western Kentucky University Disasters and Disaster Mental Health Reflection

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  The Gill secondary trauma one goes with my topic and here is video you can use and i added the smart towns reading which makes that 3 in total 
https://youtu.be/9e3r_gHKkYkSociological Spectrum, 27: 613–632, 2007
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0273-2173 print/1521-0707 online
DOI: 10.1080/02732170701574941
SECONDARY TRAUMA OR SECONDARY DISASTER?
INSIGHTS FROM HURRICANE KATRINA
Duane A. Gill
Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA
Hurricane Katrina is destined to become one of the most studied disasters
in U.S. history. This manuscript offers a sociology of disaster framework
in which to situate past, on-going, and future research on this event. By
examining Katrina on a continuum of natural and technological disasters, we are able to gain insights into the different paths of impact and
recovery taken by New Orleans and the rest of the disaster-stricken
region. Specifically, this disaster has produced a series of secondary traumas that continue to thwart recovery efforts. Understanding these
secondary traumas can lead to amelioration of their effects and development of responses to diminish their occurrence in future disasters.
PREFACE
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I had determined to focus my Mid-South
Sociological Association (MSSA) Presidential Address on some
aspect of disaster. I have been a disaster researcher since 1982 when
Steve Picou and I became involved in a study of a train derailment
and chemical spill in Livingston, Louisiana (Gill and Picou 1991;
Picou and Rosebrook 1993). In 1989 Steve and I began a study of
the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) and its effects on the renewable
This manuscript is a revision of the Presidential Address presented at the annual meeting of
the Mid-South Sociological Association in Atlanta, Georgia, October 2005. The Mississippi
Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MIS–605270) and the Social Science Research
Center at Mississippi State University have provided major support for my research on disasters since 1989. This manuscript was written in collaboration with Liesel A. Ritchie. I would
also like to acknowledge the insights and support provided by J. Steven Picou, Anthony Ladd,
and Arthur G. Cosby.
Address correspondence to Duane A. Gill, Associate Director, Social Science Research
Center, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA. E-mail:
Duane.Gill@SSRC.MsState.edu
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D. A. Gill
resource community of Cordova, Alaska (see Dyer, Gill, and Picou
1992; Gill 1994; Gill and Picou 1998, 2001; Picou and Gill 1997,
2000; Picou, Gill, and Cohen 1997; Picou, Marshall, and Gill 2004).
Since that time, annual MSSA meetings have provided an important
forum for presenting findings from our EVOS research and I considered it appropriate to offer an overview of my primary area of
interest—sociology of disaster. Of course, Hurricane Katrina made
my topic extremely relevant.
Shortly after the hurricane, researchers at the Social Science
Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University met to discuss ways in which their research expertise could be applied to practical issues facing the Mississippi Gulf Coast in particular and the
region in general. It became apparent that the group could more
effectively apply their expertise to the disaster if they had a better
understanding of the subfield of disaster research. Fortuitously,
Liesel Ritchie and I had just returned from Dutch Harbor=Unalaska
where we were keynote speakers at the Aleutian Life Forum (ALF).
The focus of the ALF was the 2004 Selendang Ayu shipwreck and oil
spill and our keynote address situated our study of the incident in
technological disaster research (Gill and Ritchie 2006; Ritchie and
Gill 2006). We modified our ALF presentation and shared it with
our SSRC colleagues. These efforts provided a foundation and point
of departure for my MSSA address.
INTRODUCTION
Hurricane Katrina caused widespread disruption to the built environment and social fabric of communities and neighborhoods along the
Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast. New Orleans was hit particularly
hard by the storm when the levee system failed resulting in a devastating flood that indefinitely prolonged the evacuation of many residents and left chaotic situations among those residents who did not
evacuate—either by choice or circumstance. In New Orleans, Katrina
broadly exposed poverty, racism, inequality, vulnerable infrastructures, poor response planning, and a host of other problems. Katrina
also revealed the generosity of people throughout the nation who
opened their pocketbooks and, in some cases, their homes and
communities for displaced residents.
While the disaster captured the attention of the general public,
social scientists were among several groups with particular interests
in understanding this historic event. There was plenty of room at
the proverbial table for sociologists interested in poverty, race,
inequality, gender, gerontology, family, deviance, social organization,
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
615
social institutions, community, public policy, social capital, and
collective behavior, just to name a few areas of inquiry. A perusal
of programs for meetings of professional societies reveal numerous
sessions devoted to Hurricane Katrina—the Southern Sociological
Society had more than twenty-five Katrina-sessions at its March
2006 annual meeting in New Orleans. Further, there have been
numerous special issue journals and anthologies devoted to publishing research and editorial comments on social aspects of the disaster.
Given projections that recovery may take ten years or more, Katrina
is destined to become the most studied disaster in the U.S.
Scholarly presentations and published articles devoted to Katrina
increase our understanding of the event and demonstrate how social
scientists can interject knowledge from their respective areas of
expertise. Once considered by some as an opportunistic arena of sociology akin to ‘‘ambulance chasing,’’ the subfield of disaster research
has become increasingly palatable to sociologists since 9=11, the
Indian Ocean Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, the emergent
cottage industry of Katrina research has already produced substantial insights and knowledge about society. For example, disaster
scholars are revising ideas about hazards, risk, and disasters and
investigating ways to increase community resilience. Not all Katrina
scholars specialized in disaster research, however, and without familiarity with various disaster paradigms some may have missed opportunities to more fully advance this area of study.
The first objective of this article is to provide a brief ‘‘sociology of
disaster’’ that has evolved from my research experiences, presentations, publications, workshops, and associations with other disaster
researchers. This sociology of disaster is designed to address basic
definitions of disasters and introduce concepts that help frame disaster research. Moreover, my approach is necessarily applied in its
orientation, with purposes to help survivors better understand what
has happened to their communities and themselves, provide information and insights to practitioners and decision-makers, and facilitate broader appreciation of disasters among other social scientists
and the general public.
The second objective is to examine ‘‘secondary trauma’’ and ‘‘secondary disaster’’ as concepts in my sociology of disaster framework.
Secondary disaster is a concept that focuses on events that prolong
the disaster experience. The term is often associated with Kai
Erikson’s 1976 work on the Buffalo Creek, West Virginia disaster
and I have used the term in my own research. When pressed to find
a definition, however, the literature offers implicit views rather than
explicit meanings. A cursory reading of Erikson’s book followed
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by an intensive rereading yielded a brief discussion of ‘‘secondary
trauma’’ but no mention of ‘‘secondary disaster.’’ My examination
is meant to more clearly articulate meanings embedded in these
concepts and to explore the value of their application to disasters
in general and Katrina in particular.
A SOCIOLOGY OF DISASTER
Much of the early literature on disaster research addresses the basic
issue of what constitutes a disaster. Disaster definitions have evolved
from ‘‘event-specific’’ orientations that characterized work prior to
WWII, to a more unified perspective that focused on the commonalities of events (Quarantelli 1981). Conceptualizations have broadened
to include how people respond to disasters (collective behavior) and
how communities and society respond to and become better prepared
for them (social organization) (see Barton 1969; Dynes 1970, 1974;
Quarantelli and Dynes 1978). Beginning in the late 1970s, debates
about the value and validity of distinguishing natural from technological disasters emerged (Couch and Kroll-Smith 1985, 1991;
Kroll-Smith and Couch 1991, 1993a; Quarantelli 1985, 1992, 1998)
and more recently, acts of terrorism have been added to the mix
(see Marshall, Picou and Gill 2003; Ritchie 2004).
In the following section I will address the question, ‘‘What is a disaster?’’ and offer some comparative distinctions between natural and
technological disasters that introduce some fundamental ways of
approaching the subject. In doing so, I will draw upon a rich body
of social science literature concentrating on theoretical, conceptual,
and applied research on disasters. In presenting this sociology of disaster, however, we should recognize that it is not intended to offer a
comprehensive framework for all disaster research. Certainly, not all
research being conducted on the Katrina disaster fits into this framework, nor should it.
What Is a Disaster?
From a sociological perspective, what makes an event a disaster is not
just physical destruction of a built environment or damage to a natural environment. Disasters are defined by people’s experiences with
and reactions to an event. That is, disasters are socially defined and
their physical effects cannot be understood apart from their social
context. For example, as a disaster, Katrina was more than the winds,
rain, storm surge, and flooding that caused untold physical damage.
