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Comparing Natural Disasters With Terrorist Attacks Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2065 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Every year, the United States experiences a range of natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis and they pose great threats to American lives and the prosperity of the U.S. economy. Among all natural threats, hurricanes are some of the most powerful and deadliest forces in nature and they have attributed to thousands of deaths every year and significantly impacted the United States’ economy (John, Laura, Glazier, & Philipp, 2006). For instance, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew killed more than 40 people and caused an estimation of $26 billion in damages which was considered at the time as the most expensive hurricane in the U.S. However, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina has caused more damages than Hurricane Andrew (John, Laura, Glazier, & Philipp, 2006).

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John, Laura, Glazier, and Philipp have highlighted that Hurricane Katrina was responsible for more than 8,000 deaths which included those who died instantly during the storm and those who died in hospitals, clinics, or during evacuation. Furthermore, the storm has also caused more than $125 billion in damages with $40-$66 billion in insured losses(John, Laura, Glazier, & Philipp, 2006). According to experts, Katrina was the deadliest natural disasters in the United States history and it has clearly shown the devastation and danger that natural disasters pose to the human population. Additionally, the recent Hurricane Sandy has also taught Americans how preemptive measures are important when it comes to manmade or natural disasters (John, Laura, Glazier, & Philipp, 2006).

According to Newman (2012) hurricane Sandy has killed more than 100 people, destroyed a range of communities in the New York and New Jersey areas and cut power to more than 8000 million homes. Newman also pointed out that response to affected victims was delayed because the state of New Jersey failed to effectively prepare for a major disaster. As a result, some of those who were affected by the hurricane have somewhat felt abandoned and lost confidence in their local government. However, according to Espo and Pace (2012) the victims of Hurricane Sandy were reassured by President Obama’s statement “we will not quit until cleanup and recovery are complete.” Furthermore, whether an act of terrorism or a disaster, victims tend to develop some types of fear which sometimes impair their ability to bounce back and even to grow in the face of threats to survival. This paper will compare and contrast how is the fear of natural disaster is different from the fear of a terrorist attack.

Fear of natural disasters

Natural disasters can be devastating as we saw with hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Sandy in which thousands of individuals were killed and countless of homes were destroyed. Arnold (2004) has highlighted that between 1975 and 1996 more than three million people have been killed and 800 million others have been affected by natural disasters (Arnold, 2004). In addition, the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Japan have shown that life on earth is fraught with natural and manmade disasters. For example, more than 250,000 people lost their lives in Haiti as a result of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. As a result, citizens have become fearful because local and federal government have failed to show their ability to deal with the aftermath of such events. Arnold also pointed out that the actual threats that victims fight with following a natural disaster are comparable to those of a human-made crisis such as armed conflict: “fear” (such as aftershocks and deteriorating social order) and “want” (lack of food, water and shelter) (Arnold, 2004).

Reich (2006) stated that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina have caused many people to reorganize their thoughts about the United States’ ability to respond to such disasters. Reich also underlined that the manner in which government officials respond to such stressful events can cause many victims to worry and even lost faith in their government. For example, the way that the government responded to Hurricane Katrina was deemed inadequate and inefficient even though the federal government had been making preparation for a major disaster in New Orleans since 2002 (Reich, 2006). As a result of their lack of preparation, victims were left stranded in their homes for days and others were engaged in illegal activities such as vandalism and robbery (Reich, 2006).

Beck (2006) emphasized those victims who lost their homes during a natural disaster tend to develop feeling of insecurity and vulnerability in the loss of privacy and treasured possessions. Furthermore, some of these victims may be become terrified because they are thrown situations where they must sleep in temporary shelters without any expectations of privacy, or without restrooms or cooking arrangements, and with poor sleeping conditions (Beck, 2006). Beck also reported that victims may develop fear and anxiety because they felt that they did not do enough to prevent death or even injury to self or loved ones during a natural disaster (Beck). Also, victims of either natural or manmade disasters who lost loved ones may direct their anger towards public officials for failing to respond effectively to the needs of affected victims.

Furthermore, Beck has reported that according to a study conducted by Perry and Muschkatel in 1984, more than 90 percent of those exposed to a natural or manmade disaster had an anxiety reaction within five hours (Beck, 2006). Many different symptoms associated with this anxiety including repeated attacks of anxiety, startle reactions, anxiety-induced sleep disturbances, and fears of approaching and returning to the scene of the disaster.

