Presentation on theme: "Disaster Myths and Realities"— Presentation transcript:
1 Disaster Myths and Realities Tricia WachtendorfDisaster Research Center / University of DelawareResearch Funding Provided by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Public Entity Risk Institute
2 Disaster MythA disaster is simply a result of physical events and leaves everyone in its path equally vulnerableREALITY: In fact, disasters are social events that leave some groups more vulnerable to impacts than others
3 For ExampleIn New York City on 9/11, workers on the upper floors of the towers were more vulnerable than those who worked on lower floors; people with disabilities who were unable to use the stairs were more vulnerable than those who were able-bodiedDuring Hurricane Katrina, low income citizens without a vehicle had more difficulty evacuating than those Gulf Coast residents who did own vehicles; renters were at the mercy of their landlords regarding the extent to which mitigation actions had been taken
4 Disaster MythDisaster response comes down to the actions of isolated heroes in our societyREALITY: Disasters involve a multi-organizational response2 dante’s peak clips9/11 organizations and small roles
5 For exampleThe response on 9/11 involved participation of a broad range of local, state, and federal agencies, large non-profit organization and local community based groups, large corporations and small businesses, and many, many individuals citizens.
6 Disaster MythWe can expect widespread role abandonment by emergency respondersREALITY: Research shows that emergency responders do not generally abandon their responsibilities, particularly after assurances that their families are safeVolcano role abandonment
7 For exampleFirefighters continued to converged to the World Trade Center, even after calls had been issued to remain at the firehouses.It was actually difficult to convince workers at Ground Zero to leave because many were committed to the job or to first rescuing potential survivors and later recovering the remains of those who had perished.Rather than role abandonment, we saw people coming from across US to provide help after 9/11
8 Disaster Myth We can expect widespread panic during disasters REALITY: Panic (as anti-social irrational behavior, not feelings of anxiety) is rare in disastersDante’s peak town hall9/11 people jogging
9 For ExampleIt is often more difficult to get people to leave an area than deal with people fleeing from itPeople do not panic unless their avenue of escape is very rapidly closing (possible on some of the floors in the Twin Towers where fires were most intense) and even then conduct is orderly until last momentsFear and running away from imminent danger is not illogical. It is rational behavior to steer clear from danger.
10 Disaster MythWe can expect widespread looting, price gouging, and other anti-social behaviorREALITY: While anti-social behavior does sometimes occur, it is not as widespread as is often portrayed.People, in fact, exhibit pro-social behavior in disastersVolcano looting
11 For ExampleAppropriating behavior (people taking necessary items for survival or for the response) is sometimes mistaken as lootingCrime rates actually go down in the immediate impact period following disastersMany people act to help their fellow citizens during a disaster and instead offer to others what little resources they may have
12 Disaster MythWe should immediately send any assistance we can as help of all forms will be necessaryREALITY: Money is the best form of assistance; other assistance can be extremely helpful, but must take into account actual needs and when those goods or services are most needed.Any provision of assistance should also consider how to best ensure that those resources will be identified, sorted, and distributed during an intense response.
13 For ExampleMoney can be redirected into the local economy and be used to purchase goods even as needs change over the course of the response/recovery.Those requesting assistance should be clear to instruct what type of volunteers are needed, where they should converge to, what types of goods are needed, how they should be packed and labeled, and where goods should be sent.
14 Disaster MythDisaster response is solely the responsibility of government agenciesREALITY: Disaster response often involves extensive public engagementIncludes a full range of individuals, groups, agencies, and businessesEstablished, expanding, extending, emergent
15 E.L. Quarantelli & Russell Dynes outline the different types of organizations in disasters in their DRC Typology:StructuresOld NewOld Established Expandinge.g. fire or police e.g. Salvation Armyor American Red CrossTasksNew Extending Emergente.g. a bicycle courier e.g. a bucket brigadecompany that startsto deliver food tocheckpoints
16 For examplePrivate vessels played a critical role in evacuating commuters from Manhattan on 9/11.In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, individual boat owners searched for neighbors they believed had not evacuated and were stranded.
17 Disaster MythCentralized decision-making and response is always appropriateREALITY: Complex disasters necessitate decentralized decision making structures and networksCommunication and coordination are better than command and control
18 Command and Control incorrectly assumes (T. E. Drabek & D. A Command and Control incorrectly assumes (T.E. Drabek & D. A. McEntire):Government is the only responderInformation from outside official channels is inaccurateWidespread role abandonmentStandard operating procedures will always functionCitizens are inept, passive, and irrationalSociety will breakdownAd hoc emergence is counter productive
19 Disaster MythHaving a solid disaster plan ensures an effective responseREALITY: Planning is crucial, but so is a flexible organization the recognizes that some form of improvisation may be necessary.Planning should be seen as a process, not as an activity that creates a document that will never need to be revisited.
20 The artistry of disaster response Just as great improvisation in jazz music involves more than “playing from the heart” or “raw talent,” great emergency management involves more than “common sense” or “just doing what needs to be done.”
21 For more information, contact: Tricia Wachtendorf, Ph.DAssistant Professor / Department of SociologyCore Faculty / Disaster Research CenterDisaster Research CenterUniversity of DelawareNewark, DE 19716Phone:Webpage: