the Fund. Rabbi Krugers prior experience and personal
relationships with his community enabled him to not only get residents to sign up for
CAF, but to also find new ways of collecting data on the interests and needs of the
Starting in 2002, Rabbi Kruger founded the Bayswater Neighbors Fund to provide
short-term support for those in need. The small donations are intended to help families
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
purchase food for holidays, pay their monthly bills, or cover tuition for school. While
Rabbi Kruger relies on other members of the community to observe when someone
needs help and consults the other rabbis in the community for guidance, he aims to
keep the donations and distributions anonymous. The residents of Bayswater trust him
to distribute the funds to worthy families who are trying to be responsible and get back
on their feet. Additionally, he has worked as a case worker for Met Council and now is
a director of a non-profit that helps Jewish adults identify their career goals and gain the
training and experience needed to fulfil their goals.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Rabbi Kruger utilized his experience and
skillset to help the Bayswater community recover. He recalls how he assumed the
position of representing Bayswater for CAF, Bafter 36 hours [Achiezer] was asking
these volunteers to coordinate distributions of funds, and I dont know if anybody told
me to go, I just kind of showed up[and said] okay, I will do it.^The reputation he had
built in the community helped him reach out to those who needed help. Rabbi Kruger
noted that,
Sandy was very equal opportunity and nobody did anything wrong, but people
were very embarrassed [to ask for help]. So trust and comfort and being willing to
talk about your loses, its not easy, so wemobilize[d] people who already had
trust in the community, the rabbis, other community activists, whatever I had
been doing, that definitely makes the whole thing easier.
By utilizing trusted members of the community, Rabbi Kruger was able to spread the
word about CAF, encourage applications, and help the community receive the supplies
and resources it needed to recover. He worked with a couple in the neighborhood to
build a spreadsheet that would help assess the needs of the community. They developed
a list of needed goods, surveyed the neighborhood, and documented stated needs in the
spreadsheet, which was then used to match with incoming donations and coordinate
purchases. For example, if someone wanted to donate mattresses, Rabbi Kruger could
look at the spreadsheet to see how many mattresses were destroyed in the storm. Rabbi
Kruger explained the benefits of the spreadsheet,
What that ended up doing was that there were fund givers who would come
forward with specific interests...[W]e were able to pull that informationwe can
tell you how many of those we need[T]hat made it a lot easier to approach
funders and it really sped up the relief effort.
Rabbi Kruger also relied on the volunteers at the relief center at Young Israel
of Wavecrest and Bayswater, to talk to residents and encourage them to apply for
CAF resources. They helped spread the word about CAF by sending emails,
handing out fliers, and checking on the elderly by going door-to-door. In
particular, Rabbi Kruger relied on Mrs. Russell, who ran the kitchen at Young
Israel after the storm. He frequently relies on her connection to the community to
determine which families need help and should receive funds from the Bayswater
Neighborhood Fund, and did the same when spreading the word about CAF after
Hurricane Sandy. As Mrs. Russell recalled, B[Rabbi Kruger] saw that I really had
that in control so then he goes, Do me a favor, I have these applications. Can
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
you work the crowd and find out who needs money and whose houses were
destroyed and we can get them the money.^So after the food was served, and
people were eating and socializing, Mrs. Russell would walk around and talk to
residents about CAF. BI was able to work the crowd and make sure that people
filled out applications, and I had to convince some people because they didnt
want to take from anybody,^she said.
