The human dimension of disasters

October 20, 2003

The American Sociological Association (ASA)--in collaboration with George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management (ICDRM), and the Natural Hazards [Senate] Caucus Work Group--is sponsoring a briefing to elucidate the scientific knowledge base that could positively impact legislative- and policy-related efforts to prepare the nation to deal effectively with disasters.

Hurricane Andrew. 9/11. NASA's Challenger and Columbia explosions. The Northridge earthquake. The Chicago heat wave. Chernobyl. The Exxon Valdez. TWA Flight 800. What do we know about human and social relationships and structures that could help prevent or mitigate the consequences of disasters? A large body of sociological research disproves common myths about disasters, analyzes common mistakes in developing responses to disasters, and identifies the mismatch between citizens' needs and government and private industry responses. The panelists will discuss how social science research can help governments and private-sector organizations improve preparedness for, response to, and recovery from human and natural disasters.

Why should reporters consider covering this briefing? Perhaps NASA's new director of space shuttle teams, Wayne Hale, expressed it best following the release of the August 2003 Columbia Accident Investigation Board official report. Specifically, in the September 17 Washington Post he lamented his lack of preparation in the social sciences: "Being trained as an engineer, I'm wishing I'd taken more sociology classes in college." Attend the briefing to learn the lessons of social science disaster research.

Who: Dr. William A. Anderson, National Research Council/Academies, Director of Disasters Roundtable, will moderate presentations by three distinguished sociologists: Dr. Kathleen Tierney, Director, Natural Hazards Research Center, University of Colorado-Boulder, whose latest book is Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States; Dr. Eric Klinenberg, author of the award-winning Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago; and Dr. Lee Clarke, an expert on organizations, culture, and disasters, whose latest book is Terrorism and Disaster: New Threats, New Ideas. Dr. John F. Harrald, Director of George Washington University's ICDRM, will offer concluding remarks. ASA's Executive Officer Dr. Sally T. Hillsman will introduce the panel.

What: Congressional Briefing on The Human Dimension of Disasters

When: Monday, October 27, 2003; 2:00 - 3:30 PM

Where: First floor of the Rayburn House Office Building in Room #2154 - (Committee on Government Reform), Washington, DC

RSVP: Johanna Ebner (, 202-383-9005 x332), or Lee Herring (
The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to advancing the field of sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good. With more than 13,000 members, ASA serves sociologists who are faculty members at colleges and universities, researchers, practitioners, and students.

American Sociological Association

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