Social Science Hazard/Disaster Research: Its Legacy for
Emergency Management Higher Education
Arthur Oyola-Yemaiel, Ph.D.
Director, Emergency Management Program
North Dakota State University
Jennifer Wilson, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Emergency Management Program
North Dakota State University
In this paper, we acknowledge the school of thought of the pioneers of social science hazard/disaster research, synthesizing the forefathers’ activities as the foundation of an emerging discipline. This discipline is hazard/disaster research that studies not only the implications of emergencies and disasters on society but also the structures that society has developed to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from them, e.g. emergency management and homeland security. We also describe the evolutionary process of this budding discipline from the founders of the field, i.e., Dynes and Quarantelli, their research legacy and the institutional foundation that is permanently dedicated to host upcoming researchers and foster future research in this area, to the work of the first generation’s disciples, ending with the Higher Education Program initiative or the formation of degree programs (undergraduate and graduate) at universities to create human capital that will occupy positions in the emergency management/homeland security national structure and that will continue researching emergency management/homeland security topics.
The time has come to proclaim that hazard/disaster research is an emerging discipline. The nascent discipline has been in existence for over 50 years through the research efforts of individual social science scholars, quietly informing the practice of emergency management. Yet there is not widespread knowledge among the general scientific community, and emergency management practitioners of the vast amount of work that the originators of the field of hazard/disaster research have conducted. Nor is it well-documented the implications of their work, their legacy or the future their work will spawn. By highlighting the illustrious careers of several individual hazard/disaster researchers, we will illustrate the evolution of the discipline since its origin to the present. From this perspective we will then discuss strategies for its future and its implications on emergency management professionalization via higher education. Sociological Tradition
Perhaps foremost, E. L. Quarantelli is considered a founder of the field. Quarantelli focused his research and academic life on establishing, broadening and solidifying the field of disaster research. For decades, Quarantelli has led the dialogue of a consensual definition of disaster and what researchers should be studying (1982d, 1987, 1998). However, his works go beyond the theoretical aspects of disaster and have opened the doors for others to investigate issues in emergency management planning (1977a, 1982b, 1982a). In addition, he has researched sociological aspects of disasters such as panic behavior and cross-cultural differences (1977b, 1979a). He planted the seeds in the specifics and fundamentals of emergency and disasters recovery themes, some of which are as contemporary today as in the 1970s (1979b, 1982c). But Quarantelli did not stop here. He continued writing (on the forefront and futures) not only for theoretical discourse but for the practical or applied field, concentrating on seeking solutions to the challenges of his time. In so doing he has laid the foundation for generations of researchers to come. Junior scholars are being guided by the forthcoming vision of Quarantelli in his written legacy on human behavior in disaster, social historical factors affecting disaster studies and research findings (1987, 1987, 1988). Of course, the issue of education did not escape his attention (1989). It is especially in this area of education that hazard/disaster research is at the crossroad with emergency management professional development. Currently, the new generation of academic researchers is engaged in the higher education initiative in order to develop new academic programs at the tertiary level to instruct the next cohorts of EM practitioners and academic researchers. This new generation is taking steps to advance the discourse on emergency management and disaster studies and to pursue the best venues to its application. In so doing current and future researchers and educators will amplify and consolidate the legacy of our predecessors.
A second founder of the discipline, Russell R. Dynes, has a different approach to disaster research that can be seen in the collection of articles, manuscripts and books he has authored through the years. For example, he has made significant contributions to studies of communities in disaster including societal and community problems, organizational involvement and changes in community structure (1967a, 1967b, 1970, 1994). More importantly, Dynes’ work on organizational and social structure is a major theoretical contribution to the field (1975, 1979 with B. E. Aguirre, 1987). Finally, he has addressed the implications and aspects of disaster research in his work (1994 with Thomas E. Drabek, 1966, 1988). Furthermore, Dynes has taken an historical approach to disasters on an international scale (1997, 1998, 1999).
