The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning

In 2021 we have two class series on Puerto Rico and disaster planning.

CMP 5962/6960 Recovery Planning in Puerto Rico: This 1-credit course from March 10 to April 27 will introduce students to disaster recovery management concepts and recovery conditions in Puerto Rico since the 2017 hurricane events. The course is open to any student interested in these subjects but is highly recommended for students interested in taking Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab in Summer 2021. Topics covered in this course will directly relate to work done over the summer in the Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab.

CMP 4280/6280 Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab: The Puerto Rico LAB is a City and Metropolitan Planning 3-credit Studio Course running from Monday, May 17 to Friday, June 25 and is open to undergraduate and graduate students who would like to register for the Ecological Planning Workshop (CMP 4280) or the Graduate Workshop (CMP 6280). The Puerto Rico Resiliency LAB mission is to develop—with students, faculty, and community organizations—planning solutions that promote sustainability, resiliency, and equity in a recovery scenario. The summer program offers students practical experience working alongside practitioners while providing the community partners with research, ideas, and plans to develop further. To estimate summer tuition, please visit We will provide three Diversity Scholarships of $500 each for the Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab. Students wishing to obtain a diversity scholarship will need to complete the application by April 19, 2021. See the “apply” page.  

We invite you to explore this website, where you can find all of the information you will need to join the Recovery Planning in Puerto Rico course and the Puerto Rico Resiliency LAB in 2021! 

Divya Chandrasekhar and Ivis Garcia Zambrana Assistant Professors City & Metropolitan Planning

We Thank Our Sponsors!

The Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab is an intensive summer planning studio. Students will not be traveling this year due to COVID-19. Students will work with Loiza, a community affected by the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Zoom lectures, tours, and events engage students directly with practitioners, city officials, and community groups.

  • 6-week studio focused on resiliency projects that matter to communities
  • Work under the direction of planners and emergency managers
  • Engage with a spectrum of leaders: mayor’s office to activists to residents

This partly-funded by Reaveley Engineers and the Global Change Sustainability Center studio course provides students with conceptual knowledge and hands-on experience with community-based disaster planning. Students will present their work at the 2021 Utah Disaster Resilience Symposium to be held in Salt Lake City in Fall 2021. Students must apply to be enrolled in the course.

Project Title:

Building Resilience in Vulnerable Older Adult Communities Facing Increased Exposure Risks to Wastewater Contamination from Flooding in Puerto Rico


The objective of this study is to gather data that will aid in building resilience in vulnerable populations against contamination risks posed by flooding. The underlying hypothesis is that even in vulnerable older adult communities exposed to natural disasters and resulting contamination, community-based risk reduction efforts can significantly decrease risk and increase the resilience of such populations especially when factors such as psychosocial vulnerabilities and the built environment are taken into consideration. Specifically, researchers are interested in improving the scientific understanding of how flooding results in elevated exposure risks to wastewater-related contaminants among older adults (Objective 1), determining what secondary/modifying psychosocial variables affect the vulnerability of older adults to risk posed by contaminant exposure (Objective 2), and learning how to build resilience in vulnerable communities with older adults by connecting the information gathered in the previous objectives (Objective 3).


The objectives will be met through a combination of (1) research about flooding, vulnerable communities in the disaster scenario, (2) surveys and interviews to identify the socioeconomic vulnerabilities, social capital, and disaster housing risk and exposure in the impacted community, and (3) community-based risk reduction to build resilience in the vulnerable, older adult population within the impacted community. Specifically, the municipality of Loíza in Puerto Rico is chosen as the testbed for this project because of its susceptibility to flooding and its large population of older adults.

Expected Results:

The outputs of this project will provide spatial information on contamination, psychosocial, and infrastructure vulnerabilities to risks associated with flooding within the Loíza community, which will then be used to plan interventions for increasing resilience in the vulnerable, older adult populations. One key outcome of this work is an enhanced understanding of the connections between physical exposure to contamination from natural disasters, risks posed by psychosocial systems and the built environment, and effective methods for improving resilience in vulnerable communities.


Students at the University of Utah from College of Architecture + Planning, Environmental Studies and Engineering spent the 2019 Spring Break learning about disaster recovery and resilience in Puerto Rico after the 2017 Hurricane Maria. During the trip, we introduced students to different dimensions of disaster recovery as well how disaster resilience intersects with community revitalization, sustainability, and environmental justice.

