The Laboratory for Social Science Research conducts studies aimed at strengthening natural, built, economic, and social environments against natural or manmade disasters, which are inherently social events, and improving the ability of individuals and families, neighborhoods and communities, and their social institutions to prepare for, respond to and recover from such events.
The Laboratory for Social Science Research goal is to help communities prepare for and improve their ability to respond to hazards, and help them recover from disasters stronger than before. Its objective is to provide useful research findings to policy- and program decision makers toward these ends. To achieve this goal and objective, the LSSR conducts collaborative research projects with colleagues and graduate students from the entire spectrum of social science disciplines, e.g., Anthropology, Business Administration, Communications, Economics, Education, Environmental Science, Geography, Law, Political Science, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Social Welfare, Urban and Regional Studies. Its multidisciplinary approach focuses on quality of life, sustainable growth, livable communities (see graphic), and – to facilitate translation of research findings into sustained applications – on community partnerships. Of prime interest are the social processes that affect coordination in decision-making and cooperation in action with emphasis on policies, and programs that affect especially vulnerable groups. To improve prospects for enduring and cogent products, the LSSR includes the entire range of community social structures – from families, civic and social organizations, schools, government, and businesses – using a continuous rather than episodic time orientation, providing a long-term view and an integrated perspective before, during and after a disaster.
“A vision without a task is but a dream,
A task without a vision is drudgery,
A vision and a task are the hope of the world.”
– From a church in Sussex, England, c. 1730
Since Hurricane Andrew, founding and current LSSR social scientists have conducted research on hurricanes’ human impacts and interpreted the results to make them usable by policy and program decision makers. Their multidisciplinary work employs multiple levels and units of analysis and time perspectives– from families to government, from hours to years. The social science research agenda at IHRC includes:
- Hazard knowledge — Information availability and sources; how it is apprehended (language, culture, jargon), comprehended (consistency, advisory content, presentation modes and media, approaches), and believed (perceived candor and precision).
- Evacuation — Differences among population subgroups in how that they perceive risk and ways that their perceptions change over time. Factors that compete with hazard information as a basis for action, family-based issues in household evacuation decisions, prevention of shadow evacuations, costs and benefits of warnings.
- Mitigation — Both structural and non-structural, household factors (economics, health issues, age of residents), local and regional emergency management planning initiatives, social marketing, especially to local decision makers, inclusion of mitigation planning in locality-based planning, and program evaluation.
- Vulnerability assessment — Social vulnerability assessment with place-based investigations to identify assets and weaknesses in the social, economic, natural, and built environments and facilitate their strengthening to maximize resilience against natural hazards.
- Increasing resiliency of high-risk populations — Population subgroups that research has shown to be more vulnerable to hazards, such as the elderly, households with health/mobility problems, renters, the low-income, and racial or ethnic minorities.
The LSSR program emphasizes geographic information systems for data analysis e.g. survey research, census, land use and zoning, transportation, and for comprehensible presentation of complex ecologically interrelated information. Crosscutting interests are health – physical, mental, family, social – as mediators and outcomes, and integrating hazard reduction/mitigation with mainstream urban planning. The LSSR strives both to create basic knowledge and to translate findings for policy and program decision-support.