In partnership, Quarantelli and Dynes have made a long lasting contribution to the field on administrative, methodological and theoretical problems in disaster research (1967 with Eugene Haas), organizations in disasters (1967, 1970), looting (1968a), collective behavior perspectives of disaster (1968b), property norms in emergencies (1968c), conflict in natural disaster (1971, 1976), and the myths and realities of social response to disaster (1972, 1977). As individual researchers Quarantelli and Dynes’ work has contributed enormously to the discipline. However, perhaps their real legacy is the foundation of the Disaster Research Center (DRC). The Disaster Research Center, the first social science research center in the world devoted to the study of disasters, was established at Ohio State University in 1963 and moved to the University of Delaware in 1985. Quarantelli and Dynes, other senior researchers/faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates and research support personnel at the DRC have conducted nearly 600 field studies since the Center’s inception, traveling to communities throughout the United States and to a number of foreign countries, including Mexico, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Turkey (DRC 2005). DRC research yields both basic social science knowledge on disasters and information that can be applied to develop more effective plans and policies to reduce disaster impacts. Besides maintaining its own databases, DRC serves as a repository for materials collected by other agencies and researchers. DRC’s specialized library, which contains the world’s most complete collection on the social and behavioral aspects of disasters—now numbering more than 40,000 items—is open to both interested scholars and agencies involved in emergency management (DRC 2005). The Center has its own book, monograph, and report series with over 400 publications.
The DRC maintains an on-going network of hazard/disaster researchers and amalgamates a number of scholars from different disciplines from around the world including Armenia, Australia, Argentina, Canada, China, France and the Far East at times hosting visiting research associates for year-long periods. In recent years, DRC has also organized several multinational conferences focusing on disaster issues in Central America, Southern Asia, Europe, Japan, and the former Soviet Union (DRC 2005). The work of the DRC has been supported by federal entities such as the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, and private non-profit entities such as the Public Entity Risk Institute.
A contemporary social scientist of Quarantelli and Dynes, Gilbert White, established an alternative approach in human ecology independent to the sociological heritage. White’s work created a stronghold of human geography and its invaluable application to the understanding of environment, human settlements and the interconnectivity between them (1974, 1977). White, internationally renowned as the father of natural hazard research and management, devised and conducted the first comprehensive assessment of hazards/social vulnerabilities to disasters in the U.S. from a holistic- interdisciplinary approach (1975). This pioneering assessment reported on the nation’s ability to withstand and respond to natural disasters (Mileti 1999).
The Natural Hazards Research and Application Information Center founded by White at the University of Colorado – Boulder in 1976 is an example of the laborious work that this scholar has conducted to materialize in perdurable structures the means for archiving past research, facilitating current efforts of understanding, and providing the means to study and implement new and futuristic ways to advance social science research and applications for generations of scholars and practitioners to come. The ongoing contribution of the Hazards Center to the research and applied community is to advance and communicate knowledge on hazard mitigation, disaster preparedness, response, and recovery using an all-hazards and interdisciplinary framework. In this sense the Center complements and supplements the DRC by integrating a natural hazard or environmental perspective.
The Natural Hazards Center serves as a national and international clearinghouse of knowledge concerning the social science and policy aspects of disasters (NHRAIC 2005). The Center is funded by a consortium of federal agencies and non-profit organizations including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, the Institute for Business and Home Safety, and the Public Entity Risk Institute, among others (NHRAIC 2005). The Center is guided by a National Advisory Committee comprised of representatives of federal agencies that have an interest in hazards as well as stakeholders from academia, state and local government, the private sector, and the nongovernmental community. The Center promotes an all-hazards approach for dealing with environmental extremes and has been a leading proponent of cooperative partnerships among varying disciplines.
The Natural Hazards Center also collects research and experience and shares it through the production of several series of publications such as the Natural Hazards Informer, Natural Hazards Review, Monographs, Working Papers, Special Publications and the Natural Hazards Observer newsletter. In addition, the Center manages the Quick Response grant program, an added tool for disaster scholars to travel to affected areas, a factor indispensable to the acquisition of the body of knowledge in hazards research and science application. White’s legacy continues through the Natural Hazards Center programs.