Katrina was a disaster because of the event’s effects on the social
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
617
fabric of the region—how people and communities experienced it, its
effect on peoples’ lives, resulting loss of resources, and various
responses (or failures to respond) by survivors and formal and informal responders.
‘‘Official’’ declarations of events as disasters are part of the social
context and play a fundamental role in mobilizing government
responses. For example, the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) declared Hurricane Katrina an Incident of National Significance—‘‘a major disaster or emergency that overwhelms the
resources of state and local authorities, requiring significant coordination across the Federal Government’’ (DHS 2005). Further, determining whether or not a place is declared a disaster affects the level of
outside assistance and can have significant economic implications. If
pressed for a formal definition, I would begin with Fritz (1961, p.
655), who defined a disaster as ‘‘an event, concentrated in time and
space, in which a society, or a relatively self-sufficient subdivision
of society, undergoes severe danger and incurs such losses to its members and physical appurtenances that the social structure is disrupted
and the fulfillment of all or some of the essential functions of the
society is prevented.’’
Natural and Technological Disasters
There is ongoing debate among disaster researchers on distinguishing
technological from natural disasters. The central argument surrounds
the extent to which events ‘‘triggered’’ by natural occurrences or
defined as ‘‘acts of God’’ elicit substantially different social responses
and disruptions than events triggered by failures in human technology and complex organizations. Comparisons between the two
often focus on five characteristics: etiology, physical damage characteristics, disaster phases, community impacts, and individual impacts
(Gill and Picou 1998).
Etiology refers to root causes. Freudenburg (1997) focuses on the
‘‘triggering event’’ to distinguish natural from technological disasters.
If the triggering event is independent from humans, it is a natural disaster; if not, it is a technological disaster. Natural disasters result from
meteorological, hydrological, or geological processes that are considered to be beyond human control. Technological disasters result
from a loss of control over industrial, economic, and=or political processes. Examples include mechanical and technological malfunctions,
human error, organizational failure, inadequate response, and the
like. Technological disasters are considered to be preventable and
someone or some organization is held responsible for causing the
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event (see Baum and Fleming 1993; Baum, Fleming, and Singer 1983).
Although natural disasters are not preventable, there are measures
that can be taken to reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards and
improve resilience.
Natural disasters cause visible and assessable damage to the built
environment. For example, after a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake,
there is little doubt that buildings, bridges, and other structures have
been damaged or destroyed. As further evidence, contemporary
society has developed procedures for assessing dollar amounts of
such damages. On the other hand, technological disasters are characterized by an ambiguity of harm (Freudenburg and Jones 1991).
There is uncertainty and a lack of consensus about the nature and
extent of damages. In such cases, ambiguity is fueled by claims and
counterclaims of stakeholders, particularly the responsible party,
government, and community groups. Disasters involving biosphere
contamination or toxic exposure (e.g., Love Canal in New York
and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania) illustrate these issues (see
Baum et al. 1992; Brown 1979; Brown and Mikkelsen 1990 [1997];
Fowlkes and Miller 1987; Levine 1982; Shrivastava 1987; Vyner
1988).
Natural disasters unfold through different phases beginning with
warning and proceeding to threat, impact, inventory, rescue, remedy,
recovery, and rehabilitation (Drabek 1986). Although progression
through these phases is not always smooth, there is a sense of movement toward the goal of recovery and rehabilitation. Technological
disasters, particularly those involving environmental contamination
or toxic exposure, tend to follow a nonlinear pattern. In such cases,
it may be difficult to pinpoint the beginning of a disaster and they
often lack closure or finality. Communities caught in the grip of a
technological disaster often experience a warning-threat-impact cycle
as new information and interpretations fuel additional warnings,
threats, and impacts (Kroll-Smith and Couch 1990). The uncertainty
inherent in technological disasters inhibits rescue—who needs rescuing and from what? Inventories of damage and remedies to distress
are contested or denied altogether. In this milieu, recovery and
rehabilitation remain elusive for communities experiencing technological disasters (see Kroll-Smith and Couch 1993b). Moreover, survivors of technological disasters often respond to the disaster as if it
were a sprint rather than a marathon and as a result, may experience
additional overloads and burnout.
Communities respond differently to technological disasters than is
typical for reactions to natural disasters. Natural disasters evoke an
emergence of a ‘‘therapeutic’’ or ‘‘altruistic’’ community, which is
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
619
rich in social capital as people come together to reaffirm social bonds
and support each other in a time of crisis (Drabek 1986; Drabek
and Key 1984). There is a collective agreement that the event and
damages were real and a community-wide pledge to rebuild and
recover. Conversely, the uncertainty and contested meanings that
characterize technological disasters tend to produce a ‘‘corrosive
community’’ (Freudenburg 1997; see also Cutherbertson and
Nigg 1987, 1991; Gill 1994) that is exacerbated by the warningthreat-impact cycle. Competing group and individual definitions of
technological disaster situations replace collective definitions common in natural disasters. These conflicting viewpoints combine with
uncertainty to wear on a community’s social fabric and potentially
diminish its social capital (Ritchie 2004). All communities have group
conflict and social fissures (e.g., class, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.)
that can cause friction, heat up, and fuel divisiveness in response to
a technological disaster (Gill 1994). As a result, outsiders generally
do not understand what communities and survivors of technological
disasters are experiencing and—particularly over time—they become
less empathetic (Edelstein 2000).
Finally, individuals tend to respond differently to a natural disaster
than they do to a technological disaster (see Ahearn and Cohen 1984;
Baum and Fleming 1993; Baum et al. 1992; Edelstein [1988] 2004;
Freedy, Kilpatrick, and Resnick 1993; Freudenburg and Jones
1991; Gleser, Green, and Winget 1981; Grace, Green, Lindy, and
Leonard 1993; Green et al. 1990; Green and Lindy 1994; Picou
and Gill 1997; Ritchie and Gill 2007; Smith and North 1993; Smith,
Robbins, Pryzbeck, Goldring, and Solomon 1986; Vyner 1988). For
example, research shows that natural disasters typically lead to
short-term social disruption and psychological stress. Hobfoll’s
(1988, 1989, 1991) Conservation of Resource (COR) stress model
posits that stress is related to resources that are lost, under threat
of loss, or invested without gain. Emergence of altruism within a
community, combined with financial assistance, works to restore
resources or ameliorate losses after a natural disaster. Technological
disasters, however, are characterized by prolonged social disruption,
chronic psychological stress, and long-term negative health outcomes
primarily because resources remain under stress for prolonged periods (Gill 2007). Recreancy, defined as ‘‘the failure of experts or specialized organizations to execute properly responsibilities to the
broader collectivity with which they have been implicitly or explicitly
entrusted’’ (Freudenburg 2000, p. 116, see also Freudenburg 1993),
results in a loss of social capital (Ritchie 2004) and heightens feelings
of anger, frustration, and betrayal. These collective and individual
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D. A. Gill
responses threaten ontological security and contribute to psychological and emotional trauma. Such long-term outcomes for technological disasters make sense given prolonged disruption of resources, a
fixture of blame, lack of consensus, emergence of a corrosive community, demise of social capital, and lack of event closure that typifies such events.
Synthesis of Perspectives in the Context of Katrina
Rather than reify these differences into rigid distinctions, it is useful
to consider disasters—natural and technological—on a continuum,
with overlapping qualities, characteristics, and social impacts (Gill
and Ritchie 2006). Considering Katrina on this continuum contributes to our understanding of initial as well as ongoing impacts of this
disaster. Visualizing the geography of the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf
Coast, from east to west, Katrina was experienced more as a natural
disaster in Mississippi and parts of coastal Louisiana and as more of
a technological disaster in New Orleans.1 This was apparent to the
public as well as disaster experts.
In terms of etiology, Hurricane Katrina displayed elements of both
types of disaster. The hurricane was a natural meteorological event
(perhaps supercharged by human-induced global warming) and there
were poignant examples of altruism and therapeutic communities.
