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Disaster Migration and Civil Infrastructure: The Impacts of Sudden Population Influxes on Water and Sanitation Infrastructure

This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) Grant project funded by the National Science Foundation in the USA will explore the impact of normative and cultural-cognitive perturbations on water and sanitation utilities caused by sudden and large population influxes. Water and wastewater infrastructures are necessary for the continued functioning of urban environments. Large and sudden population influxes must be accommodated by this infrastructure in order to avoid secondary public health disasters for impacted populations. This research will create knowledge with implications for utilities that find themselves serving transient, sometimes large populations (particularly those which arise suddenly). This knowledge will enable more resilient planning, policy, and technical design that can accommodate potential disaster migration and other extreme population growth as required.

This project will identify and explore changes in the organizational structure and processes of utilities in response to the European refugee influx, which has triggered an unprecedented flow of refugees to various European nations. This situation provides a unique opportunity to capture perishable data on the institutional impacts that sudden, disaster-triggered population increases may have on established water and sanitation utilities. This work will yield new insights into how normative and cultural/cognitive forces can influence the shape and function of public utilities. Data on both human and technological aspects of these phenomena will be collected, to include interviews, observations and visual documentation, to include decision makers in the water and sanitation utilities in the German cities of Munich, Berlin, and Leipzig. Even under normal conditions, data on these phenomena can be difficult to obtain. As such, immediate and focused efforts are needed to collect the organizational data for this study, and to situate these data within a holistic socio-technical context.

For this project the department of civil systems hosts researchers from the University of Washington (Jessica Kaminsky) and University of Texas at Austin (Kasey Faust). 

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