Research Overview: Emergency Response

Tierney, Kathleen J.
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Disaster Research Center
The social science literature on emergency response activities following major disasters, which now spans approximately fifty years of empirical research, encompasses a wide range of topics (for reviews and representative work, see Drabek, 1986; Drabek and Hoetmer, 1991; Dynes and Tierney, 1994). Those topics include: 1. Immediate societal impacts: disaster-related deaths and injuries and the factors associated with mortality and morbidity; housing impacts and the need for emergency shelter and temporary housing; secondary impacts, such as fires and hazardous materials releases; and impacts on businesses and economic activity. Studies also focus on the factors associated with differential levels of disaster vulnerability, such as poverty, substandard and overcrowded housing, and risk factors for death and injury. 2. Organizational, interorganizational, and intergovernmental communication and coordination during the emergency response period: how responding organizations and levels of government gather, share, and use disaster-related information, establish response priorities, and develop and carry out procedures for mobilizing resources and addressing the problems they encounter during the emergency period. 3. The performance of key emergency tasks: the actions different social units and organizational entities (individuals, households, groups, organizations, and interorganizational and intergovernmental networks) undertake in order to deal with disaster-generated problems. Such activities include rescuing victims and recovering bodies, providing emergency medical care, assessing damage, providing emergency shelter and temporary housing, and containing secondary hazards. The literature also includes studies on the emergency activities of crisis-relevant organizations such as fire departments, emergency management agencies, search and rescue units, and hospitals. 4. Response by the general public during the emergency period: post-disaster behaviors and activities of community residents, including behavior during and immediately after disaster impact (warning response, self-protective actions, occupant behavior, evacuation, etc.), use of emergency shelter, public involvement community response activities, and volunteer behavior. 5. Utilization of post-disaster emerpency and short-term recovery resources by disaster victims: patterns in the public's use of disaster-related services, such as emergency shelter, emergency medical care, crisis counseling, and disaster assistance, as well as the factors that influence service utilization. 6. Crisis-related organizationnal adaptation and innovation: the ways in which various social units attempt to adapt and change in response to crisis-related demands. These patterns include expansion, in which existing organizations by to improve their performance by taking on new members or volunteers; extension, in which existing organizations assume new tasks they had not performed prior to the disaster; and emergence, which involves the formation of new groups and intergroup netwok. Modes of adaptation can also include improvising new strategies for handing disaster-related problems, introducing new technologies, and identifying previously untapped resources. 7. Factors that affect the nature, extent, and effectiveness of response activities: For individuals and households, such factors have been shown to include socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, disaster knowledge, social networks, the extent of pre-disaster preparedness, and previous disaster experience. Influences on the response activities of organizations and governmental entities include the extent and quality of pre-disaster planning and training, prior disaster experience, disaster severity, the principles or assumptions on which response planning is based, the resources that organizations have been able to devote to planning for and responding to disasters, access to needed technology and resources, and their ability to resolve interorganizational and intergovernmental conflicts during the emergency period.
Emergency Response , societal impacts , emergency