But the failure of the levee system in New Orleans, resulting in ‘‘toxic
gumbo’’ flood waters, revealed inadequate emergency response systems, decades of neglect and policies that created highly vulnerable
groups, and a host of other societal processes that generated social
responses consistent with those of technological disasters. For
example, one study found that New Orleans university students
tended to experience the disaster as a human=technological failure,
more so than a natural disaster (Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek 2007).
Physical damages caused by Katrina largely mirror what would
be expected from a natural disaster with the exception that there
was a relatively high number of deaths—more than 1,850. Across
the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast, the built environment was
hard hit. Estimates of total damages generally exceed $156 billion
with damaged residential structures ($49.7 billion) and residential
1
Throughout the remainder of this manuscript I will focus on distinctions between the
Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans. This is not intended to negate or minimize disaster
experiences of Louisiana communities such as Slidell and Venice, or Alabama communities
such as Mobile and Gulf Shores, but to date less is known about these communities from a
social science research perspective.
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
621
content damages ($24.4 billion) accounting for almost one half of the
total amount and commercial business receiving over sixty-two billion dollars in damages and losses (Burton and Hicks 2005).
More than eighty thousand housing units were destroyed or severely
damaged and another 130,000 sustained major damage. Bridges collapsed, some roads and highways were temporarily impassable, and
utilities and other lifelines were disrupted. New Orleans, however, also
experienced damages often associated with technological disasters
with the ‘‘toxic gumbo’’ (Frickel 2006) and oil spills (Pine 2006). These
less visible damages created ambiguity in how they may affect human
health and the environment, particularly in the long term.
Initially, Hurricane Katrina followed phases one would anticipate
for a natural disaster. There was a threat followed by impact, inventory, and rescue. At the remedy stage, however, the linear process
began to break down. Remedy requires various forms of capital, particularly financial, human, and social. Remedy in Mississippi and parts
of Louisiana was delayed because insurance companies claimed their
policies did not cover damage caused by the storm surge. This decision
left thousands of citizens without adequate financial capital and,
although the case went to court and was ultimately settled in favor
of the citizens (see Vaughn 2007), recovery and rehabilitation have
been delayed. Likewise, the ‘‘Road Home’’ program intended to
rebuild neighborhoods in New Orleans has been a dismal failure—as
of May 2007, money had been distributed to less than one hundred
out of more than 130,000 homeowner applicants (Kromm 2007).
New Orleans has experienced other events that continue to delay
remedy and set in motion new threat-impact-inventory cycles. For
example, threats of a weakened or inadequately constructed levee system evoke new economic and social impacts as residents and businesses reassess risks of returning and rebuilding. Similarly, delays
in restoring basic lifeline infrastructures (e.g., utilities, transportation,
communication, etc.) and social institutions (e.g., law enforcement,
judicial system, medical services, etc.) create new threats that prolong
or create additional impacts. In this respect, the Katrina disaster in
New Orleans is following a path characteristic of technological disasters and remedy, recovery, and rehabilitation remain elusive.
Consistent with expected responses following a natural disaster, a
therapeutic community emerged in most afflicted communities and
neighborhoods along the coast. In New Orleans, however, prolonged
evacuation from some neighborhoods inhibited, if not prevented, the
reaffirmation of local social networks and support that a therapeutic
community provides. The insurance crisis has hindered community
recovery along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and there have been issues
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D. A. Gill
regarding redevelopment impacts on communities and neighborhoods.
Certainly, there are competing approaches or strategies for redevelopment, but they do not appear to be divisive and the Mississippi Gulf
Coast seems to be on course for an amplified rebound.
New Orleans may not be following a corrosive community pattern
typically expected in a technological disaster, but nor is it on course
for an amplified rebound. Social and geographic vulnerabilities
(Laska 2005) combined with prolonged social disruption and uncertainty influence community=neighborhood responses. Widespread
physical destruction, extended evacuation, socioeconomic factors,
and ineffective assistance programs inhibit neighborhood recovery.
Throughout the city, basic physical and social infrastructures have
been slow to recover. In short, the city and its neighborhoods have
lost precious social, human, economic, and natural capital and—in
part because these are diminished—have generally been unable to
develop effective strategies to restore them.
Disasters are traumatic, stressful events that may have short-term
or long-term effects on individuals. Despite delays caused by
insurance disputes and redevelopment debates, individuals along
the Mississippi Gulf Coast, although initially stressed, are responding
in a manner typical of natural disasters. Following Hobfoll’s COR
model, resource losses are being ameliorated and conditions for
investing resources with gain (or strong potential for gain) are
improving. Thus, the region should experience a reduction in individual stress as we would anticipate in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In New Orleans, however, prolonged social disruption and
uncertainty combined with loss of resources, threats of resource loss,
and a lack of return on resource investment have produced chronic
individual stress characteristic of communities following technological disasters. Diminished social capital can increase individual stress,
particularly when the fabric of social support that normally buffers
individual stress is tattered (Ritchie 2004; Ritchie and Gill 2007).
Furthermore, the threat-response-impact cycle delays recovery and
closure making chronic individual stress the norm.
Regardless of location along the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf
Coast, survivors of Hurricane Katrina have not followed the path
of recovery that survivors of natural disasters tend to follow.
Insurance disputes, bureaucratic red tape, litigation, and other
actions=inactions can prolong the suffering of survivors and contribute to what has been identified as secondary or spin-off effects. A
broad array of events continues to prolong the Katrina disaster
and our sociology of disaster framework needs to better account
for this phenomenon. This begs the questions: How can we more
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
623
clearly identify impacts beyond the immediate aftermath of the disaster event? Do they represent ‘‘secondary traumas’’ or ‘‘secondary
disasters’’? Do these concepts have value in advancing our understanding of social impacts of disasters?
SECONDARY TRAUMA OR SECONDARY DISASTER?
Clear definition of terms and accurate concepts facilitate effective
communication of ideas between researchers, practitioners,
decision-makers, and the public. Researchers play an important role
in identifying and classifying prolonged social disruption caused by
spin-offs from an original hazard event. Clarifying distinctions
between ‘‘secondary trauma’’ and ‘‘secondary disaster’’ not only
advances science, it provides better understanding to stakeholders
interested in ameliorating chronic impacts and improving responses
to future hazard events.
Natural scientists who study disasters focus on natural processes
that produce hazards. From this perspective, a natural hazard event
triggers a disaster when ‘‘communities cannot cope with impacts
using their own resources, thus necessitating a call for national or
international assistance’’ (Gregg and Houghton 2006, p. 22). Subsequently, ‘‘secondary hazards’’ can emerge from an initial natural
hazard event (e.g., an earthquake may release toxic substances).
Secondary hazards are akin to secondary trauma in social science
approaches to disaster. As our natural science colleagues have
observed, however, secondary hazards are not necessarily disastrous.
Kai Erikson’s (1976) classic work on the Buffalo Creek disaster provides a point of departure for defining secondary trauma and more
clearly articulating its characteristics. First, I describe the disaster and
Erikson’s observations of initial and secondary trauma. Next, I examine
how secondary trauma can be distinguished from secondary disaster.
Buffalo Creek, West Virginia
On February 26, 1972, a makeshift dam built as part of coal mining
operations collapsed, sending a black wall of water pouring down a
hollow named Buffalo Creek. The flood killed 125 people and
destroyed sixteen communities. Survivors experienced individual
trauma in the form of psychological stress, numbness, death anxiety,
survivor guilt, anomie, loss of ontological security, and perceptions of
recreancy. Recreancy issues emerged as the coal company, Pittson,
attempted to define the disaster as an ‘‘act of God,’’ while survivors
blamed Pittson for not adequately constructing and maintaining the
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dam and the government, whose inspectors allowed an unsafe dam to
exist. As Erikson (1976, p. 180) writes, ‘‘[Pittson] was a proprietor, a
patron, and it had obligations. Pittson violated those obligations,
first, by building an unworthy dam, and, second, by reacting to the
disaster in the manner of a remote bureaucracy with holdings to protect rather than in the manner of a concerned patron with constituents to care for.’’
Trauma was exacerbated by the disaster response. Little or no
‘‘therapeutic community’’ emerged after the flood because outsiders
(i.e., Pittson and State and Federal governments) assumed command
of rescue, cleanup, and recovery activities. Survivors were temporarily relocated to large trailer parks and assigned trailers without
regard to pre-existing neighborhood residential patterns and social
networks. The resulting feeling was ‘‘that the people of the hollow
had lost control of their home territory, and this could only add to
the perception that the immediate community had disappeared’’
(Erikson 1976, p. 202).
