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WIU researchers Heather McIlvaine-Newsad and David Casagrande at a house in Meyer, IL (Adams County) six-months after the 2008 flood.
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WIU Researchers Study Community Resiliency in Western Illinois 2008 Flood

February 26, 2009

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MACOMB, IL - - Two anthropologists from Western Illinois University will meet with residents of Hancock, Henderson and Mercer counties who were seriously affected by the 2008 floods and are willing to share their insights during three dates in March.

The information collected will be used to help develop better disaster responses, according to Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Western Illinois University.

McIlvaine-Newsad and Assistant Professor of Anthropology David Casagrande received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for their research, "Resiliency of Agricultural Communities After the 2008 Mississippi Floods."

Their first goal is to develop a quantifiable approach for modeling the resiliency of rural communities in western Illinois as they attempt to recover from the Summer 2008 floods. The researchers also hope to provide an objective forum for flood victims to express their concerns and convey their versions of events.

In June 2008, the Illinois governor's office requested that WIU provide expertise and technical assistance in determining the economic, environmental and social impacts of the flooding in the region. The findings from this research will be integrated into disaster recovery policy. The lead units in this initiative include Western's Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, the College of Arts and Science's Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center.

The investigators, who will include students in the research, said rural populations in western Illinois are an ideal setting for community resiliency research. The affected areas are nearby and the researchers are familiar with the cultural and socio-economic systems. The communities are generally small, ranging from 700-2,500 residents, and are the appropriate size for obtaining a representative sample.

McIlvaine-Newsad and Casagrande are measuring community resiliency using five quantifiable social characteristics: social equity as a function of income; population; institutions like local schools; ability to buy food, hardware and medical services locally; and quality of life. Factors that influence community resiliency include knowledge and responses of past disasters; social networks; occupational diversity; access to capital; and perceptions of social responsibility, said McIlvaine-Newsad, who has done extensive research on Gulf Coast communities recovering from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The researchers will digitally record interviews with individuals and discussion groups. These recordings will be transcribed and analyzed to determine how people talk and think about the important issues. McIlvaine-Newsad and Casagrande will then use the results to develop a structured survey to be mailed in Summer 2009 to 2,000 families in flood-affected communities.

"This research will benefit society at large by showing a social science approach to resiliency that is compatible with other fields like ecology and is, therefore, more likely to influence policy," Casagrande said.

The findings will be presented to the communities in a series of informational meetings.

Places, dates and times for the discussion groups are listed below. Refreshments will be served.

Warsaw – Bott Center: Noon-5 p.m., Saturday, March 7

Group 1: 1-2:30 p.m.
Group 2: 3-4:30 p.m.

Gladstone – Henderson County Health Department: Noon-5 p.m., Monday, March 9
Group 1: 1-2:30 p.m.
Group 2: 3-4:30 p.m.

Pontoosuc Village Hall: 5-9 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Group 1: 5-6:30 p.m.
Group 2: 7-8:30 p.m.

Contact Casagrande at (309) 298-1567 or with a preferred location and group.

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