What is a Disaster? Addresses the most basic question in the field: that of defining the phenomenon of study. For theoretical advancement, it is important that researchers begin to develop a consensus about the meaning of disasters and related phenomena. With the rise in international terrorism, one must clarify whether these events are disasters and if so, what kind of disasters. Similarly, in addition to natural disasters, do we include riots, explosions, nuclear power plant accidents, damn collapses, and land subsidence under the same conceptual umbrella? What practical and theoretical differences does it make if the same label is used or not used for such different situations? What is a Disaster? Brings together twelve social scientists representing eight disciplines and seven countries to share their definition and vision of disasters. In the process, a wide range of views are expressed and issues raised regarding the relationship of academic versus practical definitions, the impact of grouping types of disasters in different ways, and the epistemologies on which theoretical growth should rest. The forum provided involves the presentation of each author’s views, followed by a discussant’s critique, and closed with a response from the author. The editor’s close the volume with discussions of the theoretical framework of disaster research and an agenda for disaster research in the twenty-first century.
E.L. Quarantelli is a pioneer in social science disaster research. While completing classic studies of panic behavior, Dr. Quarantelli did work for the National Research Council Committee on Disasters. In 1963 he co-founded the Disaster Research Center at the Ohio State University, conducting pioneering studies of individual and organizational behavior in disasters. He is a leader in expanding disaster research internationally. He was President of the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Disasters and the first editor of the first professional journal dedicated to disaster research, Mass Emergencies. He is now Emeritus Professor at the Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware. Ronald W. Perry has studied disasters for more than three decades. His work has focused on developing emergency decision making models and on disaster planning and emergency response. His research has addressed terrorism and natural and technological disasters in the United States and Japan. He has served on the Board of Directors of the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Disasters and was editor of the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. He is a member of the Arizona Council on Earthquake Safety and the Arizona Terrorism Task Force. Dr. Perry is Professor of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.