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Daniel P. Aldrich's work on disaster management is unusual in several respects. First, the work creates optimism in the disaster recovery process by focusing on factors that impact on the recovery process. He analyzes four major disasters in the twentienth century to illustrate how social networks and connections are the drivers of recovery during and after disasters. Second, Aldrich uses his own personal experience to illustrate the crucial role played by social networks during disasters. Finally, he employs both qualitative and quantitative evidence to demonstrate that social resources are as important as material foundation for resilience and recovery during disaster.

Defining a disaster as an event that suspends normal activities and threatens or causes severe, countrywide damage (p. 3), the work is the result of field research conducted in India, Japan, and the USA, interviewing communities in neighborhoods that were ravaged by disasters. The four main events could be categorized as mega catastrophes in the sense that each killed no fewer than 1,000 people, in addition to the destruction of thousands of residential and commercial buildings.

The author begins by demonstrating the importance of social capital in building resilience during disasters. He observes that scholars and disaster planners often overlook the fact that within disaster-affected regions, some neighborhoods recover from catastrophe more quickly than others, and attributes this to the varied use of social capital. Aldrich defines community recovery as the process of repopulation by survivors and arrival of new residents along with gradual resumption of normal daily routines. On the other hand, resilience refers to a neighborhood's capacity to weather crisis such as disasters and engage in effective and efficient recovery through coordinated efforts and cooperative activities (p. 7). He details the mechanism through which social capital creates trustworthiness, diffuses information, and encourages the development of new cooperative civic norms. Aldrich identifies three forms of social capital, namely, bonding social capital, bridging social capital, and linking social capital. He argues that whereas bonding and bridging social capital connects individuals of the same status, linking social capital takes on a democratic and empowering character.

Aldrich attributes the rapid recovery following the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 to the cooperation of the disaster survivors. Using data from police records and from pawnbrokers, he argues that both rich and poor residents cooperated in building barracks and other forms of temporary shelters, and demonstrates that police data could provide reliable information, as local police observe the occurrences round the clock. However, given that social capital does not manifest itself in the same form across time and society, he also cautions that use of such data must be sensitive to the historical period and cultural environment.

Discussing the 1995 earthquake in Japan that devastated the densely populated port city of Kobe, Aldrich observes that the catastrophe left over 6,500 people dead and a lot of property destroyed. However, resilience varied considerably across neighborhoods. While in Mano, residents made an effort to stop the fires that accompanied the earthquake, Mikura residents watched helplessly as fires consumed their property. Mano residents also established umbrella institutions that helped them to demand services, including debris clearance from city authorities. Discussing the various factors that undermined disaster recovery in Kobe, Aldrich posits that separation of elders from relatives and other neighbors and putting them in separate housing units after the disaster contributed to the death of many aged folks.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 similarly devastated the coastal parts of Southeast Asia, where it killed more than 300,000 people in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Coastal villages and towns recovered from the catastrophe in a varied manner. In some fishing villages in the Tamil Nadu region of India, government officers were surprised to find village representatives armed with comprehensive data of the dead, injured, and specific requests for support needed to support recovery. Survivors with good social networks, with outside organizations, and government authorities by virtue of higher education and socioeconomic status were able to get more support than less networked neighbors. This demonstrates that use of social capital can at times lead to undesirable outcomes. For instance, by relying heavily on village councils such as Panchayats in India, marginalized groups such as widowed Muslim women and the Dalit (untouchables) were neglected.

Similarly, Aldrich uses data on post–Hurricane Katrina recovery in New Orleans to demonstrate the role played by social capital in the differentiated rate of disaster recovery of neighborhoods. The flood water devastated the area on August 29, 2005, thereby covering over 80% of the city and killing over 1,500 residents. He argues the decision to keep trailers and low-income houses away from the richer neighborhoods was based on social capital as demonstrated by constant voting patterns and the desire to stick together even after the disaster in such areas.

Aldrich's work is crucial to those charged with managing public affairs for several reasons. First, he notes that future post-disaster-assistance provision could benefit a lot from the work of program coordinators in the field, who have suggested that relief programs should always begin with comprehensive profiles of affected areas. This would go a long way to providing fair support to all the groups and thereby overcome accusations of biased assistance, like those noted during the Tamil Nadu tsunami disaster in India. Second, he observes that another obvious recommendation to policymakers is to maintain existing social networks after a disaster. This could be done through executing policies that maintain integrity of communities and neighborhoods even after a crisis. Aldrich's work has profound implications for the role of politicians, bureaucrats, researchers, and nongovernmental organizations in guiding resource allocation. Moreover, all the data analyzed in the study are easily accessible to the public free of charge, not only in his Web site but also on the online data storage sites at the Harvard University Dataverse Project and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.