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Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions
policy initiatives and considerable research within the hazards and disaster research community (Kates et al., 1985; Kleindorfer and Kunreuther, 1987; Kasperson et al., 1988; Cutter, 1993; Freudenburg and Gramling, 1994).
It is clear that the evolution of hazards and disaster research has taken a parallel path that parallels changes in American society and world events. The very nature of the problems that are studied and the approaches that social scientists take are set within this broader context of change. Researchers are able to respond to opportunities to extract lessons from particular disaster experiences as well as to draw theoretical, conceptual, and methodological understanding of human adjustments to hazard vulnerability.
The economic, political, and social changes during the past five decades cited above provide a rich array of researchable questions, many of which, as reflected in the following chapters, have been pursued by social scientists.
What are the vulnerabilities associated with settlement and occupant patterns, and how have these changed over time and across space? Do uneven distributions of impacts (which raise questions of equity in a much more diverse society) affect policy responses at local, state, and federal levels? What is the significance or importance of scale as we move from the local to the global, and how can we understand the cascading impacts of hazards and disasters as we move from one scale to another? How can we assist elected and appointed officials to make decisions under uncertain conditions and with incomplete information? How will the changes in American society (e.g., access to health care, greater ethnic diversity) influence disaster response in the future?
The salience of the terrorism threat following the September 11, 2001 attacks also raises a number of fundamental questions for researchers to consider. For example, in what ways are terrorist threats similar to and different from risks posed by natural and technological hazards? How has the increased salience of willful disasters shaped the emergency management system in the United States? Also how prepared are local communities and the nation as a whole for possible future attacks.
These are but a few of the questions derived from the context within which this research takes place. Many questions remain unanswered, providing opportunities for further research by current and future generations of hazards and disaster researchers in the social sciences. In some cases, this will require collaboration with colleagues from other disciplines such as earth sciences and engineering as discussed in Chapter 5 and with international colleagues as discussed in Chapter 6.