Stephanie Chang


Research Interests

natural disasters
climate change adaptation
infrastructure systems

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters



Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am interested in supervising students to conduct interdisciplinary research.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Development and application of a computer simulation framework for assessing disaster recovery in urban communities (2020)

In this dissertation an object-oriented framework of models is developed and applied to study disaster recovery in communities in British Columbia, Canada. The impact of earthquakes on communities is quantified over months and years, and the focus is on identifying the factors that affect the recovery. Contrasting with the practice of investigating disaster impacts to infrastructure or societal systems in isolation, an integrated approach is used in this dissertation. Lifelines, buildings, and persons are modelled in the same computational environment. One contribution of this dissertation is the development of models for infrastructure and social systems of a community. Another contribution is the development of a new approach to simulate the transportation of goods through a network of models. This new approach allows great flexibility in the composition of the transported goods and facilitates the modelling of the competition for resources. Another innovation is the individual modelling of buildings and dwellings, in this work referred to as dwellings, in the community. The socioeconomic demographics of the dwellings determine their capacity to compete for limited resources, which affect their recovery capacity. The integration of socioeconomic demographics, infrastructure, and buildings in the same computational environment allows for a broad range of disaster mitigation actions to be compared. This dissertation assesses the benefits of improving resource management, retrofitting physically vulnerable infrastructure, improving access to funds for recovery, among other actions. The findings in this dissertation can inform pre-disaster plans and help identifying mitigation strategies that improve disaster recovery in communities in British Columbia.

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Urban flood management and disaster in Canada : incidence, recovery strategy, and environmental resilience (2020)

This dissertation investigates how cities can improve flood management relationships with riverine landscapes. It develops new data, analysis, and tools to address the need for systematic research on floods and flood management at the municipal scale. In Canada, floods remain the most frequent disaster type, and it is municipalities that are responsible for related land-use planning, emergency response, and often, flood management. However, municipal-scale information on flood disasters and flood risk management remains limited. To examine where in Canada flooding is a problem for municipalities, I developed and analyzed two databases: the All Floods Database (n=149), and a more detailed Riverine Floods Database (n=43), on municipal flood disasters from 2001 to 2013. Data were compiled from the Canadian Disaster Database, municipal surveys, staff interviews, and provincial and territorial disaster financial assistance records. According to the database, 15% of Canadian urban municipalities experienced flood disasters, most of which were non-riverine. Among riverine flood disasters, medium-sized population centres experienced disproportionately more events, and Alberta and British Columbia accounted for over half of the total. Next, I considered flood recovery as a window of opportunity for building resilience, focusing on environmental resilience in terms of flood management relationships with riverine landscapes. Are municipalities re-creating pre-flood conditions during recovery, or are they working to improve resilience and build back better? I created a typology of approaches to riverine flood management and applied it to 20 case study municipalities using survey, interview, and document data. Overall, 85% employed a primarily non-structural approach through land-use regulation. Comparing pre- and post-flood approaches, as many as 45% of municipalities modified their approach to improve resilience, and 30% chose a strategy that would in theory improve environmental resilience, particularly after large flood events; however, the majority retained a return to normal approach. Finally, I developed a tool, the Connection Workbook, to provide municipalities with a rigorous yet practical approach to operationalize assessment of environmental resilience. The tool was applied to three Alberta municipalities, and the results provided insights for actionable guidance to improve municipal flood management through the lens of riverine connection with the landscape. Supplementary materials available at:

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Coastal green infrastructure as a sea level rise adaptation measure: assessing environmental, local, and institutional contexts (2019)

