A General Framework
for Examining the
Success or Failure of the
to Natural Disasters
Up to this point, the discussion has been couched in fairly abstract terms and there has been virtually no coverage given to specific events that occurred in actual natural disasters. For present purposes, this general orientation is preferable to a more detailed, particularistic approach precisely because it does focus attention on the common patterns of human behavior that occur during and after natural disasters. Otherwise, it is all too easy to think of specific disasters as unique events. After all, many different phenomena fall under the general heading of "disaster": severe floods, tropical storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and so on. Moreover, these cataclysmic events occur in a wide variety of settings: river valleys, ocean coastlines, midwestern plains, mountainous areas, and so on. The apparent uniqueness of these events is further emphasized by the mass media, which link each natural disaster with their own set of potent, nearly unforgettable images: devastated forests marking the destructive swath of a hurricane, homes toppling down cliffs during mudslides, automobiles disappearing into a gap torn into a roadway by an earthquake, and dejected farmers paddling boats through water that covers normally dry fields.
If natural disasters truly are unique events, then it would be impossible to prepare effectively for them or to deal systematically with their destruction and disruption. But, across the nation, communities do have plans for dealing with disasters, from the evacuation routes that exist along the southeastern seaboard, through the tornado drills carried out in midwestern schools