Why We Can’t Compare Disasters: WTC, Murrah, Katrina & More – SDP#37

PODCAST-There are several reasons why each disaster should be studied as an individual unit. By isolating communications and geography specific to time, context and situation, Dr. Perrodin demonstrates the inherent problems with comparing disasters. He also notes the incredible impact of “lived experiences” and longitudinal demographic factors that contributed to the improbable rescue of 500,000 people in only 9 hours from Lower Manhattan on 9/11/01.

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COLD WAR 1980-1985

David shares an excerpt from his research for his book “Lessons of Lower Manhattan” and delineates the saturating influences of politics, media and pop culture on youth and young adults during the first half of the 1980s. This was a time when Americans were inundated with messages that the Soviet Union presented a serious threat to the well-being of every American


Bill Clinton said, “When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web… Now even my cat has its own page.”  At the time of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995, a mere 16 Million People (.4%) in The World Used the Internet. At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, that number had risen sharply to 513 million people (9%). As of March, 2017, the Internet is accessed by 3.74 billion people (50% of the world). This is amazing when you consider that more than a billion people do not have access to electricity!  Media updates about the 9/11/01 attacks were timely, and available, online. Although people didn’t have “smart” devices, they could send and receive information via texts. Substantially more information is available today and communication systems are very robust even when confronted with hurricanes.


The AAR was developed in the 1970s by the military to study disaster response. The method lacks a standard template and often results in benchmarking against other disasters / responses. It also tends to skew toward assigning blame versus understanding the response – both the attributes that contributed to successful outcomes and barriers that militated against successful outcomes. Is there really a no fault analysis of a disaster?


WTC was on an island. Murrah was not an island. This is a monumental difference that would be pervasive across all response efforts! People in OKC were not wondering how they would get to a safe area. People in WTC had nowhere to go other than the harbor. Florida hurricane evacuations are limited by the capacity of Interstate 4 and even with a few days warning, the infrastructure is quickly strained. Also, when people have already lived through a hurricane by “hunkering down” they are less likely to evacuate. Wildland fires – people disoriented as exit routes can change / can have hills. Dam failures – upstream or downstream?  Do escape routes cross downstream rivers? FUKUSHIMA (2011). Japan’s population dense metro regions do not have grid-like city planning innate to cities in the United States. It’s hard to find your way around during a disaster. A Google engineer used his smart device and Google Maps to navigate fractured roads in order to return to his wife and child.


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