Discussion board replies | CJUS 383 – Behavioral Dimensions of Disaster | Liberty University

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At the start of the chapter, the author references the Halifax Explosion of 1917 as the start of research into disaster behavior (Fischer, 2008, p. 29). As a Christmas gift one year, my family gave me the book, The Great Halifax Explosion by John Bacon. It was a fascinating, if tragic story about one of the largest man-made catastrophes to occur in North America and I would recommend it to anyone in this class. Approximately 1,800 civilians were killed, and thousands more injured when an ammunition ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia during World War 1.

The human behavior factors were interesting, if contradictory. The Mont Blanc was an outdated ship that was overloaded with highly explosive chemicals intended for ammunition production in France as well as high octane aviation gasoline. While maneuvering in Halifax harbor prior to crossing the Atlantic, it was struck by another ship, caught fire and eventually exploded, leveling much of the town. Even though the initial accident was not their fault, the captain and crew of the Mont Blanc were publicly reviled and officially blamed for the disaster. This is because after the collision, they abandoned their ship and watched the following events from a distance, making no attempt to warn the city. Conversely, other ships’ crews and personnel on shore stayed at their posts to clear the harbor and warn bystanders (Bacon, 2017, pp. 158-166). Many of them perished as a result of their actions, but saved countless lives. Those who knew of the danger did nothing, while those with no responsibility for the event sacrificed themselves to save others.

 As for the modern sources for disaster research, these areas are new to me. Aside from books like those above, my preferred area of research has been FEMA, DoD or other government sources or reports. After the reading this week, I explored the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which is available through our library online. I reviewed the article “Best Practices and Lessons Learned from Community Engagement and Data Collection Strategies in Post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico”. This topic was somewhat familiar to me, since I was involved in the initial response in 2017. Hurricane Maria by itself was one of the most destructive storms to affect the easter Caribbean islands in recorded history. This was compounded however, as two weeks earlier, Hurricane Irma had swept though the same areas. Though not as destructive overall, the infrastructure was already severely damaged and relief supplies had already been depleted.

According to the author, “Not all communities are alike; needs can differ for a variety of reasons and can help determine the best ways to galvanize an appropriate response” (Saum-Manning, 2021, p. 1). In this way, hurricane planning in Puerto Rico is going to look very different than it is in the rest of the country. As part of the United States, there were vast resources available to the residents, but the limiting factor is Puerto Rico being an island with access only by sea and air. This made the response effort considerably more difficult than sending relief to disaster areas in the continental United States. Sea ports and airports were overwhelmed for the entire month that I was there (October 2017) so the desperately needed supplies were backed up off shore and on the mainland. While it was vital to have outsiders there initially to bring unique resources and skill sets, the true recovery was ultimately at the hands of the people who live there.

When I look at both events, one principle is consistent. When we know of a threat, we are morally obligated (and sometimes legally obligated) to act and minimize the impacts. Under the Old Testament law, landowners were responsible for deaths or injuries caused by their negligence. If a farmer had an animal that had harmed people before, they were held accountable if it harmed anyone again (NKJV, Exodus 21:28-32). Likewise, someone who dug a pit was responsible to ensure that an unwitting bystander did not accidentally fall into it (NKJV, Exodus 21:33-34). If we know of a threat, or should know, and do nothing, we bear the guilt for the consequences.

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