The great comeback: A comparative analysis of disaster recovery actions in higher education

Lea A Johnson, University of Pennsylvania


The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the challenges and resulting decisions made during disaster recovery, focusing specifically on those actions taken by university leadership in the wake of a campus disaster. While numerous institutions of higher education have developed disaster recovery plans, only a few have shared post-disaster experiences. Comparative studies of higher education leadership actions between different disaster scenarios have not been available. The primary research question should be of interest to university administrators across the country: In the wake of a campus disaster or catastrophe, what are the specific leadership actions and strategies administrators have found to be critical to the success of their recovery effort? To effectively address the research question, this author conducted a qualitative study of disaster recovery actions based on two in-depth case studies at universities recovering from different disasters related to hurricanes. Disaster sites chosen for study faced campus devastation due to flooding and loss of infrastructure services in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and severe physical plant damage following Hurricane Ivan. Using an exploratory case study approach, campus recovery was matched to the three-stage disaster recovery conceptual framework proposed by Claire Rubin, while administrative actions were compared to the elements of action for successful disaster recovery proposed by Rubin, Saperstein and Barbee. At each campus, disaster recovery leadership from a number of key administrative areas were interviewed. Strategies for validation included member checking, the diversity of interviews and triangulation. Campus documents were compared with interview notes, and interview data was confirmed by more than one interview source. Findings suggest the need for decisive leadership, the importance of providing for university students and employees, the value of partnerships, and the importance of immediate and ongoing communication with university stakeholders. It is believed the information gained from this study may assist future leadership facing campus disasters, and provide the foundation for further research in this area.

Subject Area

School administration|Mass media|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Lea A, "The great comeback: A comparative analysis of disaster recovery actions in higher education" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3255882.