Disaster and Organizational Change: A Study of the Long-term Consequences in Anchorage of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake

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Disaster Research Center
Some of the monographs in the series published by the Disaster Research Center (DRC) present theoretical discussions of short-run organizational responses to community crises. Others of the monographs deal with general topics such as warning problems in large-scale emergencies. Still others in the series are primarily descriptive accounts of specific disasters. This particular monograph reports yet another kind of research undertaking. It is a longitudinal study of organizational change over an eighteen-month period. The monograph examines, within a sociological framework, the changes that occurred as a result of the Alaskan earthquake in the structure and functions of twenty-three organizations in Anchorage, Alaska. It attempts to answer the question of what were the long-run modifications that could be attributed to the experiences of these organizations in the disaster. In one respect, it asks what kind of “organizational learning” took place. The author also makes an effort to account for the conditions and contexts that led some of the groups to alter themselves significantly whereas others remained as they were before the earthquake. In the main, what is impressive is the relative lack of organizational change that took place. Such long-run modifications in structure and functions that occurred were highly selective, and often the continuation of already existing trends. The following account is a testimony to the remarkable stability of social life and suggests that while change is ever present it is not likely to be significantly accelerated or drastically reoriented in different directions even by a major disaster. Whether this general observation stems from some unique or particular constellation of factors in the Alaskan earthquake, or whether it is a more universal finding, will have to await examination of other disaster situations. At this point, the author has provided a very good starting point for future studies.
Earthquake-Case Studies, Disaster Recovery, Organizations