Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Kamal Alsharif, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Steven Reader, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Graham Tobin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Frank Muller-Karger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ava Lasseter, Ph.D.


resiliency, adaptive capacity, hazard, hurricane, climate change, adaptation


In the face of future uncertainties, many places are struggling with decisions about how to prepare for and adapt to climate change. The purpose of this research is to shed light on the concept of resilience, and uncover lessons for resilience-building exposed by a past disaster, Hurricane Wilma.

The dissertation begins with an introduction (Chapter 1) detailing the research problem, key terms and overall research design. The study was conducted in three distinct phases. The first phase (Chapter 2), explored the concept of resilience to understand how it was defined in three South Florida communities. Content analyses of city and county documents were conducted to extract explicit definitions of resilience as well as implicit definitions based on carefully selected keywords. Results showed the engineering resilience concept was most prevalent across all three study areas. Furthermore, keywords related to the dimension of the built environment were most common in Broward and Lee Counties. While this may indicate a need for communities to shift toward more progressive, social-ecological conceptualizations of resilience, a more central conclusion was that local applications of resilience frameworks need to be more explicit about how they define resilience, and what resilience-building looks like in that particular context.

Phase two (Chapter 3) explored the interplay between specified resilience, addressing resistance to known disturbances, and general resilience, addressing a system's capacity to deal with less predictable shocks. This phase entailed a content analysis of 172 Sun-Sentinel newspaper articles about Hurricane Wilma. Prominent themes that emerged included distribution of benefits and risks, social learning and memory, cross-scale issues, vulnerability and social networks. This chapter concludes with four specific recommendations for Broward County to enhance resilience to future storms and less predictable disturbances, like climate change and sea level rise.

During the third phase (Chapter 4) a modified resilience activation framework was applied to analyze social factors that may limit or promote adaptive capacity in South Florida. Focus groups with homeowners were used to gain insight about past experiences with Hurricane Wilma, as well as perceptions and expectations regarding local climate adaptation efforts. Results showed that risk perceptions, insurance practices, and social networks may influence the willingness and ability of individuals to prepare for and adapt to disasters. Social limits to adaptation among participants included inaccurate risk perceptions based on past experiences and feelings of helplessness, and a lack of political trust at the state level. Social resources that can be leveraged to enhance adaptive capacity included knowledge reserves of long-term residents, strong bonding capital, and trust in local, non-elected government employees.

Results from each phase of research were synthesized to create a novel procedural roadmap to guide how communities integrate resiliency into their planning documents.