Additionally, when other residents in the community came up with innovative
ways to obtain resources, Rabbi Kruger made sure to encourage their efforts. One
Bayswater resident, Tobias Cohen
, realized that since his house had flooded and
would need repairs and new appliances, his neighbors on his street were most
likely in the same situation. So he decided to try to purchase equipment and
arrange for repairs in bulk. Cohen, an accountant with clients in property
management, used his contacts and called wholesalers and contractors to arrange
for bulk purchases and services. This enabled the neighborhood to get equipment
at a discount and entice contractors by offering a weeks worth of work instead of
piecemeal jobs. Rabbi Kruger realized the benefit this had for the community,
recalling that, Byou had ten people who would hire a guy who would do all of our
boilers so they would bring a crew and would work house, house, house, house
and it lowered the cost and that worked really well.^
The innovations in Bayswaterincluding documenting needs on a spreadsheet,
purchasing equipment and repair services in bulk, and utilizing Mrs. Russell and other
trusted community members to spread the word about CAFwere communicated to
the broader Orthodox Jewish community in CAF meetings at Achiezer. Rabbi Kruger
explained that initially, no one really knew what to do,
[T]here was a huge amount of learning because nobody knew how to do this
stuff. It wasnt like we had practiced drills, and we originally sat in a room and
just kind of looked at each other, we didntreallyknowwhattodoand so
Achiezer and the Community Assistance Fund said, Bokay, we are going to start
raising moneywe dont really know how much we are going to get, but try to
get a sense of what youll need, and well see what happens.^
And as people came across problems or discovered useful resources and procedures,
they discussed them with one another. As Rabbi Kruger recollected,
Well, Achiezer was the nexus of everything and there were regular meetings there
to get together and talk about what has happened, what can we do next, what are
going to be the guidelines for the funds that are available, so I remember being
there in the dark sitting there by candlelight, and there was an enormous amount
of respect and willingness to listen and that was extremely important because
none of us knew what we were doingEverybody was given a chance to ask
whatever was on your mind, talk to anybody, nobody was rushing outThat was
extremely important.
Rabbi Kruger and his team of trusted neighbors were able to tap into the bonding
social capital in Bayswater in order to develop new procedures for assessing damages,
disseminating information about CAF, and coordinating repairs.
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
4.2.2 The White Shul relief center
As mentioned previously, three synagogues became resource centers that provided
warm meals, clothing, generators, and other needed goods and services. These resource
centers served as focal points, where residents could talk to neighbors, get
supplies, and coordinate repairs. While the center at Young Israel was up and
running within a day of the storm, the White Shul in Far Rockaway was not
utilized as a relief center right away, but rather became one as the week went on
and residents realized they needed to address the pressing issues of a prolonged
lack of electricity, supplies, and schooling. Like Young Israel, the White Shul was
the logical location to gather since it was in many ways the spiritual and cultural
center of the Orthodox Jewish community.
While Chaim Leibtag, the president at the White Shul, had lived and worked
in the Far Rockaway Orthodox Jewish community for decades, he was new to
his position at the synagogue. However, this did not stop him from jumping right
in and working with others in the community to turn the synagogue into a relief
center. His first call was to a rabbi at Young Israel, who could help him find
contacts for generators, food, clothing, and other donations. By utilizing his
network in the community, Leibtag was able to imitate the successful efforts of
the Young Israel, and in short order the White Shul was up and running as a
relief center.
They were able to borrow a spare generator from Young Israel, and quickly set up
outdoor lighting typically used for holidays, a charging station, and even hooked up a
wireless internet connection so members of the congregation could use the internet to
check on family and request supplies and services. Then food and clothing started
coming in, including fresh groceries donated by a local grocer. Volunteers and residents
began cooking hot meals, serving roughly 300 meals three times a day, and setting up
space to distribute supplies.
Once the relief center was established, Leibtag and other volunteers found new ways
to handle donations and provide services to the community. For instance, a truck of
gasoline was arranged to stop at the synagogue. When someone from Maryland offered
to pay for a bus to take people who wanted to get away down south, Leibtag asked
them to return the empty bus with full containers of gasoline. He then emailed out
instructions to the congregation, setting up times to pick up filled containers of gas,
giving first priority to emergency personnel and then fulfilling the needs of residents.
The distribution went smoothly and provided needed fuel to run generators and
equipment for repairs.
As the adults dealt with relief and rebuilding efforts, the children of the congregation
were getting restless. Leibtag worked with some parents and teenage volunteers to set
up activities, lessons, and entertainment. These activities went well into the evening
each night and was a welcome break for the adults who were dealing with clearing
debris, draining floodwater, and rebuilding their homes.
Leibtag then worked with a local pediatrician to set up a clinic in the White Shul. Dr.
Hylton Lightmans office suffered over five feet of flood water and sewage.
Fortunately, he and his wife had prepared by storing their vaccine inventory and
computer with electronic records during the storm and could easily set up shop in a
temporary location. As Dr. Lightman (2013)recalled,BWithin 72 h of Mr. Leibtags
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
offer, we were fully operational.^Dr. Lightman ended up staying at the White Shul for
6 months while his office was gutted and rebuilt.
