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Community Development

Harnessing the Power of Social Networks to Rebuild Communities

Resilience and Opportunity book cover artIn the wake of the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, strong community ties played a critical role in the rebuilding process. Atlanta Fed staffers Ann Carpenter and Nancy Montoya explored the important role of social networks in Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita.

Carpenter and Montoya, both from the Bank's community and economic development department, coauthored a chapter titled "Plugging into the Power of Community: How Social Networks Energize Recovery." The book is a publication of the Brookings Institution.

Networking the benefits
Robust social networks help communities build resilience in facing outside forces, such as the hurricanes and other disasters visited upon the Gulf Coast region in recent years. These networks offer a host of benefits to individuals, organizations, and communities, the authors wrote. One of them is the ability to facilitate emergency response and disaster mitigation planning "from the ground up."

The authors shared results from a case study involving two communities affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005—Bay St. Louis, a small beach town on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and the mostly residential Broadmoor neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana. In both cases, social networks in the form of organizations and businesses played an important role in the disaster recovery process. For instance, a senior citizen home served as an impromptu shelter, and places of worship became gathering places and information centers as residents returned to those communities in the days following the storm.

Using lessons learned for future events
The authors also share some suggestions for how to harness social networks to increase a community's resilience, such as incorporating informal social networks into the formal emergency planning and management process.

For more insight into the role of social networking in building resilient communities, be sure to listen to the Economic Development podcast with Carpenter and Montoya.

August 31, 2011