Survivors also experienced collective trauma or, as Erikson writes,
‘‘the experience of the disaster and its aftermath was generally shared
by all the survivors’’ (1976, p. 202). The event and official responses to
it resulted in demoralization, disorientation, loss of connection with
community, family, and self, increased medical problems, and a heightened sense of vulnerability. Taken together, these experiences
amounted to a loss of ‘‘communality,’’ a term introduced by Erikson
‘‘to underscore the point that people are not referring to particular village territories when they lament the loss of community but to the network of relationships that make up their general human surround’’
(1976, p. 187). Communality emphasizes the importance of social networks, neighbor relationships, and other elements of social capital.
Trauma and Secondary Trauma
Erikson (1976, 1994) argues that the conceptual distinction between
trauma and stress has become blurred, but both terms apply to the
psychological and the social. In the classical sense, trauma refers to
the actual ‘‘blow’’ to tissues of the body or to structures of the mind,
not to the injury inflicted by it. This definition has shifted to include
not only the blow, but the stress caused by it. It is peoples’ response(s)
to the event (or blow) that gives events their traumatic quality.
‘‘[T]rauma has to be understood as resulting from a constellation of
life experiences as well as from a discrete happening, from a persisting
condition, as well as from an acute event’’ (Erikson 1994, p. 229, italics in the original).
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
625
Like stress, trauma has a social dimension that can either create
community or destroy it. Individual trauma—the focal point of
psychological studies of stress—refers to ‘‘a blow to the psyche that
breaks through one’s defenses so suddenly and with such brutal force
that once cannot react to it effectively’’ (Erikson 1976, p. 153). Collective trauma—the focus of sociological studies—is ‘‘a blow to the
basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people
together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality’’ (Erikson
1976, p. 154).
Erikson introduced the loss of communality as a ‘‘second trauma’’
(1976, p. 185). More precisely, he proposed that ‘‘most of the traumatic symptoms experienced by the Buffalo Creek survivors are a
reaction to the loss of communality as well as a reaction to the disaster itself, . . . the fear and apathy and demoralization one encounters
along the entire length of the hollow are derived from the shock of
being ripped out of a meaningful community setting as well as the
shock of meeting that cruel black water’’ (1976, p. 194).
Secondary trauma can be defined as a blow to the social fabric of
a community caused by inadequate responses to an initial hazard
event and=or inadequate responses to secondary hazards. Events,
occasions, or public perceptions that inhibit timely community
recovery and prolong stress and disruption are examples of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is embedded in threat-impact-inventory cycles and is often associated with issues of blame and
recreancy. Impacts of secondary trauma are related to diminished
social capital, a corrosive community, chronic stress and negative
lifescape changes among individuals, and prolonged social disruption in communities.
Because it is difficult for those not directly affected by a disaster to
fully comprehend the long-term impacts on communities and individuals, empathy and assistance tend to wane over time. Outsiders
may express sentiments such as, ‘‘Why don’t they (disaster survivors)
just get over it?’’ because they do not understand how secondary
trauma prolongs the disaster and impedes recovery. This is particularly problematic when these outsiders include government officials
and decision makers. Further, because responsible parties are identified, technological disasters (at least in the U.S.) typically involve
the judicial system where claims of damages and injury are litigated.
For example, a lack of resolution of litigation associated with the
Exxon Valdez oil spill—yet unresolved thirteen years after the 1994
jury trial and verdict in favor of the plaintiffs—is a secondary trauma
being experienced by individuals, groups, and communities in the
wake of this disaster.
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Compared with natural disasters, technological disasters are a
‘‘new species of trouble’’ (Erikson 1994). Most communities assigned
obligations to public and civic organizations for disaster response
(e.g., law enforcement, fire fighters, medical staff, utility crews, local
government, churches, and relief organizations). These organizations
have experience and formal training in responding to natural disasters and they tend to coordinate their efforts to better plan for and
address natural hazard events; thus, few natural disasters produce
secondary trauma except in cases where response is perceived as lacking or inadequate (e.g., FEMA’s inadequate response to Hurricane
Katrina probably caused a high degree of secondary trauma). In contrast, response planning and coordination for technological disasters
are less developed and actual responses to technological hazards are
often poorly executed. Consequently, secondary trauma is more
likely to occur as part of a technological disaster.
As previously noted, the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast in
general and New Orleans in particular have experienced various
secondary traumas. Perceptions of inadequate responses by FEMA,
President Bush, and state and local authorities were an initial secondary trauma. Insurance disputes and litigation to resolve them were
secondary traumas experienced by many, particularly in Mississippi.
In New Orleans, massive and prolonged relocation of residents, failure of the ‘‘Road Home’’ recovery program, delays in restoring basic
physical and social infrastructures, social and human capital loss
spirals, and increased crime and death rates are secondary traumas
that continue to plague the city and its neighborhoods. Undoubtedly,
former and current residents, as well as researchers and other observers can identify additional secondary traumas.
Secondary Disasters
According to conceptualizations from natural science, secondary
hazards can lead to secondary disasters if a different population or
community is devastated by spin-offs from the original hazard and
disaster. That is, secondary disasters are more than prolonged disaster conditions or cumulative impacts of an original hazard event.
From a sociological perspective, a disaster may generate secondary
traumas—where trauma is defined as impaired communality or
damaged social bonds—that may or may not result in a secondary
disaster. In my view, in order for an event to be defined as a secondary disaster, the effects of secondary trauma must satisfy Fritz’s
(1961, p. 655) definition of disaster previously provided: ‘‘an event,
concentrated in time and space, in which a society, or a relatively
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
627
self-sufficient subdivision of society, undergoes severe danger and
incurs such losses . . . that the social structure is disrupted and the fulfillment of all or some of the essential functions of the society is prevented’’ (p. 655). For example, refugees from natural disasters or
sociopolitical conflicts may inundate their host communities and
cause outbreaks of disease, malnutrition, and starvation.
Communities and neighborhoods hosting large numbers of
Katrina evacuees provide a context for examining this phenomenon.
Immediately after the hurricane, many communities welcomed evacuees with open arms and generous assistance. Most communities and
evacuees believed the stay would be short and evacuees would soon
return to their own communities. In several instances, however, evacuees have not returned and continue to live in these host communities. In some instances, there have been increases in rates of crime
and poverty, and other drains on local resources. Residents of many
host communities complain about evacuees who have worn out their
welcome and have become frustrated by the prolonged inconveniences caused by a boomtown-like population growth and accompanying social disruption. These secondary traumas to the host
communities, however frustrating to the locals, would not be considered a disaster based on the definition provided by Fritz.
CONCLUSIONS
Drawing an analogy from a famous work by Charles Dickens,
Hurricane Katrina can be thought of as a tale of two disasters—a
nightmare along the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast and a
‘‘nightmare within a nightmare’’2 in the city of New Orleans. Understanding differences in the initial impacts of Katrina, as well as what
is happening as the region struggles to rebuild and recover can be
enhanced by situating the event within a sociology of disaster framework. Distinctions between natural and technological disasters
remain important because they represent two points on a continuum—not because they reify a socially constructed typology.
These distinctions are useful in illuminating how survivors experience
a particular disaster and how communities and the larger society can
better respond to and prepare for disasters and other crisis situations.
As the impacts of Hurricane Katrina unfold, it is important
for social scientists to continue researching this historic disaster.
2
The ‘‘nightmare within a nightmare’’ reference came from a New Orleans resident interviewed on NBC Nightly News a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck and New Orleans
flooded.
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Recognizing, articulating, and communicating secondary traumas
and their impacts can help survivors more clearly understand what
is happening to them and their community and provides a framework
for outsiders to gain insights into local conditions and improve
efforts to assist recovery efforts. In this sense, developing the secondary trauma concept is valuable. Moreover, as we continue to discover
more about the impacts of Katrina, we need to apply the lessons
learned about this disaster to enhance community resilience throughout the nation. After all, it is not a question of if another catastrophic
disaster or incident of national significance will occur, it is a question
of when.
