USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development

Contents of Recent Issues

Volume 15, No. 1 (March 1997)

Special Issue


Robert A. Stallings

Guest Editor

    Editor’s Introduction:

      Robert A. Stallings, "Methods of Disaster Research: Unique or Not?" pp. 7-19.

        [Guest Editor's introduction to the special issue on methods of disaster research.]

    Articles by:

      Thomas E. Drabek, "Following Some Dreams: Recognizing Opportunities, Posing Interesting Questions, and Implementing Alternative Methods," pp. 21-46.

        For over three decades I have implemented alternative methodologies so as to pursue interesting research questions. My work has been guided by three goals: (1) test and extend sociological theory related to human response to disaster; (2) identify insights relevant to emergency management practitioners; and (3) communicate the results to both the academic and practitioner communities. In this essay three themes are developed: (1) a survey of the alternative methods I used in numerous disaster studies; (2) an evaluation of the state of disaster research; and (3) speculative thoughts regarding future directions, needs, and potentials. (AA)

      E. L. Quarantelli, "The Disaster Reseach Center Field Studies of Organized Behavior in the Crisis Time Period of Disasters," pp. 47-69.

        Between its formation in 1963 and until 1989, the Disaster Research Center (DRC) conducted more than 450 field studies of community crises, the great bulk of them involving natural or technological disaster agents. The major focus was on organized behavior whether in formal organizations or informal and emergent groups, and usually about the social entities involved in the preparedness and response activities in the crisis. After noting the background context within which the center operated, this paper summarizes the general methodological approach taken in the work. It depicts the substantial attention DRC paid to the prefield training that was given to the graduate students who did most of the field work. Also described are the in-field procedures followed, particularly the open-ended type of interviewing conducted, the kinds of participant observations made, and the systematic document collecting that was done. Finally, we note certain postfield procedures systematized by the center to measure the quantity and to insure the quality of the data gathered. (AA)

      Linda B. Bourque, Kimberley I. Shoaf, and Loc H. Nguyen, "Survey Research," pp. 71-101.

        We examine the kinds of information that can be obtained from well-designed, standardized, population-based surveys and demonstrate that some things which, in the past, have been considered barriers to the use of surveys following disasters provide insights into post-disaster behavior and may be advantageous. In specific, we examine: the use of standardized surveys to compare community behavior across time, events, and locations; the extent to which surveys represent the population of interest in the aftermath of a disaster; the receptivity of respondents to being interviewed after a disaster; the ability to utilize telephones for interviews after a disaster; the extent to which the data collected in a survey are perishable and subject to memory decay; the use of surveys as quasi-experimental designs for obtaining information on "control groups"; the use of surveys as a source of baseline or denominator data for ascertaining what other, more specialized datasets represent; the maintenance of verbal data collected within the context of a survey for later post-coding and analysis; and the storage of surveys in archives for use in secondary analyses by other researchers. Overall, we conclude that well-designed, standardized, population-based surveys can provide an accurate picture of a community's behaviors and attitudes with regard to disasters as well as describe the impact of a disaster on a population. (AA)

      Marco Lombardi, "Media Studies," pp. 103-116.

        The arrival on the scene of the study of mass emergencies and risk analysis has represented an important step forward in the world of communication, not only because of its theoretical aspects, but also because of its ability to influence policy formulation. Many researchers and scholars of mass emergencies and risk analysis today agree on focusing their research activities on communication. Communication is seen as a social process, something which is fundamental to the understanding of both crisis management and of the various activities which precede and follow crises themselves. On the other hand, information, as a product of communication, is merchandise which has great importance in many of our relationships, both on a micro and macro level. This brief account aims to stimulate the debate which is already active in the scientific community and also to provide food for thought as to the working tools used in research which is constantly face-to-face with empirical reality. (AA)

      Walter Gillis Peacock, "Cross-National and Comparative Disaster Research," pp. 117-133.

        Distinguishing characteristics and issues of comparative and cross-cultural research, problems and opportunities, and an assessment of future prospects are offered and related to disaster research. No single approach is advocated; rather, various approaches-case study to cross-national, contemporary to historical, and qualitative to quantitative-are recommended. Methodological issues including model specification, problems of aggregation, intra- versus inter-national variation, and secondary versus primary data collection are addressed. Particular attention is devoted to issues of equivalence related to conceptualization, data comparability, operationalization and measurement, conversion, standardization, and units of observation. The need for systematic efforts to develop research tools that can be utilized to measure critical concepts such as recovery, restoration, risk, and mitigation is identified. Finally, discipline-based, yet disaster relevant, cross-national and comparative research agendas consistent with a broader ecological perspective targeting disasters, development, and the social production of vulnerability are advocated. (AA)

      Nicole Dash, "The Use of Geographical Information Systems in Disaster Research," pp. 135-146.

        In the last ten years, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have slowly crept their way into the everyday methodological discourse in areas such as geography, urban planning, and emergency management. However, GIS has yet to be integrated into social science research on disaster. This paper uses examples of GIS use in emergency management to help inform the future direction of GIS use in disaster research. While computers and software and, for that matter, data are vital to the development of an effective system, more important are researchers who can generate theory-based uses for the technology that offer new understandings of disaster phenomena. Only through research teams that include both researchers (idea generators) and technicians (idea "implementers") can GIS be effectively used in disaster research. (AA)

      T. Joseph Scanlon, "Rewriting a Living Legend: Researching the 1917 Halifax Explosion," pp. 147-178.

        At the 1994 World Congress of Sociology in Bielefeld (Germany), Henry Quarantelli suggested that sociologists studying disasters ought to pay more attention to documents and to historical research. Research done on Canada's worst catastrophe, the 1917 Halifax, Nova Scotia, munitions ship explosion-1,963 dead, 9,000 injured-shows that there can be scores of documents available about such incidents. These include media accounts, articles in academic journals and professional publications, and books, both non-fiction and fiction, inspired by personal experience. There are also archival records. Material on the Halifax explosion was found in Boston, Washington, D.C., Paris, London, and Oslo as well as in Canadian centers at Charlottetown, Sydney, Truro, St. John's, Ottawa, Toronto, and Halifax. While some documents were easy to locate, others required using contacts and advertising one's interest. Networking led to new live sources (there are still hundreds of survivors from 1917) and to documents in private hands including diaries and letters. The results provide both new insights into historical events and a test of current theories using historical data. (AA)

      Brenda D. Phillips, "Qualitative Methods and Disaster Research, " pp. 179-195.

        This paper discusses the existing and potential linkages between qualitative research and disaster research. It begins by considering recent trends in qualitative research relevant to disaster studies and lists misconceptions which readers should peruse before passing judgment on qualitative research. The recent trends will likely influence qualitative disaster research, especially in the areas of data analysis and writing. The paper also identifies strong linkages between qualitative and disaster research, and the unusual opportunities qualitative researchers have enjoyed within disaster research. Beyond these linkages, this essay also identifies both problems and the potential of qualitative disaster research, including expanding data collection methods, nurturing the next generation of qualitative disaster researchers, and latching onto rapidly developing computing technologies for qualitative research. The author concludes with a "wish list" for future qualitative disaster research. (AA)

      David L. Butler, "APPENDIX: Selected Internet Sites on Natural Hazards and Disasters, " pp. 197-215.

        [A listing of Internet sites specially prepared for this issue on methods of disaster research.]

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