Disasters can result from forces of nature such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, and droughts; technological accidents such as nuclear reactor meltdowns, train derailments, oil spills, and chemical releases; willful acts of violence such as terrorism and shootings; or a combination of the above. Disasters can be slow to emerge, as is the case with drought, or can be sudden or unexpected such as when earthquakes or tornadoes strike. These events have the potential to disrupt community functioning, cause displacement, and result in significant economic and property loss, injuries, fatalities, and profound emotional suffering.
Disasters are occurring with greater frequency and greater severity than ever before. Between 1992 and 2012, disasters affected over 4.4 billion people, caused 1.3 million deaths, and resulted in over $2 trillion in economic losses (UNISDR 2012). In part, these global shifts are caused by changing environmental conditions, but they also occur due to entrenched social, economic and political inequalities that expose more and more people to higher levels of risk. This course is designed to introduce students to the sociological investigation of disasters—their origins, effects, and the social dynamics that create risk of and vulnerability to disasters.
SOC 100 (General Sociology) or SOC 105 (Social Problems)