With the acceleration of climate change impacts, adaptation is no longer a matter of choice for most communities. There has been a growing interest in coastal green infrastructure (CGI), natural and nature-based adaptation measures, due to its role in flood and erosion protection, and provision of multiple environmental, social and economic benefits. However, there remains a gap in understanding the context-dependency of CGI as an adaptation measure. In this dissertation, I empirically investigate the environmental, local and institutional contexts in which CGI can be used as a sea level rise adaptation measure through three distinct studies, focusing on the coastal regions of British Columbia (BC) and Washington State (WA).First, I conduct a regional study. Using climatic and environment indicators, I investigate where CGI has the highest coastal protection potential while taking into account its vulnerability. I conclude that CGI in the large population centers in BC and most of the communities in WA may not provide high coastal protection benefits, where CGI in the smaller communities have a higher potential. Second, I undertake a local study in BC, investigating community trade-offs between CGI and other adaptation strategies. I incorporate local perspectives to develop adaptation scenarios and create an evaluation framework using the literature and expert inputs. Applying the framework to the scenarios, I conclude that there are important trade-offs between the local implications of different strategies. I find that the CGI scenario had the highest positive impacts, but displayed institutional drawbacks compared to others. Third, I undertake an institutional study comparing the barriers to and facilitators of CGI implementation in BC and WA. I conclude that besides barriers and facilitators common to adaptation, factors specific to CGI, such as coastal jurisdiction and ownership; financial variation and flexibility; vision; organization efficiency and access to resources; partnerships and collaborations; NGOs; and community advocacy are also influential.Ultimately, this dissertation concludes that CGI’s context dependency influence its potential benefits, its applicability as a local adaptation measure, and implementation within the existing institutional arrangements. Considering contextual factors can support more successful implementation of CGI, and therefore can increase adaptation to sea level rise.

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Towards urban and regional resilience : a case study of Metro Vancouver region, Canada (2019)

Climate change necessitates investments in urban and regional resilience to address existing and novel risks. Drawing on disaster resilience, socio-ecological resilience, planning, and institutional adaptation literatures, I investigate the relationship between the institutional capacity to deal with floods (specific resilience, sp-R) and the overall ability to deal with change (general resilience, gen-R). I make a theoretical and empirical contribution by operationalizing the interdisciplinary sp-R–gen-R framework and testing it in Canada’s Metro Vancouver region. I employ a nested comparative case-study design, drawing on 60 interviews (with engineers, planners, emergency managers, policy-makers, and politicians) and a regional expert survey to analyze the institutional responses to existing and future flood risk by answering the following question: What is the relationship between sp-R and gen-R across governance scales? Overall, sp-R and gen-R are related through feedback loops across spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional scales, enabled by champions and social capital, subject to political and institutional changes within the governance system and bureaucracy. Municipally, sp-R and gen-R are related through urban planning processes and outcomes, organizational dimensions, and decision-making processes. Carefully constructed planning processes and nurtured organizational cultures enhance trust, shorten feedback loops between the politicians and bureaucracy, foster sp-R action and enhance gen-R. Municipal sp-R mechanisms (practices, tools, and innovations) reflect gen-R principles such as diversity and modularity but also present a governance/coordination challenge. By emphasizing site/area specific tools, municipal-scale planning mechanisms reduce opportunities for strategic region-wide flood management. While numerous municipal-scale sp-R¬–gen-R trade-offs (e.g., fiscal, equity, design) exist, regional decision-making mechanisms for addressing the cumulative effects of municipal sp-R responses are lacking. Provincially, the eroded gen-R limits municipal and regional sp-R options. Regional sp-R is constrained by multi-scalar barriers including regional-level flood risk governance regime gaps, a lack of federal and provincial leadership, and provincial sp-R path-dependencies (e.g., competitive funding arrangements that favour structural approaches). Moving from government to governance, regional sp-R planning is driven by champions and boundary organizations, which fosters gen-R through learning, collaboration, and exploration of options. Implementation of these options will require support and engagement from higher government levels and wider governance actors.

