- Hazards, Vulnerability and Environmental Justice
“Who we are often defines what we do” (p. xxiv) is Susan Cutter’s way of telling us from the beginning that the key to understanding this book’s message is to understand the motivating forces that influenced her personal life and professional career in geography.
The book includes twenty-six reprints of Cutter’s research on human-environment interaction during the period 1982–2003. Cutter is the sole author on thirteen articles, and a coauthor on the rest. With the exception of Kirstin Dow (primary author on three papers), all of the coauthors were current or former students of Cutter, which she proudly notes as possibly her greatest contribution to the field. The articles are presented in five thematic sections, and they include a mix of papers on theoretical analysis, critical re-search issues, case studies, and practical applications.
In the Introduction, Cutter reveals a great deal about her interests and background in three brief essays on disaster management, her early influences, and her academic career path. The first essay starts with the folly of humanity’s attempt [End Page 131] to dominate (rather than coexist with) nature, and then moves on to concepts such as social inequality and vulnerability. The second essay describes her early exposure to social issues (civil rights and environmental movements) while living in the San Francisco Bay area, and how this experience led to studying geography with an early mentor at a nearby California State University campus. Pursuit of graduate studies took her to Chicago where she worked with Brian Berry and became familiar with the legacy of Gilbert White (who by then had relocated to Colorado). The third essay begins with her early work at Rutgers on the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident (with Ken Mitchell), which led to a lifelong interest in evacuation behavior, risk perception, vulnerability, and emergency response planning. Her research during this period focused on technological hazards (particularly chemical and hazardous material spills). In 1993, however, she relocated to South Carolina and expanded her focus to include spatial analysis tools (GIS) and natural hazards, which led to research on environmental justice and vulnerability. One aspect of her career that is of particular interest is the work on nuclear war and terrorism. The intensification of the cold war military arms race during the 1980s, and the 9/11 terrorist attack, tweaked her social activist nerve and inspired her to encourage geographers to play a greater role in major world events.
The first thematic section, Part I—Old, New and Familiar Hazards—consists of five articles that appear to have special meaning to Cutter. Topics include terrorism, chemical hazards in urban areas, evacuation trends, environmental impacts of war, and the effects of environmental change on women and children. Reoccurring themes include the role of geography in understanding hazards, and the need for effective public policy.
Part II, Vulnerability to Threats, consists of four articles from Cutter’s research on vulnerability. The opening paper addresses the issue of vulnerability as a function of physical and human (social) characteristics, and then proposes the hazards of place model. The following paper presents a case study demonstrating the practical application of the model in South Carolina. The third paper focuses on refining the social vulnerability component of the model. The final paper addresses future research issues in vulnerability science. These papers are presented in chronological order, which indicates that this work is the product of a highly focused, sustained, research agenda.
Part III, Societal Responses to Threats, consists of six articles that focus on risk perception and evacuation behavior. The opening paper addresses the role of society in disaster reduction. The second and third papers focus on risk perception, with one based on a case study of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant incident and the other addressing gender differences. The third and fourth papers focus on evacuation behavior, with one based on Three Mile Island and the other on hurricane activity along the Carolina Coast. The final paper...