Disaster law and policy is a developing and dynamic field. It’s new enough that foundational texts in the field are rare, but two Georgia State College of Law scholars are about to change that.
Professors John Marshall and Ryan Rowberry are co-editors of the Handbook on Disaster Law and Policy, which is set to be published by Cambridge University Press. The two were invited to collaborate on the project by their colleague, Susan Kuo at the University of South Carolina School of Law. With varying areas of expertise on disaster law, each editor brings a different perspective to the handbook.
“We are scholars coming from different backgrounds,” Marshall said. “Ryan focuses on historic preservation and cultural resources, Susan is an expert in tort law and private sector issues, and I primarily research local and state law concerns. So, we’re a good team to engage this type of project.”
The handbook contains more than 30 chapters by over 50 authors and is centered around seven themes. The text explores current critical issues in terms of disaster law and policy in both the domestic and international spheres.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what disaster event helped crystalize the field,” Marshall said. “Some cite California’s 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes, the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake, the September 11 attacks, or the 2004 Banda Aceh, Indonesian tsunami. But it seems the field really emerges after Hurricane Katrina.”
“Of course, a lot has happened since August 2005,” he continues. “Consider that here in the U.S. we have alone experienced the great Midwest floods of 2008, Super Storm Sandy, Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and waves of devastating western wildfires – to name just a handful. The field is evolving and dynamic, and I think that is reflected in our list of authors and their topics.”
The interdisciplinary handbook questions whose authority is it to create important disaster law and policy. The co-editors say it’s critical for them to feature a mix of voices, including those in government, non-profits, and people who have had their feet on the ground during disasters.
“When disasters strike it’s not just lawyers involved in rebuilding,” said Rowberry. “It’s engineers, it’s planners, it’s local government officials. Disasters involve a lot of different segments of society. We wanted to create something that reflected that fact as much as we could and really put out a resource that would be helpful.”
Though the project began in late 2018, amid writing the handbook, the world experienced its own disaster; the COVID-19 pandemic. The co-editors say this was their biggest challenge in getting the handbook together, but also proves how dynamic this area of law and policy is.
“Probably a third of our authors now have some language about COVID-19 in their chapters,” said Marshall. “Those chapters create interesting dialogue about this still unfolding international disaster we’re facing. The pandemic continues to reshape our understandings not just of the field of public health, but in the ways the pandemic has exposed the profound vulnerability of low-income, moderate-income, and even middle-class families. Disaster law is committed to examining the causes of the pandemic’s far-reaching effects and evaluating the possible pathways to more resilient futures.”
Rowberry and Marshall agree the best part of working on a project of this magnitude is getting to know the co-authors who contribute not just scholarly thinking but also solutions to policy problems.
“Susan is a great mentor and person, and we’re absolutely flattered she came to us with this idea,” Rowberry said. “It’s been wonderful to get to know her and John better and watch the masterful way they work.”
They say the project wouldn’t have been possible without flexibility from Cambridge University Press, the hard work of their research assistants and editors, and generous support from the College of Law. The handbook is expected to be available in 2022.
Written by Mara Thompson