Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Social science research conducted since the late 1970s has contributed greatly to society's ability to mitigate and adapt to natural, technological, and willful disasters. However, as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and other recent events, hazards and disaster research and its application could be improved greatly. In particular, more studies should be pursued that compare how the characteristics of different types of events--including predictability, forewarning, magnitude, and duration of impact--affect societal vulnerability and response. This report includes over thirty recommendations for the hazards and disaster community. Notably, comparative research should be conducted to refine and measure core components of societal vulnerability and resilience to hazards of all types, address the special requirements of confronting disasters caused by terrorist acts, and advance knowledge about mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery related to disasters having catastrophic physical and social impacts. Moreover, strategic planning and institution building are needed to address issues related to the management and sharing of data on hazards and disasters (hazards and disaster informatics), sustain the momentum of interdisciplinary research, advance the utilization of social science findings, and sustain the hazards and disaster research workforce. And above all, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security should jointly support the comparative research, strategic planning, and institution building called for in the report.

Key Messages

  • A more diverse, interdisciplinary, and technologically sophisticated social science workforce is needed in the future.
  • Far less is known about how the characteristics of different types of hazards affect disaster preparedness and response.
  • How research is communicated and applied is not well understood.
  • NEHRP has made important contributions to understanding longer-term disaster recovery.
  • Social science hazards and disaster research has advanced in the United States and internationally.
  • Social science knowledge about the responses of U.S. households to natural hazards and disasters is well developed.
  • The circumstances of terrorist threats could alter societal response to disasters.
  • The management and accessibility of data needs immediate attention.