Article Index

Vulnerability as a Measure of Change in Society

Authors
Greg Bankoff
Issue
August 2003
Description
Assessing risk and evaluating crises—be they financial, social, political or environmental—have come increasingly to preoccupy the interests and concerns of analysts around the globe. In developed countries or what until recently was usually referred to as the First World, such considerations involve the re-conceptualization of post-industrial societies as ones in which the rise of “manufactured uncertainties” have undermined the state’s established safety systems and its conventional calculus of security (Giddens 1991). Yet to the billions of humanity who continue to live in the less developed countries of the Third or Fourth Worlds and whose peoples still have faith in the benefits of development or have seen that promise come and go in a single lifetime, these finer considerations of risk may seem less important. The threats posed by dumping industrial wastes, unsafe chemical production and the pollution of air and water, though real and graphically manifest on occasion, often pale in comparison to the daily risks posed by natural hazards and human-induced calamities that recent decades have only intensified. Rather than the “risk society” proposed by Ulrich Beck and others (1992), it is the need to understand the historical evolution of vulnerability and the degree to which different social classes are differently placed at risk that require more urgent consideration for most communities (Susman et al. 1983).

Vulnerability of Displaced Persons: Relocation Park Residents in the Wake of Hurricane Charley

Authors
Heather M Bell, Linda M Whiteford, Burrell E Montz, Graham A Tobin
Issue
March 2006
Description
Hurricane Charley made landfall in southwest Florida, USA on August 13, 2004. It caused devastation in several coastal counties before moving rapidly north-northeastwards through the state. While storm surge and flooding were minimal, the destruction from high winds was extensive. Hurricane Charley was the most intense storm to make landfall in Florida since Andrew in 1992; three more hurricanes followed in 2004, creating problems throughout the state and leaving many people homeless. This study looked at the vulnerability of these displaced persons, exploring issues of pre and post-event behavior, response and recovery in a relocation park run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Questionnaire surveys and indepth interviews were used to assess perception of immediate and ongoing needs of park residents and to evaluate how well those needs had been met. Though residents reported that emergency response organizations had met most of their immediate needs and they were generally appreciative of FEMA’s efforts, there were some ongoing concerns. Results indicated that relocation park residents were more vulnerable than the general population prior to the storm, and that differences among park residents were associated with variations in perception of needs and outcomes. Specifically, four themes stood out and require further study: special needs, race, access to resources and social networks. With subsequent events, not least being Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, more attention to long-term sheltering needs and temporary housing would seem appropriate.

Vulnerability Reduction and Political Responsiveness: Explaining Executive Decisions in U.S. Disaster Policy during the Ford and Carter Administrations

Authors
R. Steven Daniels and Carolyn L. Clark-Daniels
Issue
August 2002
Description
Decision-making by elected executives on disaster policy reflects comprehensive vulnerability management, political responsiveness to the media, political negotiation, and intergovernmental conflict. If vulnerability reduction is a significant influence, executive decisions should reflect political and social vulnerability and self-sufficiency. If political responsiveness influences disaster decisions, executive decisions should also reflect media coverage, proximity to elections, and decisions at other levels of government. The data set included 293 major disaster requests between 1974 and 1981. The analysis used multiple regression and logistic regression. Vulnerability reduction had an impact on aid decisions. Political responsiveness affected most decisions on disaster relief. The Ford administration was more sensitive to both responsiveness and vulnerability than the Carter administration. Overall, nationalization of disaster assistance has made the achievement of vulnerability management more difficult. The absence of minimum criteria has increased the discretion of executive choice.

Waiting for Disaster: Changing Reactions to Earthquake Forecasts in Southern California

Authors
Ralph H. Turner
Issue
August 1983
Description
Several earthquakes near predictions in 1976 initiated a period of waiting in Los Angeles County for a great and destructive earthquake. Hypothesized negative effects of an extended period of waiting under an open-ended threat of disaster include (1) declining sense of urgency and vigilance, (2) disillusionment and disbelief, (3) accumulating anxiety and defensive denial of danger, and (4) resentment and scapegoating. Hypothesized positive effects include (5) familiarization, appreciated, and sensitization, and (6) symbolic and active rehearsal of responses. Interviews with five waves of adult County residents over a period of nearly two years, followed by a sixth wave immediately after a moderate but nondestructive earthquake, provided measures of change and stability of response to earthquake threat. Measures of fear, imminent expectation for a damaging earthquake, household preparedness, confidence in scientific earthquake prediction capability, suspicion that information was being withheld, attitude toward releasing uncertain predictions, focus on scientific as compared with unscientific forecasts, and preferred media source of information on forecasts tend to disconfirm the disillusionment, denial, and scapegoating hypotheses, to support reduced urgency and familiarization hypotheses, and to provide weak support for the rehearsal hypothesis.

