View Full Version : The Key To Disaster Survival? Friends And Neighbors

07-04-2011, 09:22 PM
Featuring research from one of my old classmates (Daniel Aldrich):


Social Connections And Survival: Neighbors Matter

Because of his own experience in Katrina, Aldrich started thinking about how neighbors help one another during disasters. He decided to visit disaster sites around the world, looking for data.

Aldrich's findings show that ambulances and firetrucks and government aid are not the principal ways most people survive during and recover after a disaster. His data suggest that while official help is useful in clearing the water and getting the power back on in a place such as New Orleans after Katrina, for example government interventions cannot bring neighborhoods back, and most emergency responders take far too long to get to the scene of a disaster to save many lives. Rather, it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath.
The Japan Example: 'I Was Just Running Around And Talking To People'

In Japan, Aldrich found that firetrucks and ambulances didn't save the most lives after earthquakes. Neighbors did.

"In Kobe in 1995, if you knew where your neighbors slept, because the earthquake was very early in the morning, you knew where to dig in the rubble to find them early enough in the process for them to survive," he says.

Because of his research, when a powerful earthquake struck Japan this March, Aldrich was certain that good neighbors would play a decisive role. Michinori Watanabe of Miyagi prefecture, about 100 miles from Fukushima in northern Japan, said the same thing.
Local Knowledge Is Key

Not only did no professionals come to help Watanabe those first few minutes, there was no sign of them the first day.

Watanabe emptied his house of water and blankets and started helping neighbors who were homeless and shivering. They were still without help days later. And Watanabe did what good neighbors do when friends are in trouble: He improvised.
It's this passion for a local community and granular knowledge about who needs what that makes large-scale government interventions ineffective by comparison. It's even true when it comes to long-term recovery.

Beloit College economist Emily Chamlee-Wright has studied why some communities in New Orleans came back more quickly than others.

"One of the communities that in the post-Katrina context was the most successful was the Mary Queen of Vietnam community in New Orleans East," said Chamlee-Wright. "It's important to recognize that one of the reasons why they were so successful is that they ignored government warnings not to come back and start rebuilding too soon."

'The Second Tsunami'

Governments and big nongovernmental organizations which are keenly aware of the big picture are often blind to neighborhood dynamics.

The problem isn't that experts are dumb. It's that communities are not the sum of their roads, schools and malls. They are the sum of their relationships.

The Japanese government seems to get this. The government there actually funds block parties to bring communities together.

That might never happen in America, but