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Disaster research deals with conducting field and survey research on group, organizational and community preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural and technological disasters and other community-wide crises. The purpose behind this field of research is to attempt to advance and communicate knowledge on mitigation techniques and procedures and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
There are countless academic fields that are useful in the realm of disaster research which contribute to mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. One such field is anthropology. Natural disasters are acceptable areas for anthropological work because of the effect they have on human populations and environments. These events create utter chaos in the lives of everyone affected by them and have long-lasting effects on multiple areas of society including: social organization, political organization and empowerment, economic consequences, environmental degradation, human and environmental adaptation and interactions, oral history, traditional knowledge, psychological consequences, public health and the broader historical record of the affected region.
There are many things to consider in the way of preparing for disasters in any area, but a specific area of concern that can be addressed through anthropological research is public health preparedness in the face of catastrophe. Anthropology can contribute to this area by providing for cultural awareness, respect and preparation for different parties that could potentially be involved in an event. For example, public health can become compromised during the relief period of a disaster if considerations for cultural and religious beliefs, including taboos, are not acknowledged or known by emergency and medical personnel. Due to personal and cultural values, treatment can become compromised by both a patient refusing to be treated and by personnel refusing to treat victims because of a violation of values and beliefs that could arise from treatment.
The Disaster Research Center (DRC), was the first social science research center in the world devoted to the study of disasters. It was established at Ohio State University in 1963 and moved to the University of Delaware in 1985. The Center conducts field and survey research on group, organizational and community preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural and technological disasters and other community-wide crises. DRC researchers have carried out systematic studies on a broad range of disaster types, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous chemical incidents, and plane crashes. DRC has also done research on civil disturbances and riots, including the 1992 Los Angeles unrest. Staff have conducted nearly 600 field studies since the Center’s inception, traveling to communities throughout the United States and to a number of foreign countries, including Mexico, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Turkey. Faculty members from the University's Sociology and Criminal Justice Department and Engineering Department direct DRC's projects. The staff also includes postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates and research support personnel.
Work in the Disaster research field attempts to yield social science knowledge on disasters and information that can and has been applied to develop more effective policies, programs, and planning to reduce disaster impacts. The Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware not only maintains its own databases but also serves as a repository for materials collected by other agencies and researchers. The DRC's special collection contains over 50,000 items, making it the most complete collection on the social and behavioral aspects of disasters in the world.
Studies in the field of Disaster Research are supported by many diverse sources, such as:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
- Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant Program
- National Science Foundation
- Public Entity Risk Institute
- Social Science Research Council
- U.S. Geological Survey
Additionally, there are numerous academic and national policy boards in the realm of disaster research:
- National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council's Commission on International Disaster Assistance and Board on Natural Disasters
- National Science Foundation's Social Hazard Review Panel
- U.S. Committee on the UN Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction
- Center for Natural Hazards Research – at East Carolina University