Using administrative data to estimate population displacement and resettlement following a catastrophic U.S. disaster

Report by Allison Plyer, Joy Bonaguro, Ken Hodges
November 29, 2009

After a large scale evacuation, authorities need to know the new and frequently changing population distributions in order to meet needs for housing, schools, health care, and other services. This paper reviews literature from the fields of demography and other disciplines to identify available administrative data sets that can form the basis of sound, relevant, and timely county-level population estimates following a catastrophic U.S. event. The most appropriate data to estimate population in damaged counties will be disaster-specific data such as housing damage estimates and FEMA applicant counts initially, and later electric accounts and USPS active residences. In heavily damaged counties, data on electric accounts and USPS active residences may not be consistently collected for many months, during which time sample surveys may be needed. For counties that receive an influx of population, school enrollment data provide the most appropriate basis for population estimates. Population estimates for large, heavily damaged counties are highly uncertain. Sensitivity analysis when using estimates for planning in these areas is recommended. The Census Bureau can build on this research by codifying recommendations to local authorities for developing frequent post-disaster population estimates.