Hot Topics: The Earthquake in Haiti

Hot Topics: The Earthquake in Haiti

Associate Professor Lee Clarke talks about recovering from disasters

Lee Clarke, associate professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, studies the way people imagine, experience, prepare for, manage, and recover from disasters. He is the author, most recently, of Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Clarke was recently named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Information for the Newark Campus

Rutgers-Camden Students Work Together To Help Haiti

Toronto Globe and Mail highlights Clarke's work

Clarke talks to the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC

Rutgers Today: What lessons learned from previous disasters are being applied to current relief efforts in Haiti?

Clarke: It’s obvious that the American administration is taking it seriously and has mobilized the armed forces quickly. That’s probably, at least in part, a response to the failures of Katrina. That looks like a lesson learned. But in some ways it’s depressingly familiar. Scientists have been warning that this might happen, that Port au Prince sits on an earthquake fault and was overdue for a big quake, and it doesn’t seem like much has been done. Also, once again, we see the resilience of, and the reliance on, regular people, not just people in uniforms. Official responders are very important, but they’re not the first responders. That happens in all disasters.

Rutgers Today: What lessons might we take away from the situation in Port au Prince?

Associate Professor Lee Clarke
Clarke: Certainly, that building codes are not trivial, for one thing. Of course, Port au Prince apparently had no building codes at all, but there are places in the United States, like parts of the Midwest along the New Madrid fault, where building codes are not up to resisting a big quake, and where scientists tell us a big quake is overdue.

Rutgers Today: What do you make of all the aid pouring into Haiti now, and what advice would you give to the people distributing it?

Clarke: I haven’t seen an estimate of the total amount of aid that’s gone into Haiti since the quake, but it’s probably a lot. I wonder if all of it, added up, could have reduced the hazard from the quake if it had been used beforehand. As to what the people implementing the aid should do, I think they should find out what local social infrastructure still exists – churches, for instance – and work through that.