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Sociological Spectrum, 27: 613–632, 2007
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0273-2173 print/1521-0707 online
DOI: 10.1080/02732170701574941
SECONDARY TRAUMA OR SECONDARY DISASTER?
INSIGHTS FROM HURRICANE KATRINA
Duane A. Gill
Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA
Hurricane Katrina is destined to become one of the most studied disasters
in U.S. history. This manuscript offers a sociology of disaster framework
in which to situate past, on-going, and future research on this event. By
examining Katrina on a continuum of natural and technological disasters, we are able to gain insights into the different paths of impact and
recovery taken by New Orleans and the rest of the disaster-stricken
region. Specifically, this disaster has produced a series of secondary traumas that continue to thwart recovery efforts. Understanding these
secondary traumas can lead to amelioration of their effects and development of responses to diminish their occurrence in future disasters.
PREFACE
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I had determined to focus my Mid-South
Sociological Association (MSSA) Presidential Address on some
aspect of disaster. I have been a disaster researcher since 1982 when
Steve Picou and I became involved in a study of a train derailment
and chemical spill in Livingston, Louisiana (Gill and Picou 1991;
Picou and Rosebrook 1993). In 1989 Steve and I began a study of
the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) and its effects on the renewable
This manuscript is a revision of the Presidential Address presented at the annual meeting of
the Mid-South Sociological Association in Atlanta, Georgia, October 2005. The Mississippi
Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MIS–605270) and the Social Science Research
Center at Mississippi State University have provided major support for my research on disasters since 1989. This manuscript was written in collaboration with Liesel A. Ritchie. I would
also like to acknowledge the insights and support provided by J. Steven Picou, Anthony Ladd,
and Arthur G. Cosby.
Address correspondence to Duane A. Gill, Associate Director, Social Science Research
Center, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA. E-mail:
Duane.Gill@SSRC.MsState.edu
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resource community of Cordova, Alaska (see Dyer, Gill, and Picou
1992; Gill 1994; Gill and Picou 1998, 2001; Picou and Gill 1997,
2000; Picou, Gill, and Cohen 1997; Picou, Marshall, and Gill 2004).
Since that time, annual MSSA meetings have provided an important
forum for presenting findings from our EVOS research and I considered it appropriate to offer an overview of my primary area of
interest—sociology of disaster. Of course, Hurricane Katrina made
my topic extremely relevant.
Shortly after the hurricane, researchers at the Social Science
Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University met to discuss ways in which their research expertise could be applied to practical issues facing the Mississippi Gulf Coast in particular and the
region in general. It became apparent that the group could more
effectively apply their expertise to the disaster if they had a better
understanding of the subfield of disaster research. Fortuitously,
Liesel Ritchie and I had just returned from Dutch Harbor=Unalaska
where we were keynote speakers at the Aleutian Life Forum (ALF).
The focus of the ALF was the 2004 Selendang Ayu shipwreck and oil
spill and our keynote address situated our study of the incident in
technological disaster research (Gill and Ritchie 2006; Ritchie and
Gill 2006). We modified our ALF presentation and shared it with
our SSRC colleagues. These efforts provided a foundation and point
of departure for my MSSA address.
INTRODUCTION
Hurricane Katrina caused widespread disruption to the built environment and social fabric of communities and neighborhoods along the
Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast. New Orleans was hit particularly
hard by the storm when the levee system failed resulting in a devastating flood that indefinitely prolonged the evacuation of many residents and left chaotic situations among those residents who did not
evacuate—either by choice or circumstance. In New Orleans, Katrina
broadly exposed poverty, racism, inequality, vulnerable infrastructures, poor response planning, and a host of other problems. Katrina
also revealed the generosity of people throughout the nation who
opened their pocketbooks and, in some cases, their homes and
communities for displaced residents.
While the disaster captured the attention of the general public,
social scientists were among several groups with particular interests
in understanding this historic event. There was plenty of room at
the proverbial table for sociologists interested in poverty, race,
inequality, gender, gerontology, family, deviance, social organization,
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
615
social institutions, community, public policy, social capital, and
collective behavior, just to name a few areas of inquiry. A perusal
of programs for meetings of professional societies reveal numerous
sessions devoted to Hurricane Katrina—the Southern Sociological
Society had more than twenty-five Katrina-sessions at its March
2006 annual meeting in New Orleans. Further, there have been
numerous special issue journals and anthologies devoted to publishing research and editorial comments on social aspects of the disaster.
Given projections that recovery may take ten years or more, Katrina
is destined to become the most studied disaster in the U.S.
Scholarly presentations and published articles devoted to Katrina
increase our understanding of the event and demonstrate how social
scientists can interject knowledge from their respective areas of
expertise. Once considered by some as an opportunistic arena of sociology akin to ‘‘ambulance chasing,’’ the subfield of disaster research
has become increasingly palatable to sociologists since 9=11, the
Indian Ocean Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, the emergent
cottage industry of Katrina research has already produced substantial insights and knowledge about society. For example, disaster
scholars are revising ideas about hazards, risk, and disasters and
investigating ways to increase community resilience. Not all Katrina
scholars specialized in disaster research, however, and without familiarity with various disaster paradigms some may have missed opportunities to more fully advance this area of study.
The first objective of this article is to provide a brief ‘‘sociology of
disaster’’ that has evolved from my research experiences, presentations, publications, workshops, and associations with other disaster
researchers. This sociology of disaster is designed to address basic
definitions of disasters and introduce concepts that help frame disaster research. Moreover, my approach is necessarily applied in its
orientation, with purposes to help survivors better understand what
has happened to their communities and themselves, provide information and insights to practitioners and decision-makers, and facilitate broader appreciation of disasters among other social scientists
and the general public.
The second objective is to examine ‘‘secondary trauma’’ and ‘‘secondary disaster’’ as concepts in my sociology of disaster framework.
Secondary disaster is a concept that focuses on events that prolong
the disaster experience. The term is often associated with Kai
Erikson’s 1976 work on the Buffalo Creek, West Virginia disaster
and I have used the term in my own research. When pressed to find
a definition, however, the literature offers implicit views rather than
explicit meanings. A cursory reading of Erikson’s book followed
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by an intensive rereading yielded a brief discussion of ‘‘secondary
trauma’’ but no mention of ‘‘secondary disaster.’’ My examination
is meant to more clearly articulate meanings embedded in these
concepts and to explore the value of their application to disasters
in general and Katrina in particular.
A SOCIOLOGY OF DISASTER
Much of the early literature on disaster research addresses the basic
issue of what constitutes a disaster. Disaster definitions have evolved
from ‘‘event-specific’’ orientations that characterized work prior to
WWII, to a more unified perspective that focused on the commonalities of events (Quarantelli 1981). Conceptualizations have broadened
to include how people respond to disasters (collective behavior) and
how communities and society respond to and become better prepared
for them (social organization) (see Barton 1969; Dynes 1970, 1974;
Quarantelli and Dynes 1978). Beginning in the late 1970s, debates
about the value and validity of distinguishing natural from technological disasters emerged (Couch and Kroll-Smith 1985, 1991;
Kroll-Smith and Couch 1991, 1993a; Quarantelli 1985, 1992, 1998)
and more recently, acts of terrorism have been added to the mix
(see Marshall, Picou and Gill 2003; Ritchie 2004).
In the following section I will address the question, ‘‘What is a disaster?’’ and offer some comparative distinctions between natural and
technological disasters that introduce some fundamental ways of
approaching the subject. In doing so, I will draw upon a rich body
of social science literature concentrating on theoretical, conceptual,
and applied research on disasters. In presenting this sociology of disaster, however, we should recognize that it is not intended to offer a
comprehensive framework for all disaster research. Certainly, not all
research being conducted on the Katrina disaster fits into this framework, nor should it.
What Is a Disaster?
From a sociological perspective, what makes an event a disaster is not
just physical destruction of a built environment or damage to a natural environment. Disasters are defined by people’s experiences with
and reactions to an event. That is, disasters are socially defined and
their physical effects cannot be understood apart from their social
context. For example, as a disaster, Katrina was more than the winds,
rain, storm surge, and flooding that caused untold physical damage.
