Investigating the Implications of COVID-19 for Hurricane-Prone Areas


As the 2020 hurricane season kicks into full gear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential impact of storms will further exacerbate the vulnerabilities of renters and others living in precarious housing conditions.

This project that is a collaboration between researchers from Florida Atlantic University, in collaboration with Georgia State University, is funded via a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to capture momentary and time-bound data on the subjective perceptions of resilience of individuals and households, including their coping and adaptive capacities. These individuals and households face multiple challenges, including health risks, precarious housing conditions and exposure to weather and climate hazards. Within the context of rapidly evolving policy mandates and short-term measures such as moratoriums on evictions, the study will address the uncertainties stemming from the pandemic that vulnerable populations face during tropical weather events.

The research team will study areas that include counties in south and central Florida and the Panhandle, which are still recovering from Hurricanes Michael and Irma, and which saw an influx of displaced individuals from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The unique and transformative elements of this research will be to advance knowledge and theory building on several topics related to housing, health and hazards.

The grant, titled “RAPID: Health, Housing, and Hazards: COVID-19, Subjective Resilience, Vulnerabilities, and Policy Evolution in Hurricane Prone Counties,” is spearheaded by Alka Sapat, Ph.D., principal investigator, professor and director, FAU’s School of Public Administration within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.

The grant focuses on two questions:

  • “How is the pandemic impacting the subjective perceptions of resilience of individuals and households living in areas still recovering from the 2016-2018 hurricane seasons?”
  • “To what extent are rapidly evolving and often fragmented and ambiguous federal, state, and local policy responses to the pandemic affecting coping and adaptive capacities, especially in vulnerable populations such renters, past hurricane survivors, the elderly, and minorities?”

For the study, repeated cross-sectional population surveys via the Internet and landlines will be conducted in three waves: early June to align with the beginning of the hurricane season, October or earlier if there is a major hurricane event, and March 2021, approximately one year after policy responses to the pandemic began. Secondary data will be collected from media sources and policy documents on the rapidly evolving policy measures adopted to combat the pandemic during the time-periods immediately preceding the survey work.

Given the study area, the researchers also are interested in the immediate effects of temporary federal, state and local-level policies dealing with evacuation, sheltering and housing because of the pandemic. They will use multivariate logistic regression models to examine the associations between coping and adaptive capacities and the sets of independent variables in their main hypothesis.

“Beyond our study area, the findings have practical applications for pandemic preparedness and disaster management, specifically for socially vulnerable populations with respect to housing, sheltering and evacuation in hazard-prone areas,” said Sapat. “We will upload the aggregated study results on a portal and disseminate findings through webinars, conferences, and publications that cater to multi-disciplinary researchers, policy makers and practitioners.”

Sapat is collaborating with co-principal investigators Diana Mitsova, Ph.D., an associate professor in FAU’s School of Urban and Regional Planning within the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and Ann-Margaret Esnard, Ph.D., associate dean for research and strategic initiatives at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. The research team has collaborated on several NSF-funded projects during the last decade. 

One aspect of the project will require repeated cross-sectional population surveys conducted in both English and Spanish via the Internet and landlines. The surveys will be administered in collaboration with the FAU Business and Economic Polling Initiative (BEPI) within the College of Business.


National Science Foundation, 2020-2021. Alka Sapat (PI) (with D. Mitsova and A-M Esnard). RAPID: “Health, Housing, and Hazards: COVID-19, Subjective Resilience, Vulnerabilities, and Policy Evolution in Hurricane Prone Counties.” SES. Grant # 2028968.