Regional differences in resilience of social and physical systems: Case study of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Takahiro Yabe, P. Suresh C. Rao, Satish V. Ukkusuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Physical infrastructure networks in diverse urban settlements are designed to be robust and reliable, while the socio-economic systems offer the necessary adaptive capacity at household, city, and regional scales to recover from major service disruptions resulting from disasters. Here, our urban resilience analyses are based on exploring explicit links between the physical infrastructure/assets and the socio-economic systems. Increased availability of high-quality data from mobile devices allows quantification of diverse socio-economic metrics and thus enables tracking city- and regional-scale community recovery from disasters. Here, recovery trajectories for five regions within Puerto Rico island with differences in socio-economic status (e.g., median income) after Hurricanes Irma and Maria are analyzed using large-scale mobility data and are combined with earlier synthesis of seven global cities based on capital portfolio analysis. Systemic inequalities are manifested in highly variable ability to cope with chronic shocks and recovery from extreme events. Island urban communities face the geographic-isolation effect, legacy socioeconomic constraints, and chronic inefficiencies in governance, all of which delay recovery from disasters. Hurricane recovery efforts include two types of responses. First, in larger urban areas, households use their social ties and financial resources to evacuate to larger cities and return when damaged facilities and infrastructure are repaired. Second, smaller urban communities are already adapted to coping with inadequate critical services and experience disproportionate impacts of disasters. Lacking socio-economic resources, such communities self-organize to access local and external resources and actively engage in repairing and rebuilding damaged facilities. However, recovery is much slower than their counterparts in larger cities. Given the interdependencies of connected social and physical systems and cross-scale feedbacks, such inequalities must be addressed at both city and regional scales to continue progress in urban community preparedness for and recovery from disasters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1042-1057
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Resilience
  • disaster recovery
  • human mobility
  • interdependency
  • mobile phone data
  • urban socio-physical systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Architecture
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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