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Community Perceptions of Natural Disasters

Community Perceptions of Natural Disasters

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Published by: Conceição Colaço on May 22, 2012
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Journol of Communiry Psychology


1982. 10, 23-28.


University of Missouri-Kansas Ciiy

New Mexico State Universiry

This research was designed to examine the cognitive and affective responses of residential dwellers in the aftermath of a natural disaster (a flood). In a 2 X 3 factorial design, the effects of fear (High, Medium, and Low) and sex on perceptions of the disaster were assessed. The results indicated that respondents who were highly fearful of the disaster were more likely than moderate or low fear respondents to believe that: a) additional flooding would occur in their vicinity, and b) that they resided closer to the flood zone than they actually did. The policy implications of the results suggested that post-disaster mental health services might have to be extended to include residents of geographical areas not directly affected by natural or man-made disasters.

The earth and its inhabitants are susceptible to natural hazards (e.g., earthquakes, landslides, floods), and man-made hazards (e.g., terrorist attacks, fatal automobile and air crashes, air and water pollution, building and structural failures). An emergent area of research and service in community mental health has focused on the delivery of mental health and crisis intervention services to victims of environmental disasters (Frederick, 1977; Parad, Resnik, & Parad, 1974; Tuchman, 1973). A variety of mental health services have been established by mental health professionals immediately following a disaster, as well as over longer follow-up periods. Examples of short-term interventions have included telephone crisis services and paraprofessional visitation programs (McGee, 1974; McGee & Heffron, 1976; Richard, 1974). Populations such as the elderly, children, or other indigent and dependent persons often required longer term and more intensive services following a natural or man-made disaster. Various individual and group counseling programs have been designed specifically for these populations (Blaufarb & Levine, 1972; Hartsough, Zarle, & Ottinger, 1974). Despite these efforts, the planning and implementation of mental health services for disaster victims has often proceeded without a strong empirical research base. Very little systematic research has gathered or analyzed the cognitive and affective responses of disaster victims in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters. In particular, virtually no research has focused on the relationships between victims’ perceptions of environmental disasters, the emotional responses which these events elicit in victims, and the variables which might influence the provision of mental health services to victims of disasters (e.g., proximity to disaster area, damage sustained by residents’ property). Studies by Bucher (1957) and Shippee, Burroughs, and Wakefield (1980) represent two notable exceptions to this assertion. Bucher assessed the affective responses of residential victims of an airline crash and found that feelings of guilt and hostility were prevalent among respondents. Shippee et al. surveyed the residents of two apartment complexes in the aftermath of a gangland style slaying (an automobile bombing). One complex was subdivided into two groups of dwellings. One group of dwellings was operationalized as geographically proximate to the disaster site. A second group of dwellings was operationalized as geographically distant from the disaster zone. These two groups were contrasted to a control complex. This complex was the same geographic
‘Send reprint requests to first author, Department of Psychology, 5319 Holmes Street, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO 641 10.


A 2 X 3 intact block design was formed which reflected three levels of fear (high. results. What these results tentatively led to was the nonintuitive hypothesis that residents who were the least affected by an environmental disaster. Army Corps of Engineers) led to several personal injuries. the amount of distance perceived to exist by residents between the heavily flooded zone and their own residences. may initially be as fearful. Specifically. and respondents’ estimates of their geographic proximity to the disaster area in the aftermath of a dangerous natural hazard. death. Respondents and Setting Participants in the research resided in and around the Phoenix metropolitan area and were in attendance at classes offered by and through Arizona State University. Arizona metropolitan area. design. control and explosion-proximate respondents did not differ in their estimates of the probability of additional disasters occurring in their vicinity. and provision of mental health and crisis intervention services in natural and man-made disaster contexts. were unexpected. flooding of the Salt River (rated as a 100-year flood by the U S . similar environmental disasters occurring in their vicinity. This was accomplished by capitalizing on an unexpected tragedy (a flood) that struck a western metropolitan community. SHIPPEE. METHOD 0 vervie w Twenty-four hours following the occurrence of an extremely damaging flood. The primary dependent variables were respondents’ predictions of further flooding. Yet another indication of the force of the flood is connoted by the fact that four reinforced concrete bridges (one an interstate highway bridge) were either closed or . and the actual geographic distance between respondent’s residences and the flooded area. they suggest that mental health policy development and program planning in post-disaster contexts should reflect the provision of services in areas that may not be directly affected. but possessed a different proper name. emotionally distraught. onehundred-sixty-three persons residing in and around heavily flooded areas were surveyed. On the other hand. Prior to advocating such a policy. A N D W. the Shippee et al. but are located in close geographic proximity to a disaster zone. RICHARD BRADFORD. this research was conducted in order to conceptually replicate the original Shippee et al. In April of 1978. results potentially have great practical significance. medium. and in need of services as those residents who suffered extensively from a disaster. A second product of the present research was that it permitted the possible extension of the generalizability of the earlier results obtained by Shippee to a natural disaster context as opposed to a man-made disaster context. They found that respondents in the explosion-distant group were more likely than residents in the remaining two groups to believe that similar environmental disasters could occur in their area. The flood and subsequent clean-up efforts received national evening news coverage for a 2 to 3 day period.24 G L E N N E . With respect to the planning. however. and extensive property damage in several sections of the Pheonix. LARRY GREGORY distance from the explosion site as the geographically distant group. and low) and two levels of gender. The results obtained by Shippee et al. Residents randomly selected from all three of the complexes were requested to estimate the likelihood of other. respondents’ predictions concerning the possibility of further disasters occurring in an area. The occurrence of this natural disaster permitted the reinvestigation of the relationship between perceived levels of fearfulness.