And, when FEMA arrived two weeks after the storm, they set up an information
center in the White Shul since it was the place where residents came for food,
resources, and information.
According to Leibtag, the National Guard also came by
around 2 weeks into recovery and offered a truck load of food. Since they already had
food services up and running, Leibtag offered the additional supplies to a local church.
By being flexible and utilizing his connections in the community, Leibtag ensured
that the congregation had the support they needed to recover. He relied on his social
network to learn from the Young Israel relief center and was innovative when new
opportunities and issues arose. Further, he shared these lessons and resources with
organizations outside of the Orthodox Jewish community. Leibtagsaccesstoboth
bonding and bridging social capital was essential in learning how to establish a relief
center after the storm.
4.2.3 Improving the Rockaway Youth Task Force distribution center
As highlighted in the previous section, Milan Taylor and the Rockaway Youth Task
Force utilized their existing social networks to mobilize a distribution center and supply
delivery service after Hurricane Sandy. Taylor recognized the challenges that traditional
distributions centers faced and altered his operation to better serve the needs of the
community. Further, he surveyed other relief and recovery efforts and imitated useful
aspects of their operations.
For instance, Taylor decided to drive through other neighborhoods and survey the
damage of the Peninsula. When he drove through Bayswater, he realized that many
homes had generators within days of the storm. Since he knew some of the Orthodox
Jewish community leaders from civic organizations and meetings, he stopped by Young
Israel and was impressed by their operations. When he got back to the distribution
center, he imitated their organizational system and started using walkie-talkies like he
saw being used at the synagogue.
Taylor was able to alter the typical organization of distributional center in order to
fulfil the needs of residents stranded in large apartment complexes after the storm and
to imitate useful practices from the efforts of the Orthodox Jewish community. While
they provided support for different communities in the Rockaways, Taylor was able to
observe and imitate the close-knit group of the Orthodox Jewish community in order to
provide better services to his own loosely-connected neighborhood. Taylorsefforts
exemplify how linking social capital can be accessed to enhance recovery after a
5 Implications and conclusion
After a disaster, communities are faced with limited resources and uncertainty. Whether
residents evacuate and have to determine when to return or if they stay and have to find
See notice from The Jewish Star, available online at
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
ways to obtain resources while they wait for services to be restored, communities rely
on one another to signal and coordinate return and recovery efforts. After Hurricane
Sandy, the Rockaways suffered from flooding, wind damage, and prolonged power
outages. Despite this, community leaders in neighborhoods throughout the Peninsula
were able to coordinate relief and recovery efforts by utilizing their preexisting social
networks and engaging in entrepreneurial acts that allowed for social learning to take
place. In the post-disaster context, social learningwhich takes place across bonding,
bridging, and linking forms of social capitaloccurs when communities are able to (a)
adapt existing organization structures and (b) create new procedures and imitate the
successful actions of others in order to spur recovery.
There are several important implications to the study. First, our research
illustrates that even individuals who are outside of close-knit, homogeneous, and
highly effective groups, such as the Orthodox Jewish community (or the Mary
Queen of Vietnam community), stand to benefit from the innovations of those
groups. Social learning can take place through bonding social capital, but it can
also take place through bridging and linking social capital and can accrue benefits
to other groups. Taylor, of the RYTF, had a weak tie with the Orthodox Jewish
community, and was able to use this connection to see their recovery efforts and
then imitate a few of their best practices in his own group. This finding lessens
some of the concerns around Bthe dark side of social capital,^or, specifically,
worries that the benefits of social capital only accrue to some, at the exclusion of
others (for example, see Aldrich 2012 chapter 5).
Second, the argument presented and empirical evidence serve as a counter to
literature that suggests formal assistance, or government-led aid, is required to
ensure effective response and rebuilding (see, for instance, Birch and Wachter
2006; Schneider 2008; Cigler 2009;Springer2011). Further, the study identifies a
potential advantage for civil society organizations over government assistance
programs. Social learning, and the ability to alter existing organizational structures
and adopt best practices from successful groups, is especially important in the
post-disaster context because circumstances are widely uncertain and apt to
change. Not only are no two disasters identical, but the problems that residents
confront 1 day after the storm are not necessarily the same problems they must
take on 2 weeks later. This implication is closely related, and further corroborates
the arguments made by Coyne and Lemke (2012)andStorretal.(2015) regarding
the flexibility and adaptability of polycentric systems (which make room for civil
society organizations) over monocentric systems (which privilege government led
action), that tend to be rigid and inflexible.
