The sixth evaluation issue is in defining a situation as a disaster or a catastrophe. This is a problem for researchers, as whether an incident can be defined seems to depend on its effects. The degree of destruction caused by an incident is one measure, so if a tornado occurs in an unpopulated desert this is unlikely to be defined as a disaster, whereas if it occurs in a large populated city then it probably will be. Degree of disruption has also been used as a measure of disaster, which means to what extent individual and group functioning is disturbed.
For example some disasters such as snow storms may cause very little destruction but may cause a massive amount of disruption (including injury or death)
c) Giving reasons for your answer, suggest ways in which psychologists can help people prepare for the occurrence of disaster and/or catastrophe. It is clear from research discussed that there are several ways in which people can be helped to prepare for a disaster or catastrophe.
Fritz & Marks (1954) found that a lack of warning about a disaster makes its consequences worse. This would suggest that careful monitoring where possible for things like severe weather or earthquake is extremely important, as is keeping people informed so that adequate warning to evacuate or take some other action can be given.
It is also clear that the way warnings are given is equally important. Drabek & Stephenson’s findings would suggest that it is particularly important to give as much warning as possible, as people will obviously want to locate family members before evacuating.
In addition the results of this research may suggest that providing people in danger areas with advice about evacuation procedure would help with the speed of evacuation and may get over the delays of wasted time spent locating each other.
Research by Simms & Baumann suggests that locus of control may be an important factor in determining responses to disaster risk. This research suggests it may help to provide training for residents in areas of risk, to increase both people’s perception of their own personal risk and their belief that they are able to take preventative measures to reduce this risk.
The research into social cohesiveness suggests that this increase in natural disasters (Bowman 1964) but may decrease after technological disasters (Cuthbertson & Nigg 1987). It could therefore be suggested that in areas at risk of natural disaster people prepare by forming help groups which would be ready to provide assistance in the event of a disaster. This would then help capitalise on the immediate feelings of wanting to help which appear to be shown after a disaster.
In the case of technological disaster it could be a good idea to provide information sessions for people living in risk areas or those who have been affected and advice lines and help groups set up in communities at risk or affected. This may help negate the effects found in research by Cuthbertson & Nigg, and in addition Sjoberg (1991) found that the more knowledge people had about exposure to toxins the less their perceived risk.
Once a disaster or catastrophe has occurred research shows that those affected will need support for stress related problems and psychological disorders such as sleep disturbance and nightmares, (Wood 1992; Davidson & Baum 1986) therefore in known risk areas it may be advisable to train members of those communities in counselling skills in order to ensure a resource base for coping with any event. This would also be supported by a theoretical explanation of the effects of disasters, particularly stress, which argues that the extent to which people are able to conserve resources will determine the amount of stress suffered after a disaster (Hobfoll 1989) It can be seen that psychological research has contributed extensively to an understanding of the effects of disaster and catastrophe and measures which can be taken to minimise these effects.