Robert B. Olshansky

Presentation Abstract

Planning for Large Disasters

Humankind has faced natural disasters since the beginning of civilization, and we will continue to do so for a long time. Disasters disrupt urban functions that support human lives and livelihoods. As a profession that seeks to improve the lives of urban residents, we should care about disasters. The past few decades have seen the rise of disaster mitigation—actions to reduce the effects of disasters before they occur—as national policy, and planners have played important roles in this. Most of the US population is now covered by a local hazard mitigation plan. Despite this, there is still much to do.

Furthermore, there are other ways to think about the disaster problem. Most of this presentation will focus on the significance of the post-disaster recovery process, both as an idea and as a policy framework. The effects of disasters extend over time and improvements in the recovery process can lessen these effects. Furthermore, disaster recovery provides opportunities for urban improvement, including long-term mitigation for future disasters. Finally, thinking ahead of time about post-disaster recovery is an effective way to begin to talk about urban resilience.


Robert B. Olshansky, Ph.D., FAICP, is Professor and Head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he has taught for 25 years. His teaching and research cover land use and environmental planning, with an emphasis on planning for natural hazards. He has published extensively on post-disaster recovery planning, planning and policy for earthquake risks, hillside planning and landslide policy and environmental impact assessment.

Professor Olshansky has studied recovery planning and management after several major disasters. For over a decade, he and colleagues researched the recovery process following the Kobe, Japan earthquake of 1995, and he spent the 2004-05 and 2012-13 academic years as a Visiting Professor at Kyoto University. His co-authored research report, Opportunity in Chaos: Rebuilding after the 1994 Northridge and 1995 Kobe Earthquakes, is available online.

His current work focuses on developing theory and researching the processes of recovery following catastrophic disasters. He researched and advised the post-Katrina planning process in New Orleans, and his book, Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, co-authored with Laurie Johnson, was published by APA Press in April 2010. He and collaborators—with support from the National Science Foundation and University of Illinois—have researched and published on disaster recovery in Sichuan Province, China; Tamil Nadu, India; Taiwan; Indonesia; Haiti; and Niigata Prefecture and Tohoku, Japan. In 2014, he co-edited a special issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association on Planning for Disaster Recovery.

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Robert Olshansky