Over the past two decades, scholars have significantly advanced our understanding of factors that increase disaster vulnerability among older adults. These insights have been critical due to seniors’ disproportionate risk of experiencing disaster-related mortality, serious injury, and loss. However, scholars have not paid sufficient attention to these individuals’ subjective experiences of disaster or the role that these experiences play in responding to such events. Furthermore, as is the case with the disaster literature more broadly, little is known about how elders recover from extreme events over the long term. This research helps to fill these gaps in the literature by exploring disaster response and recovery among older adults who were affected by the 2013 floods in Boulder County, Colorado.
I draw upon social vulnerability and social capital frameworks to explore factors that influence older adults’ experiences of disaster and their capacity for resilience. I present data collected through 42 in-depth interviews with flood-affected seniors, 30 structured interviews with key community stakeholders, and content analysis of more than 100 items. In exploring the service provider landscape, I find that networks of senior-serving organizations and the social capital accessible through them can play an integral role in circumventing barriers to elders’ recovery. However, I also discuss how these resources are contingent upon the community setting. My analyses of seniors’ narratives highlight the ways in which they utilize social ties to cope with challenges and adapt to changing conditions in the post-disaster environment. Additionally, I explain how the recovery process unfolds within, and is thus shaped by, the local political economy. Finally, I discuss factors that influence seniors’ capacity for individual resilience and contributions to community resilience. This research complicates the discourse about disaster vulnerability and calls attention to the importance of engaging seniors as conscious stakeholders in disaster settings rather than dismissing them as passive victims.
Ph.D. in Sociology
University of Colorado Boulder
Kathleen Tierney (Chair)