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Preparing for the Aftermath of Crises

Researchers have isolated and analyzed common elements in citizen response to crisis situations. They have identified the specific beliefs that generate particular actions like evacuation, compliance with authorities or cooperation among victims. Although the details of each crisis may vary substantially--from an earthquake in Chile to economic recovery during recession--citizens respond guided by beliefs about the crisis.

In disaster situations, policy makers usually focus on providing food and shelter to survivors. However, the particular form--not just the fact--of aid can significantly affect the willingness of these individuals to trust the government in the future. This body of work has helped federal, state and local authorities better understand decisions citizens make in times of crisis and to develop more effective policy responses.

To measure citizen response to crisis situations and to identify factors that predict these responses the researchers conducted surveys, interviews and ran controlled experiments with victims of disasters. For example, this research identified factors that increased and decreased cooperation among evacuees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Researchers compared responses of individuals whose families and social networks remained intact, with those whose support networks splintered or dissolved. Those whose networks persisted were significantly more cooperative and demonstrated greater trust in government.


  • fallen tree and stop sign
The remains of a neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.
Michele Sandusky msand39/

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