 First, the students visited Comerío, a low-income mountain community that suffered significant flood, wind and landslide damage. Students heard stories of municipal workers who worked tirelessly to help others despite having lost homes themselves. They met an elderly widow who had lost her roof to the hurricane and lived under a tarp. They also saw the new disaster-resilient home that the Chicago-based Puerto Rico Agenda and the municipality built for her. The students then visited an Agenda-funded “resilience center”, which is designed to act as a hyper-local relief and aid center in times of disaster. Here the students led a participatory disaster impact and recovery asset mapping exercise with local residents. Our students are now transferring these insights into a report for the community to use during recovery planning. Students also heard about the community’s aspirations to restore a defunct hydroelectric plant, pursue ecotourism and other sustainability measures while recovering.

Next, students visited the unique El Yunque National Forest to experience post-disaster natural resource recovery. Students visited the make-shift visitor center that has had to operate outside the park since the disaster and learned about the impact on park facilities, trails and the many scientific experiments in-progress. They took a tour of the forest to see how the disaster has limited visitor experience, and to understand how long the road to recovery is.

Next, the students met students and faculty of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras in San Juan to hear about recovery from an institutional perspective. They followed this up with a visit to Urban, Community and Business Action Center of Río Piedras (CAUCE) which works to revitalize the economically depressed Rio Piedras neighborhood and which played a central role in coordinating local post-disaster relief and response. Finally, the students visited the World Habitat Award-winning Corporación ENLACE del Caño Martin Peña. ENLACE represents a low-income canal community that has self-organized to restore its socioeconomic and natural environments. The community has combined disaster resilience and sustainability by undertaking a community-engaged relocation project that will move residents out of the floodplain and into the same community, while also enabling ecological restoration of the canal. The visit provided students with a community-based, socially just model for sustainability and resilience planning.

Over the course of a week, the students met with many stakeholders taking many diverse recovery actions and in diverse contexts. Through stories, first-hand observation and discussions, our students learned about how dynamic, complex, multi-dimensional, and emotional disaster recovery is. They also learned about the human capacity to rise above challenges, take collective action and build community resilience in the face of disasters.

Diversity Scholarship

Thanks to our sponsors Reaveley Engineers, and the Global Change and Sustainability Office, we have reduced the cost by $500 for three students from diverse backgrounds. Diversity is broadly defined (e.g., students from a racial or ethnic underrepresented background in academia, first-generation college students, students who grew up in a low-income family, etc.). Please fill out the general application and attach a brief statement that addresses: 1) your values related to diversity, 2) your experiences working with diverse populations, and 3) your plans related to inclusivity (250-word max). We will provide three Diversity Scholarships of $500 each for the Puerto Rico Resiliency Lab. Students wishing to apply will need to complete the application by April 19, 2021. Selections will be announced within 1 week.

Online application

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Divya Chandrasekhar

Divya Chandrasekhar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah with expertise in community recovery from disasters. Her research has examined post-disaster community participation and capacity building, networking and coordination among recovery institutions, and disaster recovery policy in Asia, the Carribean and the U.S. Divya specializes in qualitative inquiry and mixed method studies. Since 2015, she has been a member of the Utah State Hazard Mitigation Team, the Utah State Hazard Mitigation Plan Advisory Committee, and an affiliate of the Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah. Divya’s research has been funded by National Science Foundation, the Department of the Interior, and the Natural Hazards Center at Boulder. Her work has been published in prominent national and international journals in the fields of disaster management and urban planning.

Ivis Garcia Zambrana

Ivis García, AICP, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the City and Metropolitan Planning department at the University of Utah. Dr. Garcia also chairs Planners for Puerto Rico—a group of academic and practitioner planners from ACSP, APA, FEMA, CENTRO, UPR, and Society for Puerto Rican planners—among others that are collaborating in recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. She also involved with the National Puerto Rican Agenda, the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago, the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, and Centro’s IDEAComún all of which promote Puerto Rico’s recovery. Dr. García earned her PhD in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds dual Master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico in community and regional planning and Latin American Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Sciences from Inter-American University in Puerto Rico.

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For more information please contact Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar (

or Dr. Ivis Garcia (

Online application

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