Katrina was a disaster because of the event’s effects on the social
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
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fabric of the region—how people and communities experienced it, its
effect on peoples’ lives, resulting loss of resources, and various
responses (or failures to respond) by survivors and formal and informal responders.
‘‘Official’’ declarations of events as disasters are part of the social
context and play a fundamental role in mobilizing government
responses. For example, the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) declared Hurricane Katrina an Incident of National Significance—‘‘a major disaster or emergency that overwhelms the
resources of state and local authorities, requiring significant coordination across the Federal Government’’ (DHS 2005). Further, determining whether or not a place is declared a disaster affects the level of
outside assistance and can have significant economic implications. If
pressed for a formal definition, I would begin with Fritz (1961, p.
655), who defined a disaster as ‘‘an event, concentrated in time and
space, in which a society, or a relatively self-sufficient subdivision
of society, undergoes severe danger and incurs such losses to its members and physical appurtenances that the social structure is disrupted
and the fulfillment of all or some of the essential functions of the
society is prevented.’’
Natural and Technological Disasters
There is ongoing debate among disaster researchers on distinguishing
technological from natural disasters. The central argument surrounds
the extent to which events ‘‘triggered’’ by natural occurrences or
defined as ‘‘acts of God’’ elicit substantially different social responses
and disruptions than events triggered by failures in human technology and complex organizations. Comparisons between the two
often focus on five characteristics: etiology, physical damage characteristics, disaster phases, community impacts, and individual impacts
(Gill and Picou 1998).
Etiology refers to root causes. Freudenburg (1997) focuses on the
‘‘triggering event’’ to distinguish natural from technological disasters.
If the triggering event is independent from humans, it is a natural disaster; if not, it is a technological disaster. Natural disasters result from
meteorological, hydrological, or geological processes that are considered to be beyond human control. Technological disasters result
from a loss of control over industrial, economic, and=or political processes. Examples include mechanical and technological malfunctions,
human error, organizational failure, inadequate response, and the
like. Technological disasters are considered to be preventable and
someone or some organization is held responsible for causing the
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event (see Baum and Fleming 1993; Baum, Fleming, and Singer 1983).
Although natural disasters are not preventable, there are measures
that can be taken to reduce vulnerabilities to natural hazards and
improve resilience.
Natural disasters cause visible and assessable damage to the built
environment. For example, after a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake,
there is little doubt that buildings, bridges, and other structures have
been damaged or destroyed. As further evidence, contemporary
society has developed procedures for assessing dollar amounts of
such damages. On the other hand, technological disasters are characterized by an ambiguity of harm (Freudenburg and Jones 1991).
There is uncertainty and a lack of consensus about the nature and
extent of damages. In such cases, ambiguity is fueled by claims and
counterclaims of stakeholders, particularly the responsible party,
government, and community groups. Disasters involving biosphere
contamination or toxic exposure (e.g., Love Canal in New York
and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania) illustrate these issues (see
Baum et al. 1992; Brown 1979; Brown and Mikkelsen 1990 [1997];
Fowlkes and Miller 1987; Levine 1982; Shrivastava 1987; Vyner
1988).
Natural disasters unfold through different phases beginning with
warning and proceeding to threat, impact, inventory, rescue, remedy,
recovery, and rehabilitation (Drabek 1986). Although progression
through these phases is not always smooth, there is a sense of movement toward the goal of recovery and rehabilitation. Technological
disasters, particularly those involving environmental contamination
or toxic exposure, tend to follow a nonlinear pattern. In such cases,
it may be difficult to pinpoint the beginning of a disaster and they
often lack closure or finality. Communities caught in the grip of a
technological disaster often experience a warning-threat-impact cycle
as new information and interpretations fuel additional warnings,
threats, and impacts (Kroll-Smith and Couch 1990). The uncertainty
inherent in technological disasters inhibits rescue—who needs rescuing and from what? Inventories of damage and remedies to distress
are contested or denied altogether. In this milieu, recovery and
rehabilitation remain elusive for communities experiencing technological disasters (see Kroll-Smith and Couch 1993b). Moreover, survivors of technological disasters often respond to the disaster as if it
were a sprint rather than a marathon and as a result, may experience
additional overloads and burnout.
Communities respond differently to technological disasters than is
typical for reactions to natural disasters. Natural disasters evoke an
emergence of a ‘‘therapeutic’’ or ‘‘altruistic’’ community, which is
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
619
rich in social capital as people come together to reaffirm social bonds
and support each other in a time of crisis (Drabek 1986; Drabek
and Key 1984). There is a collective agreement that the event and
damages were real and a community-wide pledge to rebuild and
recover. Conversely, the uncertainty and contested meanings that
characterize technological disasters tend to produce a ‘‘corrosive
community’’ (Freudenburg 1997; see also Cutherbertson and
Nigg 1987, 1991; Gill 1994) that is exacerbated by the warningthreat-impact cycle. Competing group and individual definitions of
technological disaster situations replace collective definitions common in natural disasters. These conflicting viewpoints combine with
uncertainty to wear on a community’s social fabric and potentially
diminish its social capital (Ritchie 2004). All communities have group
conflict and social fissures (e.g., class, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.)
that can cause friction, heat up, and fuel divisiveness in response to
a technological disaster (Gill 1994). As a result, outsiders generally
do not understand what communities and survivors of technological
disasters are experiencing and—particularly over time—they become
less empathetic (Edelstein 2000).
Finally, individuals tend to respond differently to a natural disaster
than they do to a technological disaster (see Ahearn and Cohen 1984;
Baum and Fleming 1993; Baum et al. 1992; Edelstein [1988] 2004;
Freedy, Kilpatrick, and Resnick 1993; Freudenburg and Jones
1991; Gleser, Green, and Winget 1981; Grace, Green, Lindy, and
Leonard 1993; Green et al. 1990; Green and Lindy 1994; Picou
and Gill 1997; Ritchie and Gill 2007; Smith and North 1993; Smith,
Robbins, Pryzbeck, Goldring, and Solomon 1986; Vyner 1988). For
example, research shows that natural disasters typically lead to
short-term social disruption and psychological stress. Hobfoll’s
(1988, 1989, 1991) Conservation of Resource (COR) stress model
posits that stress is related to resources that are lost, under threat
of loss, or invested without gain. Emergence of altruism within a
community, combined with financial assistance, works to restore
resources or ameliorate losses after a natural disaster. Technological
disasters, however, are characterized by prolonged social disruption,
chronic psychological stress, and long-term negative health outcomes
primarily because resources remain under stress for prolonged periods (Gill 2007). Recreancy, defined as ‘‘the failure of experts or specialized organizations to execute properly responsibilities to the
broader collectivity with which they have been implicitly or explicitly
entrusted’’ (Freudenburg 2000, p. 116, see also Freudenburg 1993),
results in a loss of social capital (Ritchie 2004) and heightens feelings
of anger, frustration, and betrayal. These collective and individual
620
D. A. Gill
responses threaten ontological security and contribute to psychological and emotional trauma. Such long-term outcomes for technological disasters make sense given prolonged disruption of resources, a
fixture of blame, lack of consensus, emergence of a corrosive community, demise of social capital, and lack of event closure that typifies such events.
Synthesis of Perspectives in the Context of Katrina
Rather than reify these differences into rigid distinctions, it is useful
to consider disasters—natural and technological—on a continuum,
with overlapping qualities, characteristics, and social impacts (Gill
and Ritchie 2006). Considering Katrina on this continuum contributes to our understanding of initial as well as ongoing impacts of this
disaster. Visualizing the geography of the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf
Coast, from east to west, Katrina was experienced more as a natural
disaster in Mississippi and parts of coastal Louisiana and as more of
a technological disaster in New Orleans.1 This was apparent to the
public as well as disaster experts.
In terms of etiology, Hurricane Katrina displayed elements of both
types of disaster. The hurricane was a natural meteorological event
(perhaps supercharged by human-induced global warming) and there
were poignant examples of altruism and therapeutic communities.
But the failure of the levee system in New Orleans, resulting in ‘‘toxic
gumbo’’ flood waters, revealed inadequate emergency response systems, decades of neglect and policies that created highly vulnerable
groups, and a host of other societal processes that generated social
responses consistent with those of technological disasters. For
example, one study found that New Orleans university students
tended to experience the disaster as a human=technological failure,
more so than a natural disaster (Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek 2007).
