The Effect of a Natural Disaster on Social Cohesion: A Longitudinal Study

November 1998 (VOL. 16, NO. 3)

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On January 8, 1998, a severe ice storm devastated electrical power grids and caused extensive environmental damage in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. This study examines the effect this natural disaster had on perceptions of social relations in the village of Potsdam, a rural community in northeastern New York State. Residents (N=88) were surveyed on their perceptions of their community one month following the disaster. These data are compared with a survey (N=127) of community perceptions conducted three years prior to the disaster. These two surveys provide a rare opportunity to perform a longitudinal study of the effects of the disaster on social cohesion. Findings indicate that social cohesion increases in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. However, one month after the disaster, perceptions of the community return to predisaster levels. This study indicates that there are few lasting effects on social cohesion resulting from a natural disaster.