About the Disaster Recovery Tracking Tool

Background Information

Project Title: Implementing the Disaster Recovery Tracking Tool
Principle Investigator: Jennifer Horney, Associate Professor, Texas A&M University Health Science Center School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Relevance to the Homeland Security Enterprise

The Disaster Recovery Tracking Tool directly contributes to Goal 5.4 of the Department of Homeland Security’s Strategic Plan (FY 2012-16) by providing an online tool to measure and monitor post-disaster changes in habitability, the environment, the economy, and geography that emerge from the recovery process. The tool will also assist in the coordination and communication of recovery activities among stakeholders, making recovery more effective and efficient.

Identifying Recovery Indicators

The development of any indicator is based on a well-defined process, typically including three phases:

  1. Defining the objectives of the indicator
  2. Identifying a guiding framework
  3. Selecting specific variables through the consensus of experts

The most valuable and defensible indicators are easy to assess, cost effective, and useful for decision making in practice, research, or policy settings. These indicators were developed through a multi-step process that included a review of the academic literature on disaster recovery, as well as a review of state and local disaster recovery plans from counties and municipalities along the Southeast U.S. coast, and a case study analysis of two communities recovering from recent disasters (New Hanover County, North Carolina and Hoboken, New Jersey). Focus groups and key informant interviews with researchers, practitioners and planners have been conducted to gain feedback on the indicators. A pilot study was conducted in four communities impacted by 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Methods used in the development and validation of recovery indicators for the Disaster Recovery Tracking Tool

Developing Indicators 3


Thematic Organization

Feedback from key informant interviews and focus groups informed the development of four major thematic areas, serving as an organizing structure for one to three Recovery Focus Areas. The four groups – “Finance,” “Process,” “Social,” and “Public Sector” – highlight broader recovery goals represented by the recovery metrics. The “Finance” theme includes Recovery Focus Areas addressing the management of funding and the recovery of the community’s economic sector. The “Public Sector” theme includes Recovery Focus Areas examining recovery outcomes in areas such as the functionality and continuity of government; repair/rebuilding of public buildings and infrastructure; and restoration of natural resources. The “Process” theme contains a focus area addressing the quality of the recovery process as a component of the larger disaster management continuum. And, finally, the “Social” theme examines recovery at the individual and community level by focusing on household recovery; the re-establishment of community services; the demographics of the population; and the availability of cultural resources.

Social Theme

Process Theme

Financial Theme

Public Sector Theme


Hierarchy of Metrics

Users will notice that, within some Focus Areas, metrics have been separated into “Primary” and “Secondary” metrics. Primary metrics are those with easily identifiable data sources as well as those metrics known to more heavily influence the trajectory of a community’s recovery. It is recommended that users attempt to collect data for as many primary metrics as possible. Secondary metrics are also important measures of community recovery and users are urged to attempt to record data for them as well. They may, however, prove more elusive to quantify, or they may be dependent on the identification of other primary metrics. Practitioners are able to navigate among the primary and secondary metrics in order to input available data.

Using the Disaster Recovery Indicators Tool

Practitioners are able to access the tool via the Internet to facilitate collection and recording of data necessary to determine the status of each metric. Use of this tool would ideally begin in the pre-disaster time period, allowing for the determination of a “baseline” for each metric. Data entry can be updated at any time. If at any point the community should experience a disaster, a baseline will then be in place by which to gauge the community’s progress towards recovery. Freely available data (i.e., U.S. Census demographics) can be pre-populated for certain metrics; other metrics will require more place-specific details, requiring the user to engage in data collection. A certain number of metrics that are inherently qualitative in nature may require the user to provide a narrative account for the baseline status and any additional points of data collection desired.

Metrics are organized within Recovery Focus Areas, as illustrated in the example to the right. In this example, the Focus Area is Household Recovery, and a sample selection of the metrics contained within that focus area are shown. Practitioners using the web tool will be able to click on any of the ten focus areas in order to access the metrics contained within each one.

Once the user has entered into a focus area, the available metrics for that category will be displayed and described, and potential sources of data for each metric will be suggested. A user is then able to select the metrics for which they would like to enter information, and new data points can be recorded and saved. It is not necessary to input data for all of the metrics in order to benefit from this tool, although more information is likely to provide better results when assessing long-term disaster recovery.

Project Outcomes


End User Benefits

Gauge Recovery Progress
The findings demonstrate how the metrics can be useful for planners, emergency managers, and other practitioners at the community level to determine the progress they are making towards recovery. For example, data for the metric “disaster displaced individuals” can be collected over a number of points in time to determine whether displaced individuals have returned to the community, if they remain displaced, or if they have chosen not to return to the community. Many other metrics can be used in a similar manner.

Build Capacity
The development of a robust set of recovery focus areas, with associated quantifiable metrics, can support and build the capacity of local practitioners by providing the basis for informed decision making during recovery. Collecting data for the metrics, at any point in time, assists in the development of a detailed community fact base critical to the creation of a high quality recovery plan and supports the development and implementation of a community road map for a safer and more resilient future.

Support Informed Decision-Making
The metrics can provide emergency managers and other practitioners with data that can be used to support decision making or to identify populations that may have been left behind during recovery and that require further support related to long-term recovery. Support may include funding, increased staffing to address identified needs, or changes in policy to better address identified gaps in assistance. Findings may also help to identify high priority items to be included in the development of a future pre-disaster recovery plan.

Change Policy
By utilizing the recovery metrics to guide the development of strong plan fact bases, it may be possible to support a shift at the federal level towards more proactive planning for disaster recovery. This approach helps to assure that community capabilities and needs will be better addressed, ahead of time, and post-disaster recovery progress can be assessed in a timely and integrative manner.


Dwyer, C., and Horney, J. (2014). Validating Indicators of Disaster Recovery with Qualitative Research. PLOS Currents Disasters. doi:10.1371/currents.dis.ec60859ff436919e096d51ef7d50736f.

Horney, J., Dwyer, C., Aminto, M., Berke, P. and Smith, G. (2016). Developing Indicators to Measure Post-Disaster Community Recovery in the United States. Disasters. doi:10.1111/disa.12190

Johansen, C., Horney, J., & Tien, I. (2016). Metrics for Evaluating and Improving Community Resilience. Journal of Infrastructure Systems, 04016032.