and the like. A highly significant main effect for fear was obtained. a second measure of geographic distance (actual distance) was constructed on a post hoc basis by locating respondents’ residences on a 1979 Gousha map of the Phoenix metropolitan area. a hastily constructed questionnaire was administered to Phoenix residents who were in attendance at undergraduate. and low). 9 = highly fearful). medium. a three-way median split was performed on this item to produce three groups of respondents who differed in their level of fear of the flood (high. One item (How fearful are you of the recent flooding that has occurred in the area?) requested respondents to indicate on a nine-point scale (1 = not at all fearful. geographic location. evening continuing and adult education classes) that would contain a wide variety of community residents with respect to age. Consequently. Environmental Disaster Perception Table 1 shows respondents’ probability estimates of the likelihood of additional flooding occurring in their areas.55. Local news coverage followed for several weeks after the flooding. no gender main effects or interactions involving gender emerged. 9 = Highly Unlikely): “What is the likelihood that additional flooding will occur in your area?” Finally. in each case.g. Design and Dependent Variables The items of primary concern were embedded among a larger number of questionnaire items included on the instrument. the following item was included with a nine-point scale ( 1 = Highly Likely. as well as adult continuing education classes offered in the evening by Arizona State University. This pattern of means indicated ‘While the external validity of the study could have been increased by surveying nonuniversity-affiliated community residents.. This item was scored later by determining the amount of distance (in millimeters) that respondents perceived (perceived distance) to exist between their residences and the nearest heavily flooded area.’ Respondents were informed that the purpose of the questionnaire was to assess persons’ responses to the flooding that had just occurred in the area. The distance between their residences and the nearest flood zone was obtained (in millimeters) and recorded. One day following the major flooding. the investigators had no manpower resources to mount such an investigation on such short notice. Respondent’s geographic location was obtained by having respondents report their addresses. background. Crossed to form a 2 X 3 intact block design was gender of respondent. respondents were also asked to indicate (with a check mark) the location of their residences on a map included with the questionnaire. 157) = 10. To assess respondents estimates of the probability of additional flooding occurring within their area. the data were collapsed across gender for further analysis and reporting purposes. study. . Several weeks were required before these bridges were repaired and reopened to traffic.NATURAL DISASTERS 25 damaged. the degree to which the flooding had made them fearful. Application of the Scheffe test indicated that each mean differed significantly from the others at thep < . F (2. RES LTS u An examination of the results of 2 X 3 (Gender X Fear) analyses of variance performed on all of the dependent variables indicated that. The map was designed to portray an outline of the metropolitan area and had a small number of key reference points.001. To conceptually replicate the Shippee et al. This procedure was used to render the hypotheses of the research less obvious to respondents. every effort was made to identify university classes (e. In addition. p < .05 level. Consequently.

in the .1 that Shippee et al. Perceived Distance and Actual Geographic Location The analysis of variance indicated that no significant effects characterized the actual distance measure compiled following the completion of the research. however. however. Apparently. More specifically. 5 1 . were more likely than low fear residents to believe that additional flooding might occur.28 43. That is. High fear respondents were more likely than moderate or low fear respondents to believe that further flooding was highly probable. respondents lived equidistant from the flood zone across the three fear groups.44 31. did lead to a marginally significant main < effect for fear.08. The present study is consistent with this result and also suggests that fear (unmeasured in the Shippee et al. (1980) study. SHIPPEE. The latter two groups did not differ significantly. These residents were more likely than low or moderate fear respondents to believe that they resided extremely close to the flood zone.42b High 5. F (1. F ( 2 . These results corroborate and are conceptually consistent with the Shippee et al. however. The second notable finding related to respondents’ predictions of the likelihood of further flooding occurring in their areas. RICHARD BRADFORD. p < . In reality.27 SLower numbers indicate higher perceived probabilities. To further explore this difference. bDistance estimates in millimeters. 157) = 7.758 50. An analysis of respondent’s estimates of the distance (perceived distance) between their residences and the flood zone. Moderate fear residents. study) may have differentiated these groups. DISCUSSION The most significant results of this research concerned the responses of those residential dwellers who were highly fearful of the flooding. highly fearful respondents were manifesting cognitions that were consistent with their high fear levels. LARRY GREGORY that residents who were highly fearful of the flooding were more likely than low fear or moderate fear respondents to believe that additional flooding would occur in their area. these residents lived in housing no closer to the flood zone than moderate or low fear residents. in turn. found that residents who resided in an apartment complex in which a disaster had occurred were more likely than residents equally distant (but outside of the hazard zone) to believe that other negative events could occur.55 Low Probability of Reoccurrence Distance Perception 7. post hoc contrasts were applied to the means shown in Table 1. 157) = 2 .01.26 GLENN E. TABLE 1 Mean Probability of Flood Reoccurrence Estimates and Perceived Distance Estimates From Flood Zone Fear Level Medium 6.19. AND W . This analysis indicated that respondents who were highly fearful of the flood were more likely to estimate that they resided closer to the flood zone than medium or low fear respondents. ~ . Recal.

