Weathering Natural Disasters with a Net of Safety

By Berson, Ilene R.; Berson, Michael J. | Social Education, January-February 2008 | Go to article overview

Weathering Natural Disasters with a Net of Safety


Berson, Ilene R., Berson, Michael J., Social Education


Faster and more efficient coverage on television and the Internet is increasingly exposing children to traumatic images of natural devastation both at home and abroad. Natural disasters, such as the wildfires in California or the trauma caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, have become commonplace. Moreover, catastrophic events, like the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the blizzard of 1888, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, have played a historical role in shaping disaster response procedures. In Thailand, we have witnessed tsunamis, and Bangladesh was devastated by cyclones. These events serve as reminders that nowhere in the world is immune from these incidents. Each event may prompt us to reflect on past experiences with natural disasters and ponder the present and future risk to ourselves.

Whereas some disasters result in great stress due to physical injury, death, property damage, displacement, and the depletion of support resources, others may cause less extensive damage and affect a relatively small number of people. Moreover, preparation and advance warning about potential damage may mediate a disaster's intensity. Understanding the characteristics of a natural disaster can help children manage their distress and empower them to engage in disaster prevention activities that may mediate future physical and psychological harm.

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Natural Disasters and the Social Studies Curriculum

The study of natural disasters has many connections to the social studies curriculum. Instruction in disaster preparedness and crisis problem solving are important components of students' civic competency. Students may learn empathy for victims of these events and appreciate how citizens assist others through volunteer efforts. Examination of past catastrophes provides valuable lessons about local support services, resources, and community care systems. Natural disasters are often specific to certain geographic areas, and they can facilitate an understanding of the interrelationship between climate and physical topography. As students investigate catastrophes around the world, they may also delve into the social, political, and economic impact of these events. Students may explore culturally specific responses and examine how spiritual belief systems affect interpretations of the events. Moreover, each of these components of disaster study creates a context for introducing mechanisms for children to cope with traumatic events.

Teachers can serve as a resource for support and information that facilitate a child's ability to manage disasters. They may model strategies for coping and instruct children and their families how to remain safe, thus reducing the trauma caused by these crises. They can create a classroom environment that provides a safe haven for children to express fears and ideas with assurance that their teachers will protect them and teach them to understand the world in which they live. Disaster preparedness and response to devastating events are an integral part of an educator's role in advocating for students' well being and protection. Online resources may be especially valuable to educators for enhancing children's natural disaster learning experiences in an engaging way.

Internet Resources

Easily accessible resources are needed to support children who experience and survive catastrophe firsthand, as well as those who witness it from a distance. Increasingly, technology has become an indispensable tool in helping people mediate risk from natural disasters. Advanced technology has facilitated communication about impending danger, and mass notification systems via cell phones and email have proved useful for keeping parents and students updated during a natural disaster about the status of school closings. (1)

The Internet also continues to provide a plethora of resources that can help children explore environmental issues worldwide as well as learn about natural disasters. …

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