Third, although social learning can help to increase coordination in the post-disaster
scenario, there are also actions and policies that can frustrate social learning and prevent
recovery. Policymakers should avoid such policies. Chamlee-Wright (2007) has de-
scribed various sources of signal noise, such as (1) regulatory rigidity, (2) complications
around flood maps and flood insurance, and (3) redevelop planning (in particular,
attempts to engage in comprehensive planning that requires too much time to develop
and carry out and planning that ignores established property rights). All three of these
items increase the costs or prevent individuals from beginning the recovery process.
When individuals cannot act, then the opportunity for improvement in judgment
as a result of learning from others does not take place and individuals cannot
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
imitate successful others. In other words, when post-disaster environments are
riddled with signal noise and other burdensome policies, the possibility for social
learning is eliminated. Instead, Chamlee-Wright (ibid.) and Smith and Sutter
(2013) have recommended suspending certain regulations (e.g. occupational
licensing) and allowing for decentralized recovery efforts (as opposed to com-
prehensive plans). Our study highlights the importance of social learning in post-
disaster recovery and, therefore, argues that a stable and encouraging policy
environment will facilitate recovery.
Aldrich, D. (2011). The power of people: social Capitals role in recovery from the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
Natural Hazards, 56(3), 595611.
Aldrich, D. (2012). Building resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery. Chicago: University of
Chicago P ress.
Aldrich, D. P., & Meyer, M. A. (2015). Social capital and community resilience. American Behavioral
Scientist, 59(2), 254269.
Barsky, L., J. Trainor, and M. Torres. (2006). Disaster Realities in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
Revisiting the Looting Myth. Disaster Research Center. Available online at:
Beggs, J., Haines, V., & Hurlbert, J. (1996). Situational contingencies surrounding the receipt of informal
support. Social Forces, 75(1), 201222.
Bensoussan, B. (2012). Mold, rot & truckloads of goodwill. Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly, 437,5462.
BIA (2006). Meeting Minutes: January 18, 2006. New Orleans, LA: Broadmoor Improvement Association,
Birch, E., & Wachter, S. (Eds.) (2006). Rebuilding urban places after disaster: lessons from Hurricane
Katrina. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Blake, E. S., T. B. Kimberlain, R. J. Berg, J. P. Cangialosi, and J. L. Beven II. (2013). Tropical Cyclone
Report: Hurricane Sandy. National Hurricane Center. Available online:
Boettke, P., Chamlee-Wright, E., Gordon, P., Ikeda, S., Leeson, P. T., & Sobel., R. (2007). The political,
economic, and social aspects of Katrina. Southern Economic Journal, 74(2), 363376.
Bolin, R., & Stanford, L. (1998). The Northridge earthquake: community-based approaches to unmet recovery
needs. Disasters, 22(1), 2138.
Bourdieu, P. (1985). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson(Ed.),Handbook of Theory and Research for the
Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood.
Burt, R. (2001). Structural Holes versus Network Closure as Social Capital. In N. Lin, K. Cook, & R. Burt
(Eds.), Social Capital: Theory and Research. New York: Aldine De Grutyer..
Chamlee-Wright, E. (2007). The Long Road Back: Signal Noise in the Post-Katrina Context. The Independent
Review, 12(2), 235259.
Chamlee-Wright, E. (2010). The cultural and political economy of recovery: social learning in a post-disaster
environment. London: Routledge.
Chamlee-Wright, E. (2011). Operationalizing the Interpretive Turn: deploying qualitative methods toward an
economics of meaning. Review of Austrian Economics, 24(2), 157170.
Chamlee-Wright, E. (2015). Pastors Response in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Navigating the cultural eco-
nomic landscape. In L. Grube & V. H. Storr (Eds.), Culture and Economic Action. London: Edward Elgar.
Chamlee-Wright, E., & Myers, J. (2008). Discovery and social learning in non-priced environments: An
Austrian view of social network theory. The Review of Austrian Economics, 21,151166.