Warning Mechanisms in Emergency Response Systems

Authors
Michael K. Lindell, Ronald W. Perry
Issue
August 1987
Description
The principal alternative mechanisms are described that might be considered by local governments for achieving prompt notification of the public in natural or technological emergency. These alternatives include face-to-face warnings, mobile loudspeakers, sirens, commercial radio and television, NOAA Weather Radio, newspapers and telephones. Each of the alternatives is evaluated on the basis of the number of people who can effectively be warned, specificity of the message that can be transmitted, degree of message distortion, coverage of the population at risk, dissemination time and cost. Data collected following the eruption of Mt. St. Helens are presented that illustrate how rapidly informal warning networks act to disseminate threat information in an emergency.

Waves of Conversion? The Tsunami, 'Unethical Conversions,' and Political Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Authors
Michael Hertzberg
Issue
March 2015
Description
Kleinfeld (2007) argues that humanitarian space should not be thought of as distinct from the political space, and that the repertoire of humanitarian actions always takes place within this pre-existing political space. This article explores this proposition within the context of the public debates on ‘unethical conversions’ in Sri Lanka following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. While, for my Buddhist informants, the tsunami was seen as enabling a sudden influx of numerous foreign NGOs to Sri Lanka, some of whom were suspected of proselytizing intentions, my Christian informants related to the post-tsunami period as involving a “suspension of hostilities”, which opened new opportunities to prove their worth to Sri Lankan society through their tsunami rehabilitation work. Indeed, some Christian relief organizations were able to temporarily negotiate a humanitarian space for themselves in local particularities. Nevertheless, allegations of ‘unethical conversions’ and the general mistrust of NGOs, which came to dominate Sri Lankan political discourse, were vital issues in the creation of a ‘nationalist’ political discourse which has had extensive and long-term effects.

“We Will make Meaning Out of This”: Women’s Cultural Responses to the Red River Valley Flood

Authors
Elaine Enarson
Issue
March 2000
Description
Recent work on gender relations in disasters focuses largely on women’s material experiences and vulnerabilities. This paper draws on cultural studies theory to interrogate gender symbolically in the context of a major U.S. flood. Based on analysis of cultural artifacts and “as well as interviews conducted for a larger study of women’s work in the 1997 Red River Valley flood, the author argues that women particularly employ grassroots popular culture to interpret disastrous events. A close reading of two flood quilts illustrates how interpersonal networks and traditional quilting skills helped women express gender-specific experiences and feelings, and convey an otherwise neglected ecofeminist critique of disaster vulnerability. The author concludes that women’s cultural responses to disasters afford a neglected angle of vision on human responses to catastrophe.

what is a Disaster? An Ecological-Symbolic Approach to Resolving the Definitional Debate

Authors
Stephen R. Couch, J. Stephen Kroll-Smith
Issue
November 1991
Description
The definition of disaster remains a contested issue in sociology. Two contrasting definitions vie for attention: the generic and the event-quality. One definition ignores the physical dimension of disaster focusing exclusively on social consequences. Another definition includes physical dimensions, but proponents of this approach cannot agree on just hat physical features to include. This essay evaluates these two definitions, suggesting the strengths and limitations of each. It offers a third definitional strategy that adds an environmental and symbolic dimension to the event-quality definition. We offer this ecological-symbolic approach as a necessary corrective to the limitations of both the generic and the event-quality definitions. A concluding section demonstrates the utility of this third perspective by applying it to an important discussion in disaster research.

What’s Gender “Got to do With It”?

Authors
Brenda Phillips, Betty Hearn Morrow
Issue
March 1999
Description
A-1\r\nMarch 1999, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 5-11\r\nTitle: What’s Gender “Got to do With It”?\r\nAuthor(s): Betty Hearn Morrow, Brenda Phillips\r\n

What's the Matter with Those People: Rethinking TMI

Authors
John Schorr, Karen S. Goldsteen, Raymond L. Goldsteen
Issue
November 1984
Description
This paper examines the long-term psychological effects of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) on a community situated almost entirely within five miles of the reactor. Data were collected in October-November, 1979 (Time I) from 391 residents 25 years of age and older and in October-November 1980 (Time II) from a subsample of these subjects. The findings of the study indicate that: 1) the community can be characterized as distressed at Time I and at Time II; and 2) in general, perceived threat to physical health is more highly associated with distress than personal or demographic characteristics. The relationship of these findings to previous research findings regarding long-term psychosocial effects following other types of disasters is discussed.