Disasters' Impact on Modern Societies: A Critical Analysis of Predictions, Prevention, and Preparedness for the Twenty-First Century

Larry Stewart, University of the District of Columbia
Terri Marie Adams-Fuller, Howard University

With so many threats to human life, it appears that most people choose to ignore the more remote possibilities of nature's furry or or acts of terrorism under the belief that "it won't happen here." More real is the threat of criminal activity such as rape, robbery, or an automobile accident. Even when disaster is imminent, such as the government's raising of the terrorist threat levels, many people tend not to worry. Instead, they become fatalistic: life is irrational, nature malicious, and all disasters are random phenomena impossible to predict, prevent, or avoid.

This denial of disasters' threat is pervasive throughout all modern societies, but the American culture has some unique features. For example, Americans strongly reject all anxious or worrisome behavior. Even children are taught not to be "fraidy-cats." Calmness and coolness in times of trouble characterize America's own brand of machismo. Laughing off danger, ignoring warning signals, and taking risks are considered positive reactions, somehow mature ("All life is a gamble!") and even patriotic ("This country was founded by people willing to take chances!"). Moreover, Americans tend to have little anticipation of hazards; there is a "show me" mentalty. Taking flight or making preparations for an uncertain calamity are all rejected for fear of seeming cowardly or weak-kneed. Americans also tend to be overly optimistic, sometimes fatally, with a typical response to crisis: "Things must get better; they can't get any worse."

This study investigates possible cause-and-effect relationships by observing the existing consequences of various disasters and their impact on society, similarities and differences of people's response to those impacts, and plausible contributory factors. The study identifies the following stages for study, which are currently contained within the Federal Emergency Management Agency "All Hazard Model:" mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Additionally, the study identifies for comparison the "World War II Model" which includes the following phases: the warning, the threat, the impact, the inventory, the rescue, the remedy, and the recovery.

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Updated 05/20/2006