Physical damages caused by Katrina largely mirror what would
be expected from a natural disaster with the exception that there
was a relatively high number of deaths—more than 1,850. Across
the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast, the built environment was
hard hit. Estimates of total damages generally exceed $156 billion
with damaged residential structures ($49.7 billion) and residential
1
Throughout the remainder of this manuscript I will focus on distinctions between the
Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans. This is not intended to negate or minimize disaster
experiences of Louisiana communities such as Slidell and Venice, or Alabama communities
such as Mobile and Gulf Shores, but to date less is known about these communities from a
social science research perspective.
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
621
content damages ($24.4 billion) accounting for almost one half of the
total amount and commercial business receiving over sixty-two billion dollars in damages and losses (Burton and Hicks 2005).
More than eighty thousand housing units were destroyed or severely
damaged and another 130,000 sustained major damage. Bridges collapsed, some roads and highways were temporarily impassable, and
utilities and other lifelines were disrupted. New Orleans, however, also
experienced damages often associated with technological disasters
with the ‘‘toxic gumbo’’ (Frickel 2006) and oil spills (Pine 2006). These
less visible damages created ambiguity in how they may affect human
health and the environment, particularly in the long term.
Initially, Hurricane Katrina followed phases one would anticipate
for a natural disaster. There was a threat followed by impact, inventory, and rescue. At the remedy stage, however, the linear process
began to break down. Remedy requires various forms of capital, particularly financial, human, and social. Remedy in Mississippi and parts
of Louisiana was delayed because insurance companies claimed their
policies did not cover damage caused by the storm surge. This decision
left thousands of citizens without adequate financial capital and,
although the case went to court and was ultimately settled in favor
of the citizens (see Vaughn 2007), recovery and rehabilitation have
been delayed. Likewise, the ‘‘Road Home’’ program intended to
rebuild neighborhoods in New Orleans has been a dismal failure—as
of May 2007, money had been distributed to less than one hundred
out of more than 130,000 homeowner applicants (Kromm 2007).
New Orleans has experienced other events that continue to delay
remedy and set in motion new threat-impact-inventory cycles. For
example, threats of a weakened or inadequately constructed levee system evoke new economic and social impacts as residents and businesses reassess risks of returning and rebuilding. Similarly, delays
in restoring basic lifeline infrastructures (e.g., utilities, transportation,
communication, etc.) and social institutions (e.g., law enforcement,
judicial system, medical services, etc.) create new threats that prolong
or create additional impacts. In this respect, the Katrina disaster in
New Orleans is following a path characteristic of technological disasters and remedy, recovery, and rehabilitation remain elusive.
Consistent with expected responses following a natural disaster, a
therapeutic community emerged in most afflicted communities and
neighborhoods along the coast. In New Orleans, however, prolonged
evacuation from some neighborhoods inhibited, if not prevented, the
reaffirmation of local social networks and support that a therapeutic
community provides. The insurance crisis has hindered community
recovery along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and there have been issues
622
D. A. Gill
regarding redevelopment impacts on communities and neighborhoods.
Certainly, there are competing approaches or strategies for redevelopment, but they do not appear to be divisive and the Mississippi Gulf
Coast seems to be on course for an amplified rebound.
New Orleans may not be following a corrosive community pattern
typically expected in a technological disaster, but nor is it on course
for an amplified rebound. Social and geographic vulnerabilities
(Laska 2005) combined with prolonged social disruption and uncertainty influence community=neighborhood responses. Widespread
physical destruction, extended evacuation, socioeconomic factors,
and ineffective assistance programs inhibit neighborhood recovery.
Throughout the city, basic physical and social infrastructures have
been slow to recover. In short, the city and its neighborhoods have
lost precious social, human, economic, and natural capital and—in
part because these are diminished—have generally been unable to
develop effective strategies to restore them.
Disasters are traumatic, stressful events that may have short-term
or long-term effects on individuals. Despite delays caused by
insurance disputes and redevelopment debates, individuals along
the Mississippi Gulf Coast, although initially stressed, are responding
in a manner typical of natural disasters. Following Hobfoll’s COR
model, resource losses are being ameliorated and conditions for
investing resources with gain (or strong potential for gain) are
improving. Thus, the region should experience a reduction in individual stress as we would anticipate in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In New Orleans, however, prolonged social disruption and
uncertainty combined with loss of resources, threats of resource loss,
and a lack of return on resource investment have produced chronic
individual stress characteristic of communities following technological disasters. Diminished social capital can increase individual stress,
particularly when the fabric of social support that normally buffers
individual stress is tattered (Ritchie 2004; Ritchie and Gill 2007).
Furthermore, the threat-response-impact cycle delays recovery and
closure making chronic individual stress the norm.
Regardless of location along the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf
Coast, survivors of Hurricane Katrina have not followed the path
of recovery that survivors of natural disasters tend to follow.
Insurance disputes, bureaucratic red tape, litigation, and other
actions=inactions can prolong the suffering of survivors and contribute to what has been identified as secondary or spin-off effects. A
broad array of events continues to prolong the Katrina disaster
and our sociology of disaster framework needs to better account
for this phenomenon. This begs the questions: How can we more
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
623
clearly identify impacts beyond the immediate aftermath of the disaster event? Do they represent ‘‘secondary traumas’’ or ‘‘secondary
disasters’’? Do these concepts have value in advancing our understanding of social impacts of disasters?
SECONDARY TRAUMA OR SECONDARY DISASTER?
Clear definition of terms and accurate concepts facilitate effective
communication of ideas between researchers, practitioners,
decision-makers, and the public. Researchers play an important role
in identifying and classifying prolonged social disruption caused by
spin-offs from an original hazard event. Clarifying distinctions
between ‘‘secondary trauma’’ and ‘‘secondary disaster’’ not only
advances science, it provides better understanding to stakeholders
interested in ameliorating chronic impacts and improving responses
to future hazard events.
Natural scientists who study disasters focus on natural processes
that produce hazards. From this perspective, a natural hazard event
triggers a disaster when ‘‘communities cannot cope with impacts
using their own resources, thus necessitating a call for national or
international assistance’’ (Gregg and Houghton 2006, p. 22). Subsequently, ‘‘secondary hazards’’ can emerge from an initial natural
hazard event (e.g., an earthquake may release toxic substances).
Secondary hazards are akin to secondary trauma in social science
approaches to disaster. As our natural science colleagues have
observed, however, secondary hazards are not necessarily disastrous.
Kai Erikson’s (1976) classic work on the Buffalo Creek disaster provides a point of departure for defining secondary trauma and more
clearly articulating its characteristics. First, I describe the disaster and
Erikson’s observations of initial and secondary trauma. Next, I examine
how secondary trauma can be distinguished from secondary disaster.
Buffalo Creek, West Virginia
On February 26, 1972, a makeshift dam built as part of coal mining
operations collapsed, sending a black wall of water pouring down a
hollow named Buffalo Creek. The flood killed 125 people and
destroyed sixteen communities. Survivors experienced individual
trauma in the form of psychological stress, numbness, death anxiety,
survivor guilt, anomie, loss of ontological security, and perceptions of
recreancy. Recreancy issues emerged as the coal company, Pittson,
attempted to define the disaster as an ‘‘act of God,’’ while survivors
blamed Pittson for not adequately constructing and maintaining the
624
D. A. Gill
dam and the government, whose inspectors allowed an unsafe dam to
exist. As Erikson (1976, p. 180) writes, ‘‘[Pittson] was a proprietor, a
patron, and it had obligations. Pittson violated those obligations,
first, by building an unworthy dam, and, second, by reacting to the
disaster in the manner of a remote bureaucracy with holdings to protect rather than in the manner of a concerned patron with constituents to care for.’’
Trauma was exacerbated by the disaster response. Little or no
‘‘therapeutic community’’ emerged after the flood because outsiders
(i.e., Pittson and State and Federal governments) assumed command
of rescue, cleanup, and recovery activities. Survivors were temporarily relocated to large trailer parks and assigned trailers without
regard to pre-existing neighborhood residential patterns and social
networks. The resulting feeling was ‘‘that the people of the hollow
had lost control of their home territory, and this could only add to
the perception that the immediate community had disappeared’’
(Erikson 1976, p. 202).
