Thursday, January 21, 2010

Snapshot: Health after a disaster is directly related to health before the disaster

Amanda Ripley points out in her informative blog that anti-social behavior almost never happens after a disaster. "In fact, the opposite is true. People, like all animals, tend to form groups and show each other great courtesy in times of extreme shock and duress. People do this because it is in their interest. There was looting and some sporadic violence after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but the mayhem never rose to a level that justified the amount of coverage. More people likely suffered because of the fear of looting and violence--due to delayed relief and search-and-rescue efforts and unnecessarily hostile encounters with police and armed, frightened civilians--than because of actual looting and violence."

However there are rare cases in which looting and violence can become widespread. Ripley interviewed Enrico Quarantelli, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware about his Theory of Looting which posits that widespread looting only seems to happen when the four following conditions are all present:

  1. Dramatic disparity between rich and poor.
  2. High levels of petty crime and gang activity. ("Gangs are almost always the leaders in any case of mass looting”)
  3. An ineffective and corrupt police force. ("A corrupt and ineffective police force doesn’t scare anyone")
  4. A massive catastrophe.

Ripley observes, "Notice that three of the four conditions are all pre-requisites, present before the actual disaster strikes. Another reminder that the health of a city after a disaster is directly related to the health before the disaster."

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