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Arien Mack Editor’s Introduction THIS ISSUE CONTAINS PAPERS FROM THE SEVENTEENTH SOCIAL RESEARCH conference, Disasters: Recipes and Remedies, which took place at the New School in November 2007. We chose “Disasters” as our topic for a num ber of compelling reasons. First, there is clear evidence that disas­ ters of m any different kinds are becoming m ore frequent and their effects increasingly far-reaching as a result of growing globalization. In addition, as we all know, one of the dangerous effects of global w arm ­ ing is an increase in the num ber and m agnitude of natural disasters. This makes it im portant for us to look at these events to learn w hat we can from them . A third reason for choosing “Disasters” as our topic is that disas­ ters, which grab media attention w hen they happen, are often quickly forgotten and disappear from the media long before their consequences have been adequately dealt w ith and well before we have been able to learn as m uch as we can from them . A case in point is Hurricane Katrina, which the media now rarely discusses and received not even a m ention in President Bush’s last State of the Union address. The papers in this issue m ake it painfully clear that m ore attention m ust be paid. The conference, as this issue illustrates, looked at concerns surrounding preparedness and responsiveness to hurricanes and tsuna­ mis as well as pandemics and bioterrorist attacks, all of which surely qualify as disasters. It exam ined the im portant public issues raised by disasters, such as the equitable distribution of resources and w hat often seem to be the inevitable inequalities of both the protection and E ditor’s Introduction ix treatm ent of populations w ith health or economic vulnerabilities. (The poor—a codeword in this country for im m igrant and African-American populations—are always likely to suffer the most.) One needs to look no further than Katrina for the most recent painful example of this in the United States. It is the poor, w hether on the Gulf coast or in Aceh, Indonesia, who have been th e m ost seriously affected by the recent natural disasters, and it is the poor who will be m ost vulnerable to the effects of any pandemic. The conference also explored the com m onalities shared by all disasters—those that are conventionally considered “natural,” such as hurricanes and tsunamis, and those that may be considered man-made like pandemics and large scale bioterrorist attacks. We recognize that the term “disaster” itself is a fuzzy one and the ways in which we think about disasters are the subject of the first section of this issue. We asked the conference participants who are now the authors of this issue a series of questions. We asked them w hat we know about w hat makes us pay attention to disaster warnings or ignore them . We asked w hat are the m ost effective ways to communicate w ith the public once a disaster occurs or is about to. W hat makes us m ore or less vulner­ able to disasters and how can we protect the m ost vulnerable? W ho is responsible for preparation and who is responsible for responding, both in the short and long term ? The readers o f this issue are bound to come away not only with a m uch sharper sense of the extent to w hich it is the poor and the already suffering who are doomed to be the m ost severely affected by any disaster, but also of how m uch needs to be done if we are to better protect ourselves from w hat are likely to be an increasing num ber of catastrophic events both man-made and natural, a distinction that is becoming increasingly difficult to make. x social research Part I Definitions: What We Talk about When We Talk about Disasters ...


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