Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

PhD candidate studies Haines as disaster relief case study


August 4, 2022

Larysa Murray, a doctoral candidate in emergency management at Jacksonville State University, will spend the next six months in town conducting research for her dissertation, which uses Haines’s response to the December 2020 landslide as a case study for disaster management in rural and remote communities.

Murray hopes to defend her dissertation this May. Her research is centered around two broad questions: 1) how do remote communities adapt and innovate in disaster management? And 2) what challenges do these communities face in receiving aid?

She said she sees the two questions as related. “People adapt and innovate because somewhere there is an unmet need,” Murray said. “So if we can identify how they’re adapting, we can also hopefully shed light on what those unmet needs are.”

Murray had initially planned to write her dissertation on another aspect of emergency management, but she was moved to change course after spending time with the Haines Long Term Recovery Group (HLTRG). Murray is operations manager of Team Rubicon’s west branch, and she worked to get Team Rubicon volunteers to Haines in fall 2021 as part of “Operation Deishu Dawn.”

“With each meeting, I learned more about Haines’s response and long journey to recovery, and I was also able to learn more about its culture of community and resilience,” Murray said. “I was really struck by the incredible resourcefulness of the community.”

Murray said she had three main goals in selecting the project: she wanted to tell “the incredible story of how Haines has addressed disaster management,” to shed light on challenges rural communities face in receiving aid (which would hopefully also lead to legislative change), and to offer insight to other remote and rural communities in the aftermath of disasters.

She said she’s seen many ways Haines could be an example for other communities, including with the early and thoughtful formation of a long-term recovery group. “I was blown away by the local community effort,” she said, recalling the town’s “out-of-the-box thinking” when it became clear that transporting Team Rubicon’s gear through Canada would be difficult. “CIA stepped up and got a copy of our gear list and donated some tools for our use, and they organized a local tool drive to acquire what we were missing,” Murray said.

But Haines also exemplifies barriers faced by smaller communities, Murray said. Current legislation about “damage cost threshold” puts smaller communities at a huge disadvantage. “Even if the entire community was destroyed, it might not meet the threshold for a certain amount or type of aid,” Murray said. A congressman from New York led the push for legislation called the Small State and Rural Rescue Act to help remedy this situation; the act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in June, will hasten the dispensation of federal disaster relief to smaller communities. Murray said Haines’s story provides more evidence that there’s a need for this type of legislation.

HLTRG member Sylvia Heinz, who has worked closely with Murray, said she is “a wonderful addition to Haines.” Heinz said her conversations with Murray have helped her “understand how what we were experiencing in Haines–and the challenges of access to Haines– was a broader national reality.” That larger perspective renewed Heinz’s motivation in what has been a long and trying process.

Murray, who previously worked as a research associate at the Institute for Defense Analyses in D.C., said she plans to use a research technique called the “snowball method” to identify people to interview. She will then analyze the interview transcripts to identify and track recurrent themes.


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