Chamlee-Wright, E. and V. H. Storr. (2009a). BFilling the Civil Society Vacuum: Post-Disaster Policy and
Community Response.^Mercatus Center Policy Series,PolicyCommentNo.2.Arlington,VA:Mercatus
Center at George Mason University.
Chamlee-Wright, E., & Storr, V. H. (2009b). Club Goods and Post-Disaster Community Return. Rationality
and Society, 21(4), 429458.
Chamlee-Wright, E., & Storr, V. H. (2010). The Role of Social Entrepreneurship in Post-Katrina Community
Recovery. International Journal of Innovation and Regional Development, 2(1/2), 149164.
Storr V.H. et al.
Author's personal copy
Chamlee-Wright, E., & Storr, V. H. (2011). Social capital, lobbying, and Community-Based Interest Groups.
Public Choice, 149(12), 167185.
Cigler, B. (2009). Post-Katrina hazard mitigation on the Gulf coast. Public Organization Review, 9(4), 325
Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology,
94(supplement), S95S120.
Coyne, C., & Lemke, J. (2012). Lessons from the Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery. American
Journal of Economics and Sociology, 71(1), 215228.
Elliott, J., & Pais, J. (2006). Race, class, and Hurricane Katrina: social differences in human responses to
disaster. Social Science Research 35, 295321.
Grube, L., & Storr, V. H. (2014). The capacity for self-governance and post-disaster resiliency. The Review of
Austrian Economics, 27(3), 301324.
Hawkins, R. L., & Maurer, K. (2010). Bonding, bridging and linking: how social capital operated in New
Orleans following hurricane Katrina. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 17771793.
Helliwell, J., & Putnam., R. (1995). Economic growth and Social Capital in Italy. Eastern Economic Journal,
21(3), 295307.
Hurlbert, J., Haines, V., & Beggs, J. (2000). Core networks and tie activation: what kinds of routine networks
allocate resources in Nonroutine situations? American Sociological Review, 65(4), 598618.
Hurlbert, J., Beggs, J., & Haines, V. (2001). Social Capital inExtreme Environments. In N. Lin, K. Cook, & R.
Burt (Eds.), Social Capital: Theory and Research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter..
Johannisson, B., & Olaison, L. (2007). The moment of truthreconstructing entrepreneurship and social
capital in the eye of the storm. Review of Social Economy, 65(1), 5578.
Lightman, H. (2013). Hurricane Sandy a spiritual response: voices from the storm. Jewish Action, 73(3), 28
Miller, M. 2012. BYouthhelpguideSandyreliefeffortinQueens.^CBS News. Available online: http://www.
Nakagawa, Y., & Shaw, R. (2004). Social capital: a missing link to disaster recovery. International Journal of
Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 22(1), 534.
Patterson, O., Weil, F., & Patel, K. (2010). The role of community in disaster response: conceptual models.
Population Research and Policy Review, 29(2), 127141.
Portes, A. (2000). The two meanings of social capital. Sociological Forum, 15(1), 112.
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon &
Russell, S. (2013). Hurricane Sandy a spiritual response: voices from the storm. Jewish Action, 73(3), 3536.
Schneider, S. (2008). Whos to blame? (Mis)perceptions of the intergovernmental response to disasters.
Plubius.The Journal of Federalism, 38(4), 715738.
Smith, D., & Sutter, D. (2013). Response and recovery after the Joplin tornado: lessons applied and lessons
learned.^The.Independent Review, 18(2), 165188.
Springer, C. G. (2011). Achieving community preparedness post-Katrina. Available at: http://
Storr, V. H., & Haeffele-Balch, S. (2012). Post-disaster community recovery in heterogeneous, loosely
connected communities. Review of Social Economy, 70(3), 295314.
Storr, V. H., Haeffele-Balch, S., & Grube, L. (2015). Community revival in the wake of disaster lessons in
local entrepreneurship. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Wave. 2013. BRockaway Citizens Safety Patrol Report.^The Wave, November 29, 2013. Available
Webler, T., Kastenholz, H., & Renn, O. (1995). Public Participation in Impact Assessment: A Social Learning
Perspective. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 15, 443463.