Both the Natural Hazards Center and the Disaster Research Center are staffed by faculty of the Sociology departments from their respective institutions. Thus, independent scholars associated with these centers have their own personal research agenda related to hazards/disasters in concomitance with the center. However, these centers do not have affiliated established degree programs at their institutions that specifically grant degrees in the hazard/disaster research school of thought (e.g., emergency management). Thus, the advancement of knowledge created by these centers is independently driven as opposed to channeling the knowledge they create into educating students via a formal degree program. Rather, they educate a few students who work as research assistants in the centers following the same pattern of individualized research on hazards/disasters as an addendum of a disciplinary base that the affiliated faculty practices.
Other Pioneer Hazard/Disaster Researchers
A contemporary scholar of Quarantelli, Dynes and White, Fred Bates has infused much into the bloodline of the hazard/disaster field. His work on systems and his vision for merging natural science theoretical arguments of systems theory (Maturana and Varela 1980) into the study of disaster has yet to make a big splash but is likely to do so, as the newer generations study emergency management as an applied field in more detail. Bates’ theoretical assumptions of self-referential cognitive systems and autopoiesis (1975, 1997) attempted to explain the rules that define how information is interpreted and used in social behavior. Bates and Harvey (1975) addressed replication of cultural patterns through self-referential systems. Bates (1997) clearly defines conflict as a non-systemic element, which continues to be an important subject especially in relation to the ever increasing scarce resource demands during response, recovery and reconstruction operations. In other words, the study of social organization through self referential systems could shed light on current efforts to organize more efficient and systemic emergency organizations at all levels (Oyola-Yemaiel 2000).
Another colleague of these senior scholars, a Canadian, is Joseph Scanlon. Scanlon whose contribution is in risk communication and the media in disasters has opened the doors to many into the studies of mass communication, rumor control and outreach prior, during and after disasters (1985). Scanlon has also pursued work on issues regarding death caused by disasters particularly mass fatalities and the socio-cultural connotations related to body recovery, identification and disposal including the historical event of the Halifax harbor ship explosion, which is a seminal piece utilized heavily in the classroom (1988). His work on mass fatalities continues to be relevant today for scholars studying the 2004 tsunami (Oyola-Yemaiel 2005).
The Second Generation
The second generation of hazard/disaster researchers is composed of the students of Quarantelli, Dynes, White, and Bates. These scholars have been responsible for continuing the legacy of research traditions begun by the first generation. In their own right, they have contributed enormously to the body of knowledge and are passing on the foundations of the discipline to a younger audience.
Thomas E. Drabek, the first student of Quarantelli and Dynes, has published a collection of publications related to disasters that covers a range of subjects from sociology of the family (1984), social psychology (1999), to organizations (1974). In addition, his expertise encompasses emergency management and the emergency manager (1987, 1991 with Gerard Hoetmer). Social structure and organization applied to emergency management and emergency services are models which the new generation is applying at the practical level and also in the academic arena via emergency management curriculum (1990, 2003). Drabek’s contribution to the sociology of disaster and emergency management is paramount and is utilized by contemporary researchers as a springboard to further enlighten and bring solutions to real challenges that the nation will face.
