The long-term economic recoveries catastrophic disasters are poorly understood. In contrast, the policy literature is full of aspirational plans to "build-back-better" (BBB) — a recovery that leads to improvements above and beyond the pre-disaster status quo. Yet, BBB remains ill-defined. It is clearly multi-dimensional, but here we focus on assessment of building back a better economy. The central objective of our paper is to propose a more concrete definition of BBB and test it against Sri Lanka's recovery after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. To do so, we propose four criteria against which one should evaluate BBB policies, and then we specifically evaluate these for the recovery as it was experienced in Sri Lanka. These criteria are safety, speed, fairness (inclusiveness), and socio-economic potential.