Woolcock, M. (2001). The place of Social Capital in Understanding Social and Economic Outcomes.
Canadian Journal of Policy Research, 2(1), 1117.
Social capital and social learning after Hurricane Sandy
Author's personal copy
... The adverse impact of flooding in Samarinda City makes flood disaster mitigation skills important in overcoming the problems of natural disasters that occur. These disaster mitigation skills need to be owned by the community because to overcome a disaster it needs to be done together (Lin et al., 2010;Storr et al., 2017;Sutter & Smith, 2017;Takahashi & Selfa, 2015). ...
... The link between natural disasters and negative CVD outcomes is clear [27][28][29]. Evidence also indicates that after extreme disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, social capital is associated with improved community health outcomes [30][31][32]. The association between social capital and improved post-hazard health outcomes is attributed to social capital improving access to life-saving resources that would not otherwise be available [33,34]. ...
Full-text available
Background As the climate continues to warm hurricanes will continue to increase in both severity and frequency. Hurricane damage is associated with cardiovascular events, but social capital may moderate this relationship. We examined the association between county-level hurricane damage and cardiovascular mortality rates after Hurricane Matthew, and the moderating effect of several aspects of social capital on this relationship in post-disaster contexts. Social capital refers to the social relationships and structures that provide individuals with material, financial, and emotional resources throughout their lives. Previous research has found an association between high levels of social capital and lower rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. In post-disaster settings, social capital may protect against CVD mortality by improving access to life saving resources. We hypothesized that higher (vs. lower) hurricane damage would be associated with higher CVD mortality and measures of social capital would be associated with decreased CVD mortality in counties affected by Hurricane Matthew. Methods County-level social data (n = 183) were compiled from federal surveys before and after Hurricane Matthew to construct, per prior literature, a social capital index based on four dimensions (sub-indices): family unity, informal civil society, institutional confidence, and collective efficacy. CVD mortality rate was constructed from epidemiological data. Changes in CVD mortality based on level of hurricane damage were assessed using regression adjustment. We used cluster robust Poisson population average models to determine the moderating effect of social capital on CVD mortality rates in both high and low damage counties. Results We found that low levels of hurricane damage are associated with increased CVD mortality rates. Among the different social capital dimensions, institutional confidence was associated with reduced initial CVD mortality in high- damage counties (p ≤ .001), but its association with CVD mortality trends was null. The overall effects of social capital and its sub-indices were largely nonsignificant. Conclusion Low levels of hurricane damage are associated with increased CVD mortality for 18 months after Hurricane Matthew. The role of social capital remains unclear. Future research should focus on improving measurement of social capital and quality of hurricane damage and CVD mortality data.
... For example, university warnings are important in preparing students for floods; however, students express that neither those nor city efforts are sufficient, and some experience frustration with university warnings when bad outcomes occur (Ponstingel et al. 2019). Campus and community education strategies may incorporate existing community networks such as civic organizations and business associations to improve flood risk perceptions and trust (Storr et al. 2017;Tierney 2019). The NWS also offers community educational opportunities focusing on severe weather (e.g., SKYWARN Spotter Training) and flood outreach (e.g., Turn Around Don't Drown). ...
Building resilience to flooding is a commitment of several universities; however, student interest in flood education programs is unclear. The goals of this research are three‐fold: 1) to determine the origin of flood messaging on the Old Dominion University (ODU) campus, 2) to assess on‐campus flood awareness, and 3) to evaluate the interest in additional flood education. This study evaluates student awareness of flooding via a survey of ODU students and contextual analysis of University warning messages. Many students experienced reduced access to campus as a result of flooding and expressed an interest in additional flood information. Some students reported receiving flood‐related information through in‐class instruction or orientation‐based programming. However, the content varies in detail, and ODU could formally integrate additional resources into outreach and flood education programming. These findings could support the development of a campus wide flood awareness program at ODU and other universities.
... This is because these students can build an infrastructure that allows people or communities to carry out environmentally-friendly activities. PEB is a more concrete form of community attitudes implementation to apply PEB, in this case, related to flooding (Krettenauer, 2017;Storr et al., 2017). ...