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Spatially explicit robust impact patterns : a new approach to account for uncertainties of long-term sea-level rise impacts at the local level (2018)

While sea-level rise (SLR) is a certain effect of climate change, there are deep uncertainties about when and by how much. Uncertainties regarding how SLR can impact society at the local level - further compounded by changes in non-climatic drivers, cascading effects, and local contexts – act as a significant barrier to SLR adaptation. Recent literature has called for a shift from using best available predictions to find optimal adaptation options to using scenario-based approaches to find robust options that can perform reasonably under a range of possible futures.In response, this dissertation develops a new approach, the Robust Impact Patterns (RIPs) method, to help decision-makers account for potential SLR impact under hundreds of future scenarios, assuming that no adaptation takes place. The method utilizes the pattern recognition capability of machine learning to transform thousands of modelled SLR impact maps into a small number of impact patterns that are robust across multiple futures, thereby processing an otherwise overwhelming volume of impact information in a spatially explicit and visualized manner. This method addresses the need to account for uncertainties in the early planning stage in order to inform selection of preliminary options to target robust impacts and avoid relying on generic or existing options.An application to the City of Vancouver demonstrated the feasibility of the RIPs method and assessed its practical utility. Geospatial models assessed 14 potential impacts (e.g., businessdisruption, sewage backup damage potential) in 336 plausible futures that account for uncertainties in future storm intensity, SLR, land-use, power infrastructure resilience, and structural integrity of buildings. The 14 impacts were selected to address the City’s information needs and to capitalize on the capabilities of the RIPs method. Results were synthesized into 16 robust impact patterns (RIPs). City officials and experts, as potential users, were engaged in a structured workshop to discuss the results and evaluate the RIPs method’s capability to support adaptation. The RIPs method was found to be a useful platform for convening multiple types of stakeholders to understand complex SLR impacts, which can facilitate the development of new adaptation ideas, partnerships, and resources for implementation.

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The effects of resettlement on community recovery : an analysis of post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia (2013)

In a context of constrained time, resources and geographical space, populations displaced by natural disaster often face diverse and/or ad hoc resettlement schemes. The purpose of this dissertation is to understand factors that can influence successful resettlement several years after a natural disaster so that it may better inform the management and planning of recovery processes. As such, this research asks: ‘How do resettlement patterns influence long-term holistic community disaster recovery?’ To address this question, this study explores recovery across five communities affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia. Using a mixed methods comparative case study design, villages in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar that represent differences in resettlement process and pattern were targeted. Findings are based on fieldwork across these communities – Bitai, Gampong Baro, Lampulo, Neheun Compound and Panteriek Compound – six years after the disaster. Data collection included key informant interviews (i.e., village chief, elders, etc.), key expert interviews (i.e., members of government, NGOs, and academia), focus group discussions (i.e., villagers), direct observations, and secondary data. In the absence of a generally accepted method to measure community disaster recovery, a survey tool was implemented to assess holistic wellbeing outcomes. This tool is developed by operationalizing a capabilities-based approach through a series of steps that lead to a multi-dimensional recovery index. Results show that differences in overall recovery across the villages are not explained by either resettlement process (participation versus non participation) or pattern (resettlement in previous location versus in new location). Further qualitative data analysis displays that resettlement success in the five cases is influenced by (1) location, which shapes livelihood, connectivity and safety, and (2) built environment, which shapes sociability, identity and belonging. Comparisons across cases highlight that these influences impact recovery through a number of mechanisms of importance, such as access to governance structures, availability of gathering places, and social norms and behaviours. The analysis also describes how mechanisms are mediated by leadership, proximity and community composition. The findings support a broader understanding of post-disaster processes, including an emphasis on intangible dimensions and a need to approach resettlement using a lens of ‘place’.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Addressing risk in research and practice : business earthquake vulnerability in North Vancouver (2014)

