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Rich and Poor Vulnerable to Disasters

In today's world, everyone is at risk, expert contends

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While the poor remain prime targets for disasters, natural and otherwise, these destructive events can strike any society or class depending on both random chance and the patterns in which people live, one expert researcher contends.

Lee Clarke, a Rutgers University sociologist, points to patterns in where people decide to live, where they work, who they socialize with, and in other areas of their lives. These patterns can affect how a particular group of people may be disproportionately affected in any single disaster, he said.

He presented his views at this week's annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia.

When a disaster occurs, "sometimes occupation matters, sometimes the kind of organization that you work for. Sometimes gender or race or class matters. Sometimes the inequality of the moment is geographically based," Clarke said in a prepared statement.

Events like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks prove that sudden calamity can strike even affluent societies and classes, depending on circumstances of the moment.

"Once we see disaster and catastrophe, like death, misery, happiness and boredom, as a normal part of life several things are thrown into perspective," Clarke said. "We see that destruction happens in disasters in ways that are not random: there are patterns. These patterns tend to mirror the ways humans organize their societies: along lines of wealth and poverty, division of labor, access to health care, membership in organizations, to name a few."

He added that there's often a lack of proper preparation for disasters.

"Too much disaster policy continues to take a command-and-control stance. And there's been insufficient preparation where disasters really happen -- at the local level: in offices, schools, trains, and the like. We are at greater risk for worst-case disasters today than in the past, even in wealthy societies. This is because of hubris, interdependence and population concentration," Clarke said.

More information

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency offers a family disaster plan.

SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, August 15, 2005
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