Survivors also experienced collective trauma or, as Erikson writes,
‘‘the experience of the disaster and its aftermath was generally shared
by all the survivors’’ (1976, p. 202). The event and official responses to
it resulted in demoralization, disorientation, loss of connection with
community, family, and self, increased medical problems, and a heightened sense of vulnerability. Taken together, these experiences
amounted to a loss of ‘‘communality,’’ a term introduced by Erikson
‘‘to underscore the point that people are not referring to particular village territories when they lament the loss of community but to the network of relationships that make up their general human surround’’
(1976, p. 187). Communality emphasizes the importance of social networks, neighbor relationships, and other elements of social capital.
Trauma and Secondary Trauma
Erikson (1976, 1994) argues that the conceptual distinction between
trauma and stress has become blurred, but both terms apply to the
psychological and the social. In the classical sense, trauma refers to
the actual ‘‘blow’’ to tissues of the body or to structures of the mind,
not to the injury inflicted by it. This definition has shifted to include
not only the blow, but the stress caused by it. It is peoples’ response(s)
to the event (or blow) that gives events their traumatic quality.
‘‘[T]rauma has to be understood as resulting from a constellation of
life experiences as well as from a discrete happening, from a persisting
condition, as well as from an acute event’’ (Erikson 1994, p. 229, italics in the original).
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
625
Like stress, trauma has a social dimension that can either create
community or destroy it. Individual trauma—the focal point of
psychological studies of stress—refers to ‘‘a blow to the psyche that
breaks through one’s defenses so suddenly and with such brutal force
that once cannot react to it effectively’’ (Erikson 1976, p. 153). Collective trauma—the focus of sociological studies—is ‘‘a blow to the
basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people
together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality’’ (Erikson
1976, p. 154).
Erikson introduced the loss of communality as a ‘‘second trauma’’
(1976, p. 185). More precisely, he proposed that ‘‘most of the traumatic symptoms experienced by the Buffalo Creek survivors are a
reaction to the loss of communality as well as a reaction to the disaster itself, . . . the fear and apathy and demoralization one encounters
along the entire length of the hollow are derived from the shock of
being ripped out of a meaningful community setting as well as the
shock of meeting that cruel black water’’ (1976, p. 194).
Secondary trauma can be defined as a blow to the social fabric of
a community caused by inadequate responses to an initial hazard
event and=or inadequate responses to secondary hazards. Events,
occasions, or public perceptions that inhibit timely community
recovery and prolong stress and disruption are examples of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is embedded in threat-impact-inventory cycles and is often associated with issues of blame and
recreancy. Impacts of secondary trauma are related to diminished
social capital, a corrosive community, chronic stress and negative
lifescape changes among individuals, and prolonged social disruption in communities.
Because it is difficult for those not directly affected by a disaster to
fully comprehend the long-term impacts on communities and individuals, empathy and assistance tend to wane over time. Outsiders
may express sentiments such as, ‘‘Why don’t they (disaster survivors)
just get over it?’’ because they do not understand how secondary
trauma prolongs the disaster and impedes recovery. This is particularly problematic when these outsiders include government officials
and decision makers. Further, because responsible parties are identified, technological disasters (at least in the U.S.) typically involve
the judicial system where claims of damages and injury are litigated.
For example, a lack of resolution of litigation associated with the
Exxon Valdez oil spill—yet unresolved thirteen years after the 1994
jury trial and verdict in favor of the plaintiffs—is a secondary trauma
being experienced by individuals, groups, and communities in the
wake of this disaster.
626
D. A. Gill
Compared with natural disasters, technological disasters are a
‘‘new species of trouble’’ (Erikson 1994). Most communities assigned
obligations to public and civic organizations for disaster response
(e.g., law enforcement, fire fighters, medical staff, utility crews, local
government, churches, and relief organizations). These organizations
have experience and formal training in responding to natural disasters and they tend to coordinate their efforts to better plan for and
address natural hazard events; thus, few natural disasters produce
secondary trauma except in cases where response is perceived as lacking or inadequate (e.g., FEMA’s inadequate response to Hurricane
Katrina probably caused a high degree of secondary trauma). In contrast, response planning and coordination for technological disasters
are less developed and actual responses to technological hazards are
often poorly executed. Consequently, secondary trauma is more
likely to occur as part of a technological disaster.
As previously noted, the Mississippi=Louisiana Gulf Coast in
general and New Orleans in particular have experienced various
secondary traumas. Perceptions of inadequate responses by FEMA,
President Bush, and state and local authorities were an initial secondary trauma. Insurance disputes and litigation to resolve them were
secondary traumas experienced by many, particularly in Mississippi.
In New Orleans, massive and prolonged relocation of residents, failure of the ‘‘Road Home’’ recovery program, delays in restoring basic
physical and social infrastructures, social and human capital loss
spirals, and increased crime and death rates are secondary traumas
that continue to plague the city and its neighborhoods. Undoubtedly,
former and current residents, as well as researchers and other observers can identify additional secondary traumas.
Secondary Disasters
According to conceptualizations from natural science, secondary
hazards can lead to secondary disasters if a different population or
community is devastated by spin-offs from the original hazard and
disaster. That is, secondary disasters are more than prolonged disaster conditions or cumulative impacts of an original hazard event.
From a sociological perspective, a disaster may generate secondary
traumas—where trauma is defined as impaired communality or
damaged social bonds—that may or may not result in a secondary
disaster. In my view, in order for an event to be defined as a secondary disaster, the effects of secondary trauma must satisfy Fritz’s
(1961, p. 655) definition of disaster previously provided: ‘‘an event,
concentrated in time and space, in which a society, or a relatively
Secondary Trauma or Secondary Disaster?
627
self-sufficient subdivision of society, undergoes severe danger and
incurs such losses . . . that the social structure is disrupted and the fulfillment of all or some of the essential functions of the society is prevented’’ (p. 655). For example, refugees from natural disasters or
sociopolitical conflicts may inundate their host communities and
cause outbreaks of disease, malnutrition, and starvation.
Communities and neighborhoods hosting large numbers of
Katrina evacuees provide a context for examining this phenomenon.
Immediately after the hurricane, many communities welcomed evacuees with open arms and generous assistance. Most communities and
evacuees believed the stay would be short and evacuees would soon
return to their own communities. In several instances, however, evacuees have not returned and continue to live in these host communities. In some instances, there have been increases in rates of crime
and poverty, and other drains on local resources. Residents of many
host communities complain about evacuees who have worn out their
welcome and have become frustrated by the prolonged inconveniences caused by a boomtown-like population growth and accompanying social disruption. These secondary traumas to the host
communities, however frustrating to the locals, would not be considered a disaster based on the definition provided by Fritz.
CONCLUSIONS
Drawing an analogy from a famous work by Charles Dickens,
Hurricane Katrina can be thought of as a tale of two disasters—a
nightmare along the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast and a
‘‘nightmare within a nightmare’’2 in the city of New Orleans. Understanding differences in the initial impacts of Katrina, as well as what
is happening as the region struggles to rebuild and recover can be
enhanced by situating the event within a sociology of disaster framework. Distinctions between natural and technological disasters
remain important because they represent two points on a continuum—not because they reify a socially constructed typology.
These distinctions are useful in illuminating how survivors experience
a particular disaster and how communities and the larger society can
better respond to and prepare for disasters and other crisis situations.
As the impacts of Hurricane Katrina unfold, it is important
for social scientists to continue researching this historic disaster.
2
The ‘‘nightmare within a nightmare’’ reference came from a New Orleans resident interviewed on NBC Nightly News a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck and New Orleans
flooded.
628
D. A. Gill
Recognizing, articulating, and communicating secondary traumas
and their impacts can help survivors more clearly understand what
is happening to them and their community and provides a framework
for outsiders to gain insights into local conditions and improve
efforts to assist recovery efforts. In this sense, developing the secondary trauma concept is valuable. Moreover, as we continue to discover
more about the impacts of Katrina, we need to apply the lessons
learned about this disaster to enhance community resilience throughout the nation. After all, it is not a question of if another catastrophic
disaster or incident of national significance will occur, it is a question
of when.
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