Full-text available
Environmental education for university level, especially in Engineering faculty, is an important issue. One of environmental issue that becomes a concern is related to flood disaster mitigation. The purpose of this study is to describe environmental attitudes (EA) and Pro-Environmental Behavior (PEB) among Engineering faculty students. The description will be used to develop a Disaster Mitigation of Flood based onOnline Learning (DIFMOL) model. The research method used is a descriptive survey technique. Instrumentsare distributed online using Google form with a sample size of 139 students taken using simple random sampling. The results show that the students’ EA scores are in a very high category (89.68) and the students' PEB are in a moderate category (60.53). It indicates that the Engineering faculty students still require an educational model development to cope with flooding. One that can be developed is a DIFMOL model. In general, aspects need to be emphasized in the DIFMOL model are those related to flood disaster mitigation efforts in urban areas. The study concludes that EA is very high and PEB is still in the medium category. The DIFMOL model innovation requires further development in the next research.
Social entrepreneurship is a form of entrepreneurship that utilizes entrepreneurial process to create long-lasting societal change. In this chapter, we briefly outline the status quo of the social entrepreneurship literature while specifically focusing on our current understanding of social entrepreneurship in the context of crises and grand challenges. We then look at the extant literature examining the role of social entrepreneurship in crises and how this enhances our insight into the role of social entrepreneurship for addressing societal grand challenges.Keywords Crisis Social entrepreneurshipGrand challengesSocial imaginary innovation
Building community resilience to disasters is promoted by governments and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction as a means of enabling communities to cope with and recover from disasters. This study was an applied research project, which aimed to explore how the actions of Australian nonprofit organisations (NPOs) contributed to building community resilience to disasters. To do this, resilience theory in the disaster setting, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and social capital theory were used to build a study framework for ‘what matters most’ when building community resilience to disasters. This framework was then applied to stakeholder noted NPO actions and strengths, to identify and critique how these organisations were perceived by stakeholders to build community resilience before, during and after disasters. This study enhances the evidence base of the role of NPOs in the disaster setting. Actions of the NPOs studied provide valued support to impacted communities and demonstrate how these organisations can enable communities to respond more effectively before, during and after disasters. Actions of the NPOs studied included: running fire and risk awareness workshops, coordinating Food Banks, establishing other community support organisations such as Men's Sheds, funding vaccinations, operating community barbeques, establishing and running tool libraries, and enabling speedy access to local assets. Strengths of the NPOs were identified by representatives of the organisations themselves and by emergency management personal. Unanimously, NPOs were recognised for their: community connections, access to vulnerable people, local knowledge, motivated volunteer base, and their creative, flexible solutions to tricky problems.
Full-text available
Natural hazards and disasters pose a serious threat to society. Efficient hazard plans are a county’s prerequisite in preparing for potential disasters and serve as primary tools to reduce community vulnerability and enhance resilience. Incorporation of structural and non-structural mitigation and recovery strategies are both important to reduce damages and for overall community development from a risk reduction perspective. However, typical pre-event planning and post-disaster recovery processes often have limited incorporation of important non-structural mitigation measures such as social capital into their overall planning. Previous studies have evaluated the quality of planning documents; however, a detailed evaluation of non-structural mitigation strategies such as social capital in existing planning documents is still lacking. This study evaluates the presence of social capital in hazards plans and aims to better understand, through stakeholder engagement, the role of social capital in disaster management and planning. Evaluation and coding results indicate that there is a limited incorporation of types of social capital such as social network, role of social organizations, shared narratives, and community participation for recovery and planning process.
Is social capital likely to be underproduced without state action? Where previous analysts have typically argued that social capital is a public good and, therefore, needs government action to be produced at an optimal level, we argue that social capital is not a public good because though often non-rivalrous, it is almost always excludable. As such, social capital is more appropriately conceived of as a club good. Further, we argue that governments are not likely to be in a position to improve a society’s social capital due to epistemic limits and the complexity of social capital. Finally, we argue that rather than a state solution, solutions to social capital-related problems are best solved through a bottom-up process. As we demonstrate throughout, this has implications for how we understand community resilience in the wake of disasters. The key role that social capital plays in facilitating community rebound after disasters has been widely acknowledged. If social capital is a public good, then policymakers could be justified in focusing on cultivating social capital as a strategy for promoting community resilience. If social capital is a club good and there are limits to top-down strategies for creating social capital, however, then social capital creation is not an available policy lever.
