Hooley: Utilize Research in Disaster Preparation and Planning
Natural disasters are, by their very nature, unexpected and often deadly. As witnessed this hurricane season, how the U.S. currently responds to natural disasters must be improved in an effort to save lives and effectively enable recovery.
Today, the U.S. House Committee on Science Subcommittee on Research heard from disaster preparedness experts, many of whom concede the inadequacies of current approaches to natural disaster response and urge the U.S. to heed and apply what has been learned from recent social science research. Panelists and Members examined what is known about human behavior and social relationships that could help prevent or mitigate the consequences of natural and man-made disasters and thereby improve future preparedness, response, and recovery.
"Greater attention to coping with disasters is prudent when one considers the increased vulnerability of the nation to larger disasters associated with a growing population concentrated in hazardous coastal zones and earthquake prone regions - such as Oregon," said Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR). "And, in addition to natural hazards, including the threat of an Avian flu pandemic, we now have the ever-present specter of terrorist attack."
The National Science Foundation (NSF) - an agency under the Science Committee's jurisdiction - sponsors approximately half of Federal basic research in the social sciences and is a major sponsor of disaster related social science research, particularly through its activities under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. NSF also supports small rapid response grants that allow researchers to travel to sites of recent events, such as floods, earthquakes or terrorist incidents (9/11, for example) to gather data.
Researchers investigate disaster events at different levels of analysis - from individuals and households to communities and governmental organizations - and research findings have advanced understanding of many aspects of disasters. It is known, for example, that disaster behavior and the perception of risk vary according to such factors as income, education, race, ethnicity and geographic location. Likewise, studies have shown that the command and control model does not work well in disasters, even though it is the standard approach taken. Unfortunately, available knowledge from social science research is not always applied.
"We have good research in this area - our witnesses today are proof of that," added Rep. Hooley. "Now, I want to enable the translation of that research into real-world practice. As a federal government, we must honestly assess what is working and what isn't working. We must ask ourselves if there are impediments to applying the social and behavioral sciences research findings to the disaster planning, recovery, and response activities of the responsible public and private sector organizations. If there are barriers, we've got to knock them down and get to work."