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Technological Catastrophes Presentation by: Katrine Leung Nadeen Sara Carolyn Torbay Technological catastrophes What is the difference between a technological disaster and a natural disaster? Has anyone lived through a technological disaster? Anyone you know?

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technological catastrophes

Technological Catastrophes

Presentation by:

Katrine Leung

Nadeen Sara

Carolyn Torbay

technological catastrophes2
Technological catastrophes
  • What is the difference between a technological disaster and a natural disaster?
  • Has anyone lived through a technological disaster? Anyone you know?
natural disaster and technological catastrophe baum a fleming i and davidson l m 1983
Natural disaster and technological catastropheBaum, A., Fleming,I., and Davidson, L.M. (1983)

Two Types of disasters:

  • Natural Disasters
  • Non-controversial
  • Cataclysmic event
  • The result of natural phenomenon; biological
  • Specific types (i.e. earthquakes, hurricanes) usually occur only in certain areas
  • Every area is subject to the possibility of natural disasters
natural disaster and technological catastrophe
Natural disaster and technological catastrophe
  • Technological Catastrophes
  • Human made
  • Accidents, failures, and mishaps
  • Involve technology
properties of natural disasters and technological catastrophes
Properties of natural disasters and technological catastrophes
  • Suddenness
  • Power
  • Destructiveness
  • Predictability
  • Low point
natural disasters
Natural disasters
  • Suddenness
  • Although warning is available, it is still limited and disaster often occurs unexpectedly
  • Power
  • Can cause death and great destruction
  • The threat of a natural disaster is universal
  • Destruction
  • Visible damage to environment and property
natural disasters7
Natural disasters
  • Predictability
  • Forecast is possible but still limited
  • Low Point
  • Usually a clear point at which destruction and the worst is over

Effects of natural disasters:

  • Increased social cohesion
  • Few long-term studies
  • Generally suggested that victims experience effects such as emotional strain and depression
technological catastrophes8
Technological catastrophes
  • Suddenness
  • Can occur at any moment with minimal, if any, warning
  • Power
  • Devastation is equal to or possibly exceeds that of natural disasters
  • Predictability
  • Technology is not expected to fail and if a problem is foreseeable, it is usually remedied before it has the chance of occurring
  • Predictability is low
technological catastrophes9
Technological catastrophes
  • Low Point
  • Can be identified in cases where there is visible damage but may be more difficult in situations involving invisible damage and continuing threats

Effects of technological catastrophes:

  • Same limitations on research as that of natural disasters
comparing natural and technological cataclysms
Comparing natural and technological cataclysms
  • Similar with respect to suddenness, magnitude, and visible destruction of the environment


  • Technological catastrophes can cause unseen damage and invisible threats
comparing natural disasters and technological catastrophes
Comparing natural disasters and technological catastrophes

In addition, they differ in 3 important respects:

  • Perception of uncontrollability will be different for each - Natural disasters = lack control and technological catastrophes =loss of control
  • Confidence in future controllability of technology
  • Continuing threats
concluding thoughts
Concluding thoughts
  • Technological catastrophes have more chronic and widespread effects and are more likely to be long term in nature
  • Advancements in technology exceed our ability to control them
  • More research beyond the initial period of impact and recovery is needed
  • Important to keep the distinction between natural and technological
davidson baum and fleming the three mile island study
Davidson, Baum, and Fleming The Three Mile Island Study
  • Background information:
  • Occurred in March of 1979
  • The incident posed a threat of radioactive exposure to those living within the area of the plant
  • Threat has remained consistent (piece was written in 1986)
  • Tests were conducted 28 months after the accident
  • TMI (Three Mile Island) residents continued to show more symptoms of stress than others in control areas

Selye’s three stage adaptation syndrome known as GAS:

  • Alarm
  • Resistance
  • Exhaustion

Lazarus, and the importance of appraisals

  • Direct action coping
  • Palliative
the study
The study
  • 103 subjects
  • 36 were selected in quasi-random fashion from neighbourhoods within 5 miles of TMI
  • 27 were selected in towns at least 80 miles away from TMI
  • 15 living within 5 miles of a coal-fired power plant
  • Final 25 lived within 5 miles of an undamaged nuclear reactor
stress measures
Stress measures
  • Psychological Stress
  • Behavioural Stress
  • Physiological Stress
evidence of stress
Evidence of stress
  • Psychological Stress: more intense symptoms than control groups
  • Behavioural Stress: experienced more trouble with exercises than control groups
  • Physiological Stress: higher levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine than control groups
stress and control
Stress and control
  • Scientists believe that the effects of technological disasters may be different than those associated with natural events
  • The key may be the reflection of human error
  • Technological disasters represent loss of control over something that is perceived to be under control
  • A contributing factor to chronic stress may be the uncertainty of the situation
  • The data collected on TMI residents suggest that control-related problems aggravate stress responses and associated stress
  • The residents of TMI do not know if they have been exposed to radiation, yet exhibited stress symptoms for years
question 1
Question #1
  • How is the stress paradigm (model) applied to explain the reaction of residents of the area surrounding the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor?
question 2
Question #2
  • What model is proposed to account for environmental hazard? What makes it an interactive model?
question 3
Question #3
  • What are the similarities and differences between natural disasters and technological catastrophes?
question 4
Question #4
  • What factors have the authors overlooked that may relate to technological catastrophes?
question 5
Question #5
  • What role does government play in citizen’s reactions to technological catastrophes?
love canal study
Love Canal study
  • Love Canal Chemical Waste Landfill Site
  • August 2, 1978
  • The hazards of abandoned toxic-waste-disposal sites
  • Toxic vapours in residents basements
  • Was declared a health emergency
  • Information was collected on the residents with no other information on groups from other regions for comparisons:

- 4000 samples of blood within a few weeks

- surveying - 3 questionnaires were distributed

shared beliefs of love canal homeowners association
Shared beliefs of Love Canal Homeowners Association
  • We are blameless victims of a disaster
  • The problems we face are too large got us. We need help
  • We are good citizens. We deserve help from the Government
  • The government can and should help us now
  • We are being treated unfairly
  • We must stick together to take care of ourselves
  • Family and community help is not enough for our needs
  • No one but the Government has enough resources for our pressing needs
  • We must work together to force the Government to provide us what we are entitled to
  • We are the only ones who can understand each other
summary of findings
Summary of findings
  • By 1981, 500 families had moved away with their houses being purchased by the State
  • By the summer of 1981, there was no evidence of leaching chemicals effecting Love Canal residents
  • Within the same year, there was no conclusive findings whether chemicals had migrated to soil beyond the first row of surrounding homes
  • There was an excessive number of respiratory cancers in the Love Canal census tract compared to the cancers in New York state, however no concentration near the canal itself
Hundreds of lawsuits were filed
  • Some marital difficulties occurred

“If we think of Love Canal as the whistle warning the rest of society about what lies ahead, in one important sense it is already too late, for the physical hazards already exist. However, if we use the warning of Love Canal to prevent or alleviate some of the social consequences that created unnecessary suffering at Love Canal, than perhaps we will have learned something from history and sociology when we face the emergence of new Love Canals all over this land”(219-220)

Adeline Gordon Levine Love Canal:Science, Politics, and People

buffalo creek dam collapse and flood disaster logan county west virginia 1972
Buffalo Creek Dam Collapse and Flood DisasterLogan County, West Virginia, 1972
  • The Disaster

On Saturday, February 26, 1972, a dam that was built by a mining company collapsed and emptied gallons of water and sludge into the valley killing 125 people and leaving thousands of others homeless

381 adult plaintiffs and their 207 children filed a lawsuit against the coal company claiming that the dam was constructed in an unsafe manner and that they had suffered “psychic impairment” as a result.

Two sets of psychiatric reports were done 18 and 26 months after the flooding based on interviews and a self-report checklist by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati and the defense psychiatrist. The suit was settled out of court and the plaintiffs were awarded for psychological damages.
the study33
The study
  • Subjects: 121 of original plaintiff group
  • Control group.non-exposed subjects:drawn from 2 areas: Big Coal River/Marsh Fork Valleys and Cabin Creek Valley that were similar to Buffalo Creek in topography, coal mining activities and cultural/economic backgrounds
the study34
The study
  • Instruments:
  • Structured clinical Interview for DSM-III (SCID) - diagnostic interview conducted by clinically trained individuals
  • Psychiatric Evaluation Form - 19 items (i.e. anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and grandiosity) as well as a scale for overall severity. Ratings from 1 to 6 (none to extreme impairment) and were assessed by interviewer
the study35
The study
  • Symptom Checklist-90R (SCL-90R) - 90 item self-report symptom inventory made up of 5 clusters: somatic concerns, obsessive-compulsive problems, anxiety, hostility-irritability, and depression
  • Progress Evaluation Scales (PES) - set of 7 scales assessing areas of functioning (i.e. occupation, feelings and mood, attitude toward self) on a 5 point scale utilizing behavioural description for each scale point
results and limitations
Results and limitations
  • There was no difference between litigants and non-litigants; therefore, little long-term impact resulted from participation in the lawsuit
  • Negative factors may have been offset by the belief that justice was being done by participating in the lawsuit


