The impacts of disasters on children in rural settings have been studied extensively in international settings, but only limited rigorous research has been conducted within the United States. While it is clear the experiences of rural regions in the United States differ from those in an urban setting, further research is required to assess specific barriers and challenges facing rural children in blue-sky times, and in times of disaster. Aiming to advocate for a more equitable disaster response, the following study aims to begin addressing this knowledge gap through a comprehensive literature review, qualitative research, and culminating in formative recommendations. Funded by a grant from Save the Children US, this aimed to enhance understanding of the unique barriers and challenges that rural children and communities may face during disasters.

Many communities, systems, and child-serving institutions are not sufficiently prepared to meet the unique needs of children when a crisis strikes. Recognizing the role of external partners during disasters, particularly funders of in-kind or fiscal donations, the notion of strong local community partnerships remains a critical opportunity and ideal standard of practice for response organization engagement after disaster. Therefore, this project included a qualitative formative study on the application of the concept of localization drawn from interviews with rural community organizations about their experiences and what they need to serve the children in their communities throughout the disaster lifecycle.

In collaboration with Save the Children US, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at the Columbia Climate School, Columbia University established the following research objectives:

Study Objectives


Conduct a literature review of research on the impact of disasters on rural children pertaining to key areas of childcare, child welfare, food security, psychosocial support, and housing security paying specific attention to barriers and challenges.


Explore how differing classifications of rurality can affect data representation, policies, and disaster response aid provided to rural communities and its children.


Apply a localization framework to a domestic context by interviewing representatives of local rural partner organizations serving children and/or families to better understand their needs and expectations of large disaster response organizations during disaster. Summarize these findings into key recommendations for response organizations working in rural communities.


Identify and collate of key rural indicators of child health, well-being, and opportunities to populate a data dashboard.


Beginning with a literature review, the team utilized a systematized approach which included both peer-reviewed and grey literature. Search terms were identified and organized for each area of focus (childcare, child welfare, food security, psychosocial support, housing security) with a specific focus on ‘child’ and ‘rural’. Additional data sources were explored to supplement the review process and support findings. NCDP also completed a comprehensive review of federally used rural definitions to identify one that provides the most accurate rural experience.

In addition to the literature review, the team conducted a formative qualitative study on the application of the concept of localization in a rural context. Sourcing from a list of potential study participants from Save the Children US, the NCDP research team conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with community-based organization representatives serving children and families in education, psychosocial support, and food security in multiple communities across rural America. Interviews were built around localization frameworks and were led, recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for common themes.

In recognition of the lack of comprehensive rural data, the team compiled census data and other secondary data sources to crate national data tables which applying a specific rural definition.

Lastly, the NCDP team summarized the findings of each research component outlined above into reports of key findings and recommendations which seek to inform thought leadership on serving rural children and families during disaster.

Project Outputs

Literature Review

  1. Comprehensive literature review across the five topical areas
  2. Annotated bibliography
  3. Secondary data sources directory

Rural Definitions Analysis

  1. Rural definitions primer
  2. Map application

Localization Study

  1. Formative findings report
  2. Recommendations Memo


  1. ESRI Storymap of Rural Definitions (see below)


  1. National demographic data tables by rurality
  2. Census tract dataset of child indicators by rurality
  3. “Rural Child Well-being Dashboards” underlying data


  1. RCRC Toolbox Checklists for Child-serving Orgs
  2. RCRC Catalog English and Spanish


Rurality Definitions: Implications for Child-focused Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

This presentation was presented in partnership with Save the Children US during the Rural Summit: Cradle to Career 2023. The presentation focused on how classifications of rurality affect child focused preparedness, response, and recovery.

“Building Food Security in Disasters: Rural Considerations”

This presentation was presented as part of Reimagining Rural: The Rural Child Hunger Summit 2023. This presentation covered the dimensions of food security in rural contexts and emerging considerations for ensuring rural food security in disasters

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Project Team:

  • Jonathan Sury, MPH, CPH
  • Sean Hansen, MPA
  • Qendresa Krasniqi, MPA
  • Emily Heard
  • Antonia Samur, MPA