In this edition of ACT! we are excited to have our first book review! This quarter, Emily Zaran (Class of ’16) reviewed Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg. You can see what she thought of it below. And look out for next quarter, when JT Terry will review The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.
Eric Klinenberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, examines the City’s response to the 1995 heat wave that ultimately left more than 700 Chicagoans dead. While many of the victims were poor, elderly, and isolated, there were many contrasts between neighborhoods that warrant a closer look. The author explores the social and political institutions that failed the victims as well as those that had a protective factor.
Klinenberg’s evaluation of our City’s disaster shortcomings was eye opening. While it is easy to point fingers, the burden of failure rests across a range of entities. This book provided me with a greater appreciation for the importance of our role in communities, as well as the multi-layered approach to planning we must take to ensure the safety of our residents.
I found one of the most compelling portions of the book to be the sections pertaining to social isolation and the impact on survivability. The author points to the factors that cause a growing number of elderly individuals to become isolated from society. Those individuals without social support structures are more vulnerable than individuals with robust social networks; Klinenberg’s discussion of the foundation of this disparity shows how fragile our own social networks may be. As our population ages, planning and mitigation for social isolation can prevent small events from rapidly posing large public health crises.
In addition to social isolation, Klinenberg examines how the neighborhood an individual lives in may increase or decrease risk of death during a disaster. His look in to the aspects of community that impact survival resonated with me. The comparison of adjacent neighborhoods with similar percentages of elderly, socio-economically disadvantaged, and violent crime showed that these “risk-factors” do not have to determine outcome. Neighborhoods with thriving business areas create opportunity to interact, build community, and provide spaces that may double as areas of refuge during a crisis. By understanding these differences, emergency management professionals can look outside our normal boundaries of what makes a population “at-risk” and develop better strategies for identifying and protecting these populations.
The identification of the systems that empower and build social/neighborhood resilience is an overlooked component of Emergency Management. These structures are often nuanced and viewed to be “out of our scope”, the domain of “social services”. Understanding and integrating additional disciplines such as sociology, is essential to a truly multi-disciplinary approach to the emergency management process. Investing in community resilience and expanding our view of emergency management is crucial to reducing the risk of history repeating itself.
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