Using Photography to Assess Housing Damage and Rebuilding Progress for Disaster Recovery Planning Academic Article uri icon


  • 2018 American Planning Association, Chicago, IL. Problem, research strategy, and findings: U.S. communities rarely plan for recovery after a disaster, but planners have the skills to help communities redevelop, particularly in rebuilding housing, a key to community recovery. Planners, however, need appropriate and timely data on initial damage and rebuilding over time to apply for available funding, determine needs for temporary housing, address equity issues, develop appropriate policy interventions, track progress, and communicate transparently with all stakeholders. There is no accepted cost-effective and systematic method of providing those data. We developed a scalable method in which we photograph and assess the extent of home damage and rebuilding by reorienting existing damage assessment methods to provide data that can be linked to GIS and other local data to meet planning needs. We test the utility of our approach in West (TX), the site of a catastrophic fertilizer facility explosion in 2013. We compare our damage assessments to county property tax reappraisals after the disaster, finding that our approach is more accurate, generally identifying less damage and greater rebuilding than the county assumed. We conclude that our method improves on windshield surveys and other suggested methods of collecting damage and rebuilding data; it can provide efficient assessments of damage and rebuilding in technological disasters. Takeaway for practice: We created a simple and cost-effective method of assessing initial damage to homes after a disaster and of measuring the extent of rebuilding. This method provides photos and easy-to-understand data that planners can use to meet multiple reporting requirements, to reassess redevelopment strategies, and to report progress to stakeholders.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 5.05

author list (cited authors)

  • Meyer, M. A., & Hendricks, M. D.

citation count

  • 9

complete list of authors

  • Meyer, Michelle Annette||Hendricks, Marccus D

publication date

  • April 2018