Families and Disaster Behavior: A Reassessment of Family Preparedness

March 2006 (VOL. 24, NO. 1)

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Disaster researchers have consistently emphasized that the family is a principal conduit for disaster behaviors and critical for its individual members’ survival. Evidence for this claim, however, is problematic as it is based primarily on anecdotal and ethnographic evidence restricted to ongoing or post-disaster coping behaviors. Such evidence should focus on the preparedness stage where family disaster behavior is critical for subsequent chances of survival. Reassessing the primacy of the family-disaster link at the preparedness stage was accomplished by analyzing a representative Israeli sample (n=814) of family household units. Focusing on the household unit provided access to its members, internal familial social processes and household pre-disaster preparedness levels. The households were divided into traditional, cohabiting and single family structures. The initial analysis showed that variations in household structure had inconsistent and in some cases no impact on core disaster preparedness behaviors. Testing a series of alternative explanations related to internal familial social processes found that the extent and intensity of family social networks and gender of the household head did predict differences in preparedness levels. Apparently, the impact of families on preparedness—a vital factor in subsequent disaster behaviors—does not appear to be the result of its structure but the social processes inherent within the household. Being a family in its many diverse forms but lacking these essential familial ingredients is no guarantee of being prepared for disasters.