William A. Anderson’s endless efforts to help fund research while serving as an administrator at the National Science Foundation has contributed greatly to the field of hazard/disaster research by facilitating others to achieve their pursuit of knowledge in this area. Dennis Mileti, recent past director of the Natural Hazards Center, focused his research on the societal aspects for hazards and disasters especially sustainable mitigation. He also led the second assessment of U.S. hazards, which involved over 130 experts to assess knowledge, research, and policy needs (Mileti 1999). Kathleen Tierney, the current director of the Natural Hazards Center and former co-director of the Disaster Research Center, has over twenty-five years of experience in the disaster field. She has been involved in research on public perceptions of the earthquake threat in California, socio-behavioral aspects of real-time warning systems for earthquakes, risk communication, and the business impacts of disasters. Since September 11, 2001, she has been directing a study on the organizational and community response in New York following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (NHRIAC 2005). Joanne Nigg, former Co-Director of the DRC, has been involved in research on the societal response to natural, technological, and environmental hazards and disasters since 1975. In addition, she has recently developed an Emergency and Environmental Management concentration in the Sociology Department at the University of Delaware. David M. Neal and Brenda D. Phillips are pioneers in reaching out to educate the emergency management community at the university level.
Another salient figure is Dennis Wenger, a student of Quarantelli and Dynes who institutionalized the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC) at Texas A&M University in 1988. According to the website (HRRC 2005), the HRRC researchers focus on hazard analysis, emergency preparedness and response, disaster recovery, and hazard mitigation on the full range of natural disasters and technological hazards. The Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center is one of only two United Nations Collaborative Centers in the world. The center serves the U.N. as a research and consultant agency with particular emphasis on national disaster plans and their implications for future development. The staff of the HRRC is interdisciplinary in nature and includes the expertise of architects, planners, sociologists, policy analysts, and engineers.
This center, unlike the DRC and the Natural Hazards Center, offers an affiliated graduate certificate in Environmental Hazard Management (EHM). EHM is an interdisciplinary program that has been designed to provide students with an understanding of the interrelationship between the built environment and extreme events in the natural environment. Courses in the EHM Certificate program are taught by faculty fellows of HRRC in the colleges of Architecture, Engineering, Geosciences, and Liberal Arts. The courses address basic theory, empirical research, and practical application related to both natural and technological hazards as well as the implications of disaster research for policy formulation and implementation at the household, organizational, community, regional, state, federal, and international levels (HRRC 2005).
Beyond establishing the HRRC, Dennis Wenger’s contribution to disaster research is substantial. For more than three decades, during which time he was co-director of the DRC, he has focused upon issues concerning organizational and community preparedness, response, and recovery. As a result of his distinguished career, he was named William Anderson’s replacement at the National Science Foundation in 1997. At that time Michael Lindell became director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center. Lindell’s research focuses upon risk perception and community involvement in hazard adjustments such as planning (1990 and 1992 with Ronald Perry). Currently, Bates’ student, Walter Gillis Peacock, is director of the HRRC. Peacock is engaged in the discourse that Bates initiated and has applied his vision to issues of inequality and of socio-political ecology of disasters. For example, in co-authorship, Bates and Peacock published a case study of the Guatemala earthquake (1992, 1989 and 1987 also with Charles Killian) and a cross-cultural comparative study (1993). In addition, Peacock offered a related methodological piece on cross-national and comparative disaster research (1997). But more significantly, Peacock co-edited the first treatise on social vulnerability and the sociology of disaster following the worst natural disaster in U.S. history prior to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Andrew (1997 with Betty Hearn Morrow and Hugh Gladwin).
All of the above mentioned scholars as well as others from various social science disciplinary backgrounds such as Robert Stallings, Gary Kreps, Ronald Perry, Peter May, Robert Bolin, Richard Sylves, William L. Waugh, Jr., Anthony Oliver-Smith, Claire Rubin, Susan Cutter, Elaine Enarson, Betty Hearn Morrow, Maureen Fordham, and many others not specifically mentioned here, have contributed greatly to the emerging discipline. We would like to expound on the work of each of them as it has enriched the hazard/disaster research dialogue; however, such expansion is beyond the capacity of this paper. Needless to say, these scholars have coached, sponsored, and mentored figures who are now taking the drivers seat in guiding the future of the emergent hazard/disaster discipline. These apprentices are doing their share to continue the legacy and build the body of knowledge on the impacts of hazards/disasters on society. Some members of the current generation of social science hazard/disaster researchers are ourselves, Gary Webb, Cheryl Childers, Tricia Wachtendorf, Nicole Dash, Lori Peek, Deborah Thomas, David McEntire and James Kendra, among others.
