Document Type


Publication Date

January 2018

Publication Title

American Sociological Association Annual Conference


Emergency and Disaster Management | Human Geography | Nature and Society Relations


This study examines the role that local grassroots efforts play in disaster response and recovery. Drawing on findings from an ongoing research project on the experience of Hurricane Sandy in New York City since 2012 as well as new data from more recent hurricanes and other events, we show how volunteers, community-based organizations, and activist groups often play an important role in both immediate response and longer-term recovery efforts. Many communities hit hard by Sandy and other disasters were significantly aided by locally organized and 'informal' responses, often from groups that initially had nothing to do with emergency preparedness (community centers, neighborhood associations, and activist affiliated with Occupy Wall Street), yet often in ways that compliment or even fill in for state actors. We consider the lessons that the successes of these grassroots interventions offer for how we think about community resiliency going forward. This is, to use the ASA’s language, a draft/working paper, and will be added to and refined in the coming months. Nonetheless, findings presented here demonstrate how informal efforts, preexisting social infrastructure, and everyday innovation made a difference in some places. The working paper argues not only that local and informal responses are an important aspect of the sociology of disasters themselves, but that they provide guides to building more physically and socially resilient communities for what is likely to be the increasingly common collision between extreme weather and large coastal cities.