Modelling Disaster Recovery

Thursday, August 11, 2022

After a disaster strikes, the ability of individuals to recover is shaped by the many inter-connected systems that make up a community.

Exploring this complex problem is the goal of Rodrigo Costa, who recently joined the Department of Systems Design Engineering (SYDE) as an assistant professor. His research integrates knowledge from engineering, planning, and social sciences to understand how extreme natural events impact communities. At the core of the issue is how the interaction of systems can worsen disaster risk and inequalities.  

Rodrigo Costa recently joined the Department of Systems Design Engineering

“Urban communities are, by definition, a system of systems. You have your infrastructure systems, economic systems, social systems, political systems, and many others. Thus, to understand how extreme events, like an earthquake, flood, or wildfire, disrupt urban communities it is essential to approach this problem from a system of systems perspective,” said Costa. “I am excited to join Waterloo because SYDE has the perfect environment and community to foster this perspective.”

Modelling how the systems interact at a community level can help residents and governments prepare for and make decisions during disaster recovery. For example, Costa’s research has modelled the distribution of housing infrastructure in a post-disaster scenario that incorporates social and economic factors. The results highlight inequitable recovery rates across socioeconomic statuses and strategies to improve make recovery more equitable.

“While homes are being repaired, displaced residents may compete for temporary housing with out-of-town reconstruction workers, raising rental prices,” explained Costa. “This one of the many barriers for residents at lower socioeconomics statuses. With my research, I identify these potential barriers before a disaster strikes so we are better prepare to mitigate their negative impacts during recovery.”

Post-earthquake housing recovery assessment for Alameda (CA)

Figure 1. Post-earthquake housing recovery assessment for Alameda (CA)

Costa joins the University of Waterloo from Stanford University, where he held a post-doctoral scholar position at the Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative. He earned his PhD in Civil Engineering with a focus on earthquake engineering from The University of British Columbia. He received the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s 2021 Graduate Student Paper Award for his paper “Agent-based model for post-earthquake housing recovery" published in the journal Earthquake Spectra.

Costa’s work is described on his personal website.