Moving Toward Integrating the Legacy of Hazard/Disaster Research with Emergency Management Higher Education
Although some scholars of the new generation are more purist than others in terms of following the disciplinary lineage of classic hazard/disaster research, there should be room for other lines of research that expand knowledge even further. One additional research agenda should be dedicated to emergency management per se. Hazard/disaster research must be both highly theoretical and abstract at times and rooted in practical and timely applied science at others. This dualism of social science hazard/disaster research is not new. According to oral history, sociologically-based disaster research sprang out of a need to understand social behavior in relation to the Cold War and the application of this knowledge in practical civil defense operations (Drabek 1986). Thus, as analyzed by Wilson (2001), there is a parallel and intertwined relationship between the theoretical development of hazard/disaster discipline and practical application as illustrated by the incorporation of this knowledge in the subsequent field of emergency management. Civil defense evolved into the new field of emergency management from a practical need to address the losses of life and property due to natural events, which impacted the U. S. population in much greater numbers than the threat of nuclear holocaust had ever been estimated. It is clear that the applied field of emergency management is the mechanism designed to implement the knowledge acquired through four decades of social science hazard/disaster research.
But although it is clear for researchers that there is a direct connection between the theoretical and the applied and that this marriage is one of structural and functional synchronicity, in reality hazard/disaster research and emergency management do not necessarily function as one. The transferability of knowledge is not direct nor is the communication between the two free flowing. For instance, during the 2003 Natural Hazards Workshop, a common theme spoken in various sessions was accessibility of researchers to emergency management organizations. The issue of lack of accessibility demonstrates that there is no real communion between the applied and the research communities. But beyond this, there are abysmal cultural differences between the academic world and the practitioner world. On the one hand, researchers have made the mistake not to integrate themselves fully as practitioners in order to gain access, trust, and direct experience. Rarely have academics ventured to the applied world. On the other hand, it is more common to see practitioners enter the academy to validate their field experience and applied knowledge gained through years of work experience. In other words, practitioners are often seeking higher education degrees to obtain additional credentials in order to achieve better positions on the ladder of success. Practitioners until very recently have primarily come to emergency management (and they still do) from backgrounds in the military, fire, police and/or public service and very seldom have had knowledge of the hazard/disaster research discipline/school of thought (Wilson and Oyola-Yemaiel 2002). The Natural Hazards Workshop has made a tremendous effort to merge together practitioners and academicians. It has succeeded to some degree. The annual workshop draws the best from both fields in an attempt to combine their efforts and maximize the possibilities of working together toward a common goal of research and application.
But this effort has not been enough, for there remains a well-known “gap” between researchers and practitioners (Anderson and Mattingly 1991). As a result, an effort to bridge the gap has been underway since the mid-1990s when, via the vision of Kay Goss, FEMA institutionalized the Higher Education Project at the Emergency Management Institute under the direction of Wayne Blanchard. Since, there has been a relentless effort to develop higher education academic programs in order to professionalize the field of emergency management. In all, programs now span from just a few courses at community colleges to a handful of doctoral degrees (Blanchard 2005). This exciting trend can at last solidify the social science hazard/disaster body of knowledge as the theoretical foundation of the practice of emergency management. Until now the common theme was single researchers scattered across the nation at various institutions (with the exception of the Universities of Delaware and Colorado, Boulder) doing their best to continue the tradition often as a sideline to other disciplinary responsibilities and pursuits. These individuals carried a tremendous load for their vision and success depended entirely on their conviction, dedication and loyalty to the hazard/disaster research agenda. Legitimacy has been a problem because disaster research was, and maybe still is to some degree, marginal in relation to or when compared with other major disciplinarian paradigms such as social stratification or demography, etc. Indeed, many of us were told by our mentors in graduate school not to solely concentrate in disaster research for we may need to rely on the more established disciplinary paradigms to secure a job in the academy. This paradigmatic lack of legitimacy spilled over into challenges in obtaining necessary budgets for research, again redoubling the efforts of independent scholars to overcome these obstacles with ingenuity.
