The Human Side of Disaster: 2nd Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Human Side of Disaster

2nd Edition

By Thomas E. Drabek

CRC Press

446 pages | 2 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2013-03-01
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Since the first edition of The Human Side of Disaster was published in 2009, new catastrophes have plagued the globe, including earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, floods in numerous locations, Hurricane Sandy, and the infamous BP oil spill. Enhanced with new cases and real-world examples, The Human Side of Disaster, Second Editionpresents an updated summary of the social science knowledge base of human responses to disaster. Dr. Drabek draws upon his 40-plus years of conducting research on individual, group, and organizational responses to disaster to illustrate and integrate key insights from the social sciences to teach us how to anticipate human behaviors in crisis.

The book begins with a series of original short stories rooted within actual disaster events. These stories are woven into the entire text to demonstrate essential findings from the research literature. Dr. Drabek provides an overview of the range of disasters and hazards confronting the public and an explanation of why these are increasing each year, both in number and scope of impact.

The core of the book is a summary of key findings regarding disaster warning responses, evacuation behavior, initial post-impact survival behavior, traditional and emergent roles of volunteers, and both short-term and longer-term disaster impacts. The theme of "organized-disorganization" is used to illustrate multiorganizational response networks that form the key managerial task for local emergency managers. The final chapter provides a new vision for the emergency management profession—one that reflects a more strategic approach wherein disasters are viewed as non-routine social problems.

This book will continue to be an invaluable reference for professionals and students in emergency management and public policy and aid organizations who need to understand human behavior and how best to communicate and work with the public in disaster situations.

Table of Contents


The Taxi

The Setting

The Story

The Earring

The Setting

The Story

The Honeymoon

The Setting

The Story

The Ceiling

The Setting

The Story

The Regulation

The Setting

The Story

The Exercise

The Setting

The Story

The Insights

The Problem and Approach

The Danger around You Is Increasing

Population Movement

Climate Change

Potentials for Catastrophe

The Many Faces of Disaster

Natural Disasters

Technological Disasters

Conflict Disasters

The Approach

The Insights

Hear That Siren?

Who Panics and Why

Neutralizing Threat Information

Doing It Right

But Not Everyone Responds the Same



Ethnic Minorities




Message Characteristics

Group Context

The Insights

It Can’t Be Done

That Lady Named Carla

A Disaster Subculture?

The Mythology of Car Wrecks

"Resisters? We Will Arrest Them!"

Confirmation: A Likely Action

Appeal to Authority

Appeal to Peer

Observational Confirmation

Latent Confirmation

Families Are the Units

The Insights

Shall We Leave?

Pathways to Evacuation

Evacuation by Default

Evacuation by Invitation

Evacuation by Compromise

Evacuation by Decision

Where Do They Go?

"We Wanna Go Home"

Evacuation Facilitators

Encourage Family Planning for an Evacuation

Media Consistency

Forceful, but Not Mandatory

Allay Looting Fears

Facilitate Transportation

Establish Family Message Centers

An Aside: Crisis Relocation Planning and Homeland

Security Advisory System

Crisis Relocation Planning

Homeland Security Advisory System

The Insights

Why Me?

Victim Responses

The Disaster Syndrome: Another Myth Exploded

Heroes: They Are for Real

Helpers: How Many Are There?

"Where Is My Daughter?"

But There Are Constraints

The Age of Litigation

Expanding Poverty

Bureaucratic Mindsets

The Insights

Volunteers? You Bet!

The Flood Breakers

Are Volunteers Like Yachts?

The Utopian Mood

Unveiling the Many Forms of Volunteerism

The Insights

Organized Disorganization

Raining in Indianapolis

"But We Deal with Emergencies Daily"

Indianapolis Coliseum Explosion, October 31, 1963

Wichita Falls, Texas, Tornado, April 10, 1979

Mount St. Helens Eruption, May 18, 1980

Sorting Out Organizational Responders

Is Communication the Problem?

Lake Pomona SAR Response, June 17, 1978

Social Map: Lake Pomona Communication Structure

Cooperation Is Not Enough

Issue: Focused Public Information Plan

The Insights

Life in a Fishbowl

The Bitch Phase

Looting Fears

Bad Dreams

Seeking Closure

Short-Term Oscillations

Windows of Opportunity

"When Can We Go Home?"

The Insights

What about My Psyche?

An Atypical Example

Modal Patterns

Patterned Variations

Kinfolk and Friends

"This Is My Mother"

The Insights

What Must Be Done?

Variable Perceptions of Risk

Reducing Vulnerabilities

Spread the Risk

Creating a Culture of Preparedness

Disasters Are Nonroutine Social Problems

The Insights

Community Change Agents

Empirical Studies

Professionalism in Emergency Management

An Expanded Vision

Strategies for Maintaining Organizational Integrity

Mitigation Strategies

Preparedness Strategies

Disaster Response Coordination Strategies

Core Strategies

Consequence Strategies

Customer Strategies

Control Strategies

Cultural Strategies

Concluding Principles


Suggested Readings


About the Author

Thomas E. Drabek is an emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver and continues his research on a part-time basis. His research has examined group and organizational responses to large-scale disasters. Professor Drabek has authored or coauthored over 100 book chapters and journal articles and 28 books. He served as the co-editor of the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters and was elected president of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Disasters. He prepared four instructor guides for the Emergency Management Institute. In August 2007, Dr. Drabek was the third recipient of the E. L. Quarantelli Award for contributions to social science disaster theory by the International Research Committee on Disasters, and in June 2008, he received the first Dr. B. Wayne Blanchard Award for Academic Excellence in Emergency Management Higher Education. He frequently lectures at academic and emergency management workshops and conventions throughout the United States and around the world.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disasters & Disaster Relief