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Research Questions

  1. What is known about NPOs' role in long-term recovery in the absence of federal disaster assistance?
  2. What innovations enhance NPOs' role in underserved communities?
  3. What measures best capture whether NPO support for long-term community recovery is effective?

Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are an important source of nongovernmental aid for communities during disaster response and recovery. Although much has been written about NPO capability to build community capacity, little empirical research quantifies the main mechanism by which NPOs are believed to address community needs: social capital. Moreover, what roles do NPOs play in recovery processes when federal assistance is limited? To explore lessons learned from prior nondeclared-disaster events, the authors describe six case studies from diverse community contexts. Innovations that support recovery in underserved communities are considered, and metrics for assessing the role of NPOs in socioeconomic recovery are explored. Recommendations address data limitations with near- and longer-term efforts to capture NPO activities and roles through systematic qualitative and quantitative methods.

Key Findings

  • NPOs play a key role in disaster recovery, but the benefits within or across communities might not be evenly distributed, and this particularly disadvantages underserved populations.
  • Qualitative data are lacking about the mechanisms by which NPOs enhance equitable, long-term economic recovery after nondeclared disasters.
  • Comprehensive, centralized data on NPO activities in disaster recovery are generally unavailable.
  • Metrics of NPO effectiveness in disaster recovery need to capture multiple dimensions (socioeconomic outcomes, recovery processes, community social capital, NPO capabilities, and equity in processes and outcomes).


  • NPOs and government agencies could, in the near term, improve coordination to enhance disaster recovery efforts in underserved communities. They could develop a conceptual framework for NPOs' roles in disaster recovery and use this to prioritize data collection. In the longer term, they could identify a set of communities (including underserved populations) and metrics to track NPO roles and impacts in long-term socioeconomic recovery.
  • NPOs and the federal government in particular could, in the near term, explore options internal to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for gathering and organizing contextualized information about NPO roles in disaster recovery. In the longer term, they could develop guidance (including equity considerations) on how to enhance NPO roles across the disaster cycle. They also could develop a disaster recovery tracking tool, including metrics related to NPO activities and impacts and community context.
  • To more thoroughly assess NPO roles during recovery, NPOs, the private sector, and government could, in the near term, follow up with any community that is denied a federal disaster declaration. In the longer term, they could foster external partnerships with data-gathering organizations to advance data collection (e.g., determining priorities for survey items) and dissemination.

This research was sponsored by DHS's Science and Technology Directorate and conducted within the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.