Social Capital: Dealing with Community Emergencies
Dynes, Russell R.
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Of course, the central symbol of international terrorism in the United States was the collapse of the World Trade Towers in New York and the perhaps 3,000 deaths that resulted from the collapse. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that at the time of impact there were an estimated 17,400 occupants in those buildings and eighty-seven percent of them evacuated successfully. Most of the deaths were on the floors or above the floors where the planes hit. It is now determined that ninety-nine percent of those below the impact floors successfully evacuated. This successful evacuation was not accomplished by conventional search and rescue groups; it was the result of people on site helping others and themselves to take protective action to get out of the towers and to a safe location. While the loss of property and life occurring on 9/11 is frequently recalled, the protective actions of the other 'victims' in the building are often overlooked. Much of the contemporary discussion about emergency planning assumes that community members 'panic' and that strong authority is necessary. The vocabulary of 'command and control' suggests chaos rather than citizen adaptability and creativity. Such assumptions can be questioned by the research evidence accumulated in recent years. While we calculate damage to physical and human capital, we usually ignore the social capital available within communities to deal with emergencies. Social capital is our most significant resource in responding to damage caused by natural and other hazards, such as terrorism.
This article appeared in Homeland Security Affairs (July 2006), v.2 no.2
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