How can public policy best deal with infectious disease? In answering this question, scholarship on the optimal control of infectious disease adopts the model of a benevolent social planner who maximizes social welfare. This approach, which treats the social health planner as a unitary “public health brain” standing outside of society, removes the policymaking process from economic analysis. This paper opens the black box of the social health planner by extending the tools of economics to the policymaking process itself. We explore the nature of the economic problem facing policymakers and the epistemic constraints they face in trying to solve that problem. Additionally, we analyze the incentives facing policymakers in their efforts to address infectious diseases and consider how they affect the design and implementation of public health policy. Finally, we consider how unanticipated system effects emerge due to interventions in complex systems, and how these effects can undermine well‐intentioned efforts to improve human welfare. We illustrate the various dynamics of the political economy of state responses to infectious disease by drawing on a range of examples from the COVID‐19 pandemic.
Full-text available
This article responds to the points raised by Daniel P. Aldrich, Emily Chamlee-Wright, and Lori Peek in the symposium on our book Community Revival in the Wake of Disaster: Lessons in Local Entrepreneurship (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Full-text available
Despite the ubiquity of disaster and the increasing toll in human lives and financial costs, much research and policy remain focused on physical infrastructure–centered approaches to such events. Governmental organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security, United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, United States Agency for International Development, and United Kingdom’s Department for International Development continue to spend heavily on hardening levees, raising existing homes, and repairing damaged facilities despite evidence that social, not physical, infrastructure drives resilience. This article highlights the critical role of social capital and networks in disaster survival and recovery and lays out recent literature and evidence on the topic. We look at definitions of social capital, measurement and proxies, types of social capital, and mechanisms and application. The article concludes with concrete policy recommendations for disaster managers, government decision makers, and nongovernmental organizations for increasing resilience to catastrophe through strengthening social infrastructure at the community level.
In this paper, we examine the resiliency of community recovery after a natural disaster. We argue that a resilient recovery requires robust economic/financial institutions, political/legal institutions, and social/cultural institutions. We explore how politically and privately created disaster preconditions and responses have contributed to or undermined institutional robustness in the context of the Gulf Coast's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. We find that where postdisaster resiliency has been observed, private‐sector responses contributing to the health of these institutional arenas are largely responsible. Where postdisaster fragility and slowness has been observed, public‐sector responses contributing to the frailty of these institutional arenas are largely the cause. In other words, we engage in a comparative institutional analysis of civil society, entrepreneurial commercial society, and government agencies and political actors in the wake of a natural disaster.
In August 2005 the nation watched as Hurricane Katrina pummelled the Gulf Coast. Residents did not just suffer the personal costs of a home that had been severely damaged or destroyed; frequently they also lost their entire neighbourhood and the social systems that under normal circumstances made their lives "work". Katrina raised the questions of whether and how communities could solve the complex social coordination problems catastrophic disaster poses, and what inhibits them from doing so? Professor Chamlee-Wright investigates not only the nature of post-disaster recovery, but the nature of the social order itself - how societies are able to achieve a level of complex social coordination that far exceeds our ability to design. By deploying the tools of both political economy and cultural economy, the book contributes to the bourgeoning literature on the social, political and economic impact of Hurricane Katrina. Through a selection of case studies, the author argues that post-disaster resilience depends crucially upon the discovery that unfolds within commercial and civil society. The book will be of particular interest to postgraduate students and researchers in economics, sociology and anthropology as well as disaster specialists.
Social resources research has linked activated ties to outcomes-but not to the core networks from which the ties came. This study shifts the focus to the question of how networks allocate resources. The activation of core network ties is analyzed in a nonroutine situation-a hurricane-to determine how core network structure affects the degree to which individuals activate core network ties to gain one type of social resource-informal support. Results show that the structures of individuals' core networks affect the degree to which individuals activate ties from those networks to gain informal support. Individuals embedded in higher-density core networks (i.e., alters are connected to one another), core networks with more gender diversity (i.e., a mix of men and women), and networks that contain higher proportions of men, kin, and younger individuals, activated core network ties for informal support to a greater degree than did individuals embedded in core networks lacking these characteristics. The conclusions consider the study's implications for understanding resource activation in the contexts of social support and job searches.