  • Unable to determine whether participation in legal proceedings exacerbates symptoms or if it is those with more symptoms that are more likely to sue
  • Found higher levels of symptoms in exposed groups
results and limitations37
Results and limitations
  • Green notes that we must be cautious when drawing conclusions with this comparison as the control group(s) differed in a number of ways: no African-American subjects, significantly older, more educated, more likely to be employed or retired and more of the women at Buffalo Creek were house wives
  • Therefore, differences may have been intensified by a limited ability of the Buffalo Creek community to help itself recover
results and limitations38
Results and limitations
  • In addition, the large number of victims and the isolated nature of the event may have impaired social support from non-victim communities
  • However differences remained significant between the two groups on anxiety, depression, and hostility scales when education and employment were controlled
  • Persistence of pathology may have been affected by the social and cultural context in which the event occurred
  • Community described as Appalachian families with homesteads and property that had been in the family for generations
results and limitations39
Results and limitations
  • Small communities sharing histories and a strong sense of interconnectedness
  • Many born in the house their great grandparents had lived in
  • Destruction therefore highly disruptive and devastating
  • Also form a new identity in their shared trauma, which is likely maintained by continuous contact with survivors
  • New residents moving to the area are seen as outsiders
results and limitations40
Results and limitations
  • West Virginia government’s decision to build a highway up the middle of the valley prevented return to land
  • Required relocation of many families resulting in the breaking of nuclear families and kin networks
defining disaster
Defining disaster
  • Defining disaster has been proven difficult:
  • It can be defined in terms of the damage it causes
  • It can be defined through disaster agents (Dynes, 1970)


  • Measure the degree of social disruption (Quarantelli, 1985)
  • Disaster may be viewed as a special case of crisis or collective stress situation
  • Disaster as cataclysmic events (Lazarus and Cohen, 1978)
disaster characteristics
Disaster characteristics
  • Horror/Terror
  • Duration
  • Intensity
  • Predictability/Controllability
  • Warning

2 characteristics of emotional disturbances (Fritz and Marks, 1954)

  • Primary concern for family members
  • Horror
acute response to disaster
Acute response to disaster
  • Research produces varying findings to effects of disaster on mental health and behaviour
  • Lack of clear conceptual frameworks to guide research
  • Individual response
  • Responses of organizations
differences between natural and human made disasters
Differences between natural and human made disasters
  • One characteristic of human made disasters is that they often lack visible damage
  • Loss of control over technological systems and often parties / agencies are to blame
  • Natural disasters caused by nonsocial forces outside the regulatory control of the group or community, whereas civil disturbances are usually produced by social sources within the community
Natural disasters do not serve human purposes, whereas civil disturbances often do (Warheit, 1976)
  • Natural disturbances often provide some warning where civil disturbances are more unpredictable hence less warning (Warheit, 1976)
  • Technological crisis reflect failure in technological systems through 4 categories:
  • Large system failures
  • Structural failures
  • Low - level delayed - effect crisis
  • Chemical hazards
characteristics of catastrophes and their psychological effects
Characteristics of catastrophes and their psychological effects

Human made disasters:

  • are less familiar to people
  • Contain possibility of loss of control over technology
  • Technological mishaps are powerful
  • Technological mishaps are not supposed to happen
  • The low point


  • Blame as a reaction to disaster
  • Ex. Cocoanut Grove fire
toronto blackout of 2003
Toronto Blackout of 2003

Thursday August 14, 2003

  • “Canadians struggle with blackout across Ontario” (News Tribute)
  • “Toronto Parties through the blackout” (BBC News)