Citizen Groups and Hazardous Waste: Their Careers and Conditions for Emergence

Quarantelli, E. L.
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Disaster Research Center
Several years ago, the Disaster Research Center (DRC) initiated and undertook an extensive sociological study of community based citizen groups which emerged either to prepare for and/or recover from actual disasters and potential threats. The research extended over a four-year period and focused on local citizen groups who came into being outside of any immediate emergency period and who were oriented to a full range of hazards from floods and hurricanes to nuclear and chemical plants and hazardous waste sites. In-depth interviewing was undertaken of members such groups around the United States. Local organizational and community statistical and documentary data were also collected to supplement the interview data. A telephone follow up survey of selected members was undertaken a year after the groups were first studied. This paper reports on the DRC observations and findings on the local citizen groups studied which were organized with respect to hazardous waste sites (ten cases out of the total). Actually we found few differences among emergent citizen groups irrespective of the particular potential disaster agent with which they were concerned. In fact, we found little difference in the orientation to either technological or non-technological disaster agents, which some have speculated is an important distinction affecting the perception and behavior of individuals and groups. Such differences in human and group behavior as exist are related to other than the physical source of the potential risk (e.g. the perceived potential dangerousness of the threat, its perceived uncontrolability, etc.; for a general discussion of this see Quarantelli, forthcoming and 1985b, and also our earlier study of acute chemical emergencies and disasters, Quarantelli,1984b).
harardous waste , citizen groups