Skip to main content

ESS Seminar Series: Dr. Kim Waddell “Integrating Resilience and Equity into Disaster Science: An Example from an American Territory in the Caribbean"

Sponsored by

This event is over.

Event Details:

Please join us Thursday - October 20th for our Autumn Seminar Series with our guest speaker: Kim Waddell, Ph.D. A special thanks to Professor Elliott White, Jr. for bringing this speaker to us for this seminar.





12:00 - 1:20pm

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Polya Hall - Turing Auditorium (Room 111)


Kim Waddell, Ph.D

Project Director, VI-EPSCoR

University of the Virgin Islands


“Integrating Resilience and Equity into Disaster Science: An Example from an American Territory in the Caribbean”

The Territory of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and many other small island states in the Northeastern Caribbean were devastated by two Category 5 Hurricanes in September of 2017. As part of the response and recovery process, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requested an expansive update of the Territory’s Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP)- a plan that, in this update, would integrate elements of resilience, equity, and climate change impacts into the planning effort.

These elements have not been identified or integrated into previous HMPs in the Territory or in the vast majority of HMPs for other states and jurisdictions. The 3-year planning effort has led to insights about island governance, human capacity, colonial legacies, and socio-economic inequities that can be exacerbated by federal policy and practices following disasters. These inequities, persistent during the best of times, become severe when human and financial resources are stretched thin, as basic services and societal functions struggle to resume. The damages from the 2017 hurricanes were estimated at $8B for a territory of 100,000 people and a GDP of $4B. This level of devastation was followed by a slow response & recovery, and then the pandemic. All these disruptions coincide with a loss of 18 percent of the population according to the 2020 US Census – based on a social vulnerability analysis we conducted; the population losses were most pronounced in our most vulnerable (low income) communities--reminiscent of the demographic shifts observed in New Orleans post-Katrina.

Our research team has developed recommendations to address many of these inequities but have recognized the difficulties of promoting resilience thinking and strategies. Many of these approaches require systems thinking, strong operational governance, and good data management to rigorously inform risk mitigation. Such practices are difficult to understand, implement and sustain in rural and remote communities, but especially in small island tourism-based economies. The team’s findings have implications for how we think about applying Disaster Science principles and practices, and especially identifying what is needed to implement resilience and equity into projects developed to mitigate hazards for the natural, built, and human environments.



Kim Waddell is the project lead for the next US Virgin Islands Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan Update with support from FEMA and the Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA). He is also the Director for the Virgin Islands Established Program for Stimulating Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR)—a National Science Foundation-supported research capacity building program based at the University of the Virgin Islands that focuses on land-based impacts on marine ecosystem health and function in a time of Climate Change, as well as STEM education research and opportunities for underrepresented minority students from K-12 through MS degrees. Prior to that, Kim was a Senior Program Officer with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Dr. Waddell served as a study director for over a dozen National Academies reports on agriculture, fisheries and other natural resource management topics. Kim received his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of South Carolina and his B.A. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.