Similarly, Wood and Pollack (2010) explained that exposure to traumatic event such as a terrorist act can create stress in those who experienced it, including survivors, first responders like police officers, firefighters and medical personnel and even those who experienced it through news coverage. Also, victims of both natural disasters and terrorism who lost loved ones, homes and personal possession tend to become depressed. Beck explained that their grieve may lead to the Bereavement Syndrome which may take five forms, such as inhibit grief which leads to denial and it can be harmful to the victim’s future life. Second form is anger, a process where survivor victims may attempt to file lawsuits against government officials for their lack of preparations. The third form extreme guilty preoccupation, this is where victims blame themselves for the loss of possession or loved ones. A prime example would be a husband who blames himself for letting his wife goes to work in World Trade Center on September 2001. The fourth form is chronic grief; in which suffering continues for years and maybe shown by visiting the loved ones’ gravesites daily or crying whenever being reminded of the loved ones. Finally, the last form is depression illness, in which the person has social isolation, loss of energy, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation (Beck, 2006).

Overall, Beck concluded that the aforementioned symptoms are very detrimental and can impair the victims’ ability to properly function in society. As a result, it is extremely necessary that such victims seek counseling in order to deal with the aftermath of a disaster. In comparison, Wood and Pollack also pointed out that victims of disasters tend to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) whose symptoms include “feeling of dissociation, or emotional numbing re-experiencing the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, anxiety and general distress and impaired functioning in life” (p. 4).

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Fear of terrorism

Similar to natural disasters, terrorism victims may also develop fears after being exposed to such traumatic events. Nevertheless, fears about terrorism have become prominent concerns because America has now realized that extremists will go extraordinary lengths to make their views known to the point of committing suicide. Another fact about terrorism that makes it fearful is that terrorists can strike any place, any time and with any weapon (Friedman, 2005). The fact that terrorist group al-Qaeda has been trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction has also increased fear in American citizens even though the United States has tighten entry requirements and destroyed al-Qaeda’s Afghan’s sanctuary and crippled its ability to launch attacks against the homeland (Friedman).

Arnold (2004) underlined that even though countless of people die every year in the United States as a result of car accidents, drunk driving, homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings involving firearms, the fear of terrorists attacking the homeland surpassed them all because of the aftermath. Americans now realized that terrorism poses imminent threats to our lives, property and lifestyles and failure to prevent any attacks is detrimental to the wellbeing of the nation. Chertoff (2008) pointed out while it is necessary that Washington remains vigilant in this terrorism era, allocating too much money towards counterterrorism may not be the best solution to prevent additional attacks. Instead, Chertoff proposed that America should pursue strategies to win nations and people to its side by employing the soft power and hard power methods. By using soft power the U.S. can eradicate the extremism ideology in terrorists who either politically, religiously or financially motivated and give them a positive view of America (Chertoff).

Another fear associated with either a natural disaster or a terrorist act is the fact that such event can get in the way of making available routine, non-emergency health services. Subsequently, hospital or first responders may be unable to provide with basic care and medications for their ongoing health problems which can lead to an increase in illness and death in segments of the population that might not have been directly affected by the disaster (Beck, 2006).

Moreover, Reich (2006) has underlined that although citizens may demonstrate signs of fears during and after a disaster, the key to successful recover from a disaster is to improve individuals’ resilience. Reich discussed three central principles of human resilience such as personal control, coherence, and connectedness. The principle of personal control underlined that people need to feel like they have control over their lives and once those who do tend to have higher life satisfaction. Secondly, the principle of coherence is very fundamental to resilience. This principle overly explained that people tend to have a drive to know what is being taken place. For example, they want answers and explanations that may pertain to their loved ones, possessions and other important factors of their lives (Beck, 2006).

Finally, the principle of connectedness is essential during disasters because human nature is social and people and there are positive benefits linked to strong social ties. Reich further explained that the principle of connectedness is “a notable characteristic of the behavior of people in disasters is to band together, to seek out others, to establish bonds even with strangers” (p. 795). Since a resilient community is described by interconnectivity, having citizens working together can expedite the recovery process and they will rapidly bounce back to normalcy. Nevertheless, Flynn (2008) noted that citizens must accept to make serious changes such as “relocating when their homes are repeatedly destroyed or reaching deeper into their pockets to pay for the tools that their communities need to improve robustness, resourcefulness, and recovery capability before the next crisis” (p.4).


The fear of natural disasters is very similar to the fear of a terrorist attack. Victims of both events tend to experience psychological impairments that prevent them from making a full recovery. However, the fear of terrorism is much greater because terrorists can strike any place, any time and with any weapon and they seek to countless of innocent victims in order to make a political statement.


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