The Northridge earthquake triggered a complex set of organizational, household, and individual actions across a large and dispersed urban area. In Chapters 3 and 4 we considered historical factors that have shaped the urban forms and structures of social inequality across the region. These provide contexts for examining the patterns of vulnerability revealed by the earthquake and the social actions engendered in its aftermath. In this chapter and the next we partition the discussion of the Northridge disaster into two frames. Here we discuss general and localized responses to the disaster, specifically focusing on individual losses and the programs intended to assist victims. The term ‘responding’ is intended to connote the heterogeneous and processual nature of activities undertaken by people, organizations, and governments to cope with the disaster and recover from its direct effects. We avoid analytically dividing the disaster into discrete ‘phases’ (emergency response, restoration, recovery), since such partitions - while having some heuristic value - tend to gloss the complex and contradictory ways different actions can combine in uneven temporal sequences (e.g. Neal 1997).
In the next chapter, we discuss programs which, while initiated as part of recovery, extend into the realms of social change and development. Conceptually, actions that restore conditions to what they were before the earthquake are considered ‘recovery’, while those that involve organizational and economic changes are termed ‘restructuring’ (e.g. Albala-Bertrand 1993). Some social actions and programs involve both simultaneously as with City of Los Angeles’ efforts to promote restoration in heavily damaged neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley (Chapter 6). Using this conceptual distinction, actions that seek to reduce vulnerability will often involve changes in structural arrangements in communities, hence are considered part of restructuring. Economic development, social change, and the structural alterations these involve are ongoing processes. In a common disaster such as Northridge, the event may be of only incidental significance to longer-term trajectories, a means of highlighting existing problems while augmenting resource availability and creating new political opportunities.
In California, existing organizational capacities and intergovernmental networks provide high levels of social protection against disasters, although programs and the extent of protection vary among municipalities and socioeconomic groups. Federal and state actions after the earthquake, activated as part of a national infrastructure of disaster management, moderated the disaster’s impacts through a variety of shelter, temporary housing, and recovery programs. In this chapter, we first review relief programs that were generally available across the entire disaster area, and we examine routinized aspects of response and recovery, specifically federal programs directed towards housing support and rehabilitation. Our focus narrows as we consider local response and recovery issues that emerged in the study sites. A consideration of local conditions and responses reveals dimensions of household vulnerability and the emergence of programs intended to address those with unmet recovery needs. The conclusion returns to the conceptual framework of vulnerability introduced in Chapter 2, and reconsiders it in light of these local contexts.