The catastrophic consequences of recent disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the Tohoku Earthquake highlight the necessity of adopting a proactive approach to risk management that emphasizes mitigation and preparedness in order to foster more resilient urban systems. This research focuses on one component of the urban system—the business community—and demonstrates the value of drawing deliberate linkages between risk research and practice to facilitate the development of community risk reduction strategies. Using North Vancouver as a case study, this research takes a two-fold approach to examining business earthquake vulnerability. Using the lens of an M7.3 Georgia Earthquake scenario, this research estimates potential business disruption and economic loss to the business community through the application of an economic loss model that considers simultaneous disruption from building damage, lifeline outage and neighborhood damage. This assessment is contextualized with data from a survey of local business risk perceptions and preparedness behaviors. Model results indicate that lifeline loss is a greater source of disruption to businesses than either building damage or neighborhood damage; a complete disruption of lifelines would leave only an estimated 28% of local businesses open and result in a loss of 73% of normal daily economic production. Survey results indicate business respondents are generally unprepared to respond to an earthquake or other hazard—only 25% report having a preparedness plan in place—and highlight a lack of knowledge as the most common barrier to increased preparedness. Ultimately, this study identifies patterns of risk and vulnerability in the North Vancouver business community, examines associations between business risk perceptions and preparedness behavior, and offers ways that subsequent findings can be used to inform public risk management strategies. The study also suggests ways to refine future research in this area.

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The Christchurch earthquake sequence : government decision-making and confidence in the face of uncertainty (2013)

Natural disasters can create significant uncertainty for individuals and entire cities. This thesis examines the role of government decision-making and uncertainty in disaster recovery, focusing on a case study of post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand. Beginning in September 2010, Christchurch has been shaken by a devastating sequence of earthquakes, stretching over 18 months. The most severe event took place on February 22, 2011, taking the lives of 185 people and causing significant damage throughout the city. Building damage has forced the closure of portions of the Central Business District (CBD) for over 2 years as of July 2013, and over 7,000 residential properties have been purchased by the government due to land damage. The duration of the earthquake sequence, combined with the scale of damage, has created significant uncertainty for the city, specifically for the future of the CBD and the local property market. This thesis seeks to examine how government decision-making can incentivize a community of self-interested actors facing uncertainty to pull together, and create an outcome that benefits all of them. A conceptual framework is developed through which three key government decisions in the Christchurch case are analyzed in terms of how uncertainty has been managed. The three decisions are: 1) maintaining a Cordon around the CBD, 2) Establishing the Christchurch Central Development Unit to plan the rebuild of the CBD, and 3) Establishing a system of zoning to classify land damage for residential properties. A detailed description of the earthquake sequence and context is also provided.The primary research for this thesis was collected during 23 semi-structured key informant interviews conducted in New Zealand in May of 2012. Interviewees were selected with expertise in a range of different recovery issues, as well as different roles in the recovery, from decision-makers to those implementing the decisions, and those impacted. In conclusion, this thesis argues that uncertainty has been a major driver in government decision-making, and that those decisions have had a significant impact in terms of reducing uncertainty. In particular, decisions have addressed uncertainty in terms of the residential property market, and the future of the CBD.

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Institutions contributing to system adaptability : the case of flood management in the Fraser Valley (2011)

The flood threat has existed as long as humans have inhabited the Fraser Basin but the context is changing. Climate change is expected to impact streamflow and flood patterns in yet unpredictable ways, at the same time that population, infrastructure and economic activity continue to increase in floodplain areas in the Basin. This challenge is emerging just as significant shifts in relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations institutions in Canada are taking place. All levels of government jointly affect the adaptive capacity of the linked social-ecological system they inhabit together. In the face of such complexity and uncertainty, a system needs to have the capacity to anticipate, learn, adapt and transform, and not just react, in order to persist. The central research question explored in this study is: How does institutional capacity enhance and/or hinder the current, and ongoing, adaptability of the flood management regime? Drawing on the fields of social-ecological systems, disaster management, and organizational resilience, an adaptability lens is combined with Healey et al.'s Institutional Capacity framework (1999, 2003) to explore these questions focusing on the case of a flood management regime involving the City of Chilliwack and Stó:lō Nation communities in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia.The study is based on documentation, direct observation and twelve expert interviews conducted with representatives of key organizations. Sources of Institutional Capacity that enhance adaptability include the presence of divergence and diversity across the system, along with “learning systems” and collective “sensemaking” repertoires (i.e. the ability to interpret and act in novel situations). Barriers to enhancing adaptability were also identified. For example, an overriding belief in structurally-driven flood management is at odds with the nature of the flood hazard and potential changes. As well, the relative proficiency of the emergency management system may undermine longer-term cycles essential for resilience.Overall, the analysis suggests that the flood management regime was adaptable in the short-term. In the mid- to long-term there are important components of institutional capacity that enhance the potential for adaptability, but a number of weak or missing elements threaten to undermine system adaptability if left unaddressed.