But things are changing and entire academic programs may now focus on hazard/disaster research findings and their application to indoctrinate future generations of researchers as well as practitioners (Wilson and Oyola-Yemaiel 2002, Wilson 2001). This is the validation to the research and institutional foundations and the opportunities that our mentors sought since the beginning – a disciplinary and cross-disciplinary institutionalized structure capable of supporting the needed research and transmitting the acquired knowledge via teaching in the academy. A communion between academia and practitioners is now a possibility with newly developed emergency management/homeland security degree programs generating the next cohorts of practitioners. As the applied field becomes comprised of graduates from these programs, accessibility of hazard/disaster research to emergency management organizations will no longer be a problem. These practitioners will be versed in knowledge created by the legacy of social science hazard/disaster scholars.
These new emergency management/homeland security programs especially at the doctoral level will serve as the vehicle to continue the hazard/disaster research agenda established by the pioneers and their students as a supplement and compliment to the recognized research centers, the DRC and Natural Hazards Center. In addition, students and researchers in these new emergency management degree programs must also address issues that have yet to be fully studied. Such works are for instance to study emergency operations per se systematically, cross-jurisdictionally and longitudinally. Other areas for study include the interrelationships of the Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), the military as support to first responders or military operation integration with other ESFs, effective approaches of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), disaster data archiving and access for use at the local, state and federal levels, and efficiency of interoperability, resource management, organizational structure, and financial development. Furthermore, research needs to be conducted on the application of policy and practices such as the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) to address long-term implications and feasibility of standardizing practices across jurisdictions and incorporating performance measures for daily operations.
The field of social science hazard/disaster research is at a crossroads where it could fully merge with the practice of emergency management and homeland security. There is an opportunity for disaster researchers to reach out to and to collaborate with the new emergency management academic discipline. Emergency management is evolving into an important applied field and is moving towards a profession (Oyola-Yemaiel and Wilson 2003, Wilson and Oyola-Yemaiel 2002, 2001, Wilson 2001) along the lines of nursing and social work. This trend has gained momentum due to September 11, the four Florida hurricanes of 2004 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which have precipitated and renewed efforts at all levels of government to reinforce and advance emergency management/homeland security. Within this trend is the higher education frenzy we are experiencing nationwide with some 121 new academic programs ranging from a few courses to full fledged doctoral programs (Blanchard 2005). We must secure this incredible and certainly slim opportunity in which emergency management degree programs can be directly fed by the social science hazard/disaster research discipline in order to manifest a new dimension of research and applied science. By creation of research and teaching agendas in these new emergency management programs, they will be destined to build the nations’ capacity for vulnerability reduction and resiliency to disasters.
We mustn’t repeat what others less visionary have done before us. In other words, we ought not make the same mistake as sociologists did in the early 1900s when they disregarded and disenfranchised practitioners – researchers and academics motivated by the application of science (applied sociologists) – who in turn became the separate discipline of social work that gained, in the view of some, a higher stature than its originator (Deegan 1988). The future of social science hazard/disaster research is one in which researchers embrace and seed the incipient academic discipline of emergency management. A combined agenda of hazard/disaster research in the social sciences as studied until the present with an agenda to comprehensively study the practical field of emergency management will yield a streamlined knowledge and more effective application of policies and practices to serve society and to serve the organizations dedicated to disaster reduction.
The future is up to us – the second and third generation of hazard/disaster researchers currently working and our students. The social science hazard/disaster research community must reach out and unite its goals and objectives with those from emergency management/homeland security academic programs. The synergy generated by this combined effort can yield a comprehensive and futurist strategy. The application of this combined effort in applied science will guarantee that the legacy of the Disaster Research Center, the Natural Hazards Research and Application Information Center, its founders and the social science hazard/disaster research community will continue.
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