In addition. 2.R. and persons of less than average education were underrepresented in the sample. Prior to adopting a policy response like that suggested above.. J. size. 1957. There are several important policy implications of this investigation for the design of post-disaster mental health services for communities that are afflicted by a natural or man-made disaster. neighborhood association representatives. however. MCGEE. or communities which are differentially susceptible to disasters respond differentially when they occur. Current thinking about crisis or psychological intervention in United States disasters. 31 1-320. That is. the clergy. post-disaster rates of utilization. Crisis infervention in the community. 62. Journal of Community Psychology. & Ottinger. BUCHER. 1972. Using this paradigm it would be possible to examine the responses of community residents to varying types of disasters (man-made versus natural). REFERENCES BLAUFARB. composition. paraprofessional response to a disaster. Red Cross volunteers. R. 17. Yet. nursing association members. Theoretically. . ZARLE. HARTSOUGH. an organized dissemination network. Tornado recovery: The development of a professional D. 1977. The results suggest that post-disaster mental health services should be extended to include those residential areas not directly affected by the disaster.N A T U R A L DISASTERS 27 Shippee et al. Mass C. Zarle. 43-50. 2 . Emergencies. Similarly. 467-475. it may have been the case that residents living within the complex that experienced the disaster may have been more fearful than residents who resided in the complex that did not experience the disaster. and the like might be trained for deployment during crisis periods (Hartsough. Note that the underlying theme of all of these interventions is an educative one. 1979) and would allay the unrealistic fears of residents. & OTTINGER. D. This assessment of service usage could include a comparison of rates of service usage with normal. current disaster planning for mental health and crisis intervention services usually includes only those areas that are directly affected (in suffering property losses or personal injuries). study.T. the present research indicates that mental health facilities in communities adjacent to areas in which a disaster occurs should have a contingency plan ready for implementation. & LEVINE. 16-19. For instance. Blame and hostility in disaster. Crisis intervention in an earthquake.. this research strategy could also be used to determine if communities of different design. As a result. Potential services in the plan might include a disaster information center. To provide these services. Baltimore. 1974. 1974. Social Work. additional research in the disaster perception area is necessary. civil defense workers. 1974). Maryland: University Park Press. or a community visitation program. such information would prevent the formation of stressarousing rumors (Richard. handicapped persons. future research in the area of post-disaster mental health services should assess the frequency and types of service requests received by the mental health system subsequent to natural or man-made disasters. low-income persons. H. the elderly (over 65). the present study only assessed self-reported fearfulness and not psychological distress that was translated into the behavioral act of seeking psychological or crisis intervention services. with the main intervention objective being the provision of accurate information to residents concerning a nearby disaster. One legitimate criticism of the present research is its low level of external or ecological validity. Much important research remains to be conducted in this area. FREDERICK.. American Journal of Sociology.

1976. A N D W . In H. The role of crisis intervention services in disaster recovery.28 G L E N N E . Maryland: Charles H. E. hazards in residential areas. Dissonance theory revisited: Perception of environmental J. . R.. S. PARAD..& WAKEFIELD. S H I P P E E .. & HEFFRON. & PARAD. LA R R Y GREGORY MCGEE. 1976. Journal of Community Psychology. E. Parad. RICHARD. Emergency and disaster management. L. 151-157. Resnik. G. Press.9. H. 12. TUCHMAN. H.. Maryland: Charles Press. Disaster and mental health intervention. 2 . SriitwE.). 1980. Emergency and disaster management. W. RESNIK. R I C H A R D B R A D F O R D . 33-51. Bowie. 21 1-219. Environment and Behavior. Parad (Eds. BURROUGHS.. A. and L. 1914. 1973. Community Mental Health Journal. Bowie. Crisis intervention services following natural disaster: The Pennsylvania Recovery Project.

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