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Post-disaster community recovery : linking environmental and economic recovery (2011)

This study examines the linkages between environmental and economic post-disaster recovery for coastal communities using the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a case study. The disaster literature often neglects to discuss the recovery of the natural environment in urban areas and how this influences the economic recovery of a community. This is caused in part by the difficulty of measuring recovery. However, it is a very important part of the post-disaster recovery and this study explores such ‘hidden losses’ as a declined contribution of the local fishery industry to the community. It is also important to recognize that the perception of how the natural environment relates to human societies is influenced by a society’s paradigm. This study first examines the influence of two contrasting paradigms on the assessment of the recovery of natural system: the anthropocentric and ecocentric paradigms. This provides insights into the influence of the contemporary anthropocentric paradigm and the contrast with an ecocentric approach. Secondly, this thesis research studies the linkages between environmental and economic recovery for coastal tourism and fishery industries, focusing on a case study of the Biloxi area of Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The empirical insights gained from the case study are used to refine a framework for linking post-disaster environmental and economic recovery. Fieldwork was conducted in October 2010 and included 13 expert judgment interviews with local stakeholders and authorities. Quantitative analysis was also conducted using statistical time series data on economic and environmental variables. Results indicate that the economic recovery of the environment-dependent fisheries sector lagged behind the recovery of the general economy. This is caused by several factors such as decreased demand for fisheries products due to perception of environmental damage. Findings are summarized in a diagram of linkages between environmental and economic recovery.

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Urban change and transportation vulnerability to earthquakes : the case of Metro Vancouver (2010)

A convergence of several factors has made Metro Vancouver’s transportation system vulnerable to earthquakes. Unfortunately, traditional post-disaster evaluations are often inadequate as they undervalue regional dimensions of transportation quality. After a fairly basic examination of ten of Metro Vancouver’s critical pieces of bridge infrastructure, results suggest that the transportation system will perform reasonably well when exposed to earthquakes with magnitudes between 4 and 8. However, certain damage outcomes leave many areas with limited accessibility. In particular, the simple sampling analysis suggests that the four most frequent damage outcomes - the loss of the Lion’s Gate, Oak Street, Arthur Laing, and Alex Fraser Bridges, respectively - present some interesting results. The Oak Street and Arthur Laing Bridge damage outcomes appear to cause minimal travel disruption likely due to relatively high levels of network redundancy. Conversely, the loss of the Lion’s Gate Bridge produces relatively much harsher diminished transportation performance. Furthermore, after observing transportation performance over time between 2004 and 2021, it would appear the region is at risk of suffering from diminished transportation quality as a consequence of land-use changes. These could have significant social and economical consequences. Overall, perhaps the most valuable output of this research is the formulation of a methodological framework to study post-earthquake transportation performance in Metro Vancouver. Another novelty of this research is the comparative study of earthquake risks in past and future regional environments. The paper also proposes some new methods for reducing post-earthquake transportation disruption. In particular this research suggests the use of targeted transportation demand management (TDM) policies to reduce strain on transportation networks prior to and following an earthquake. These are policies that could be included in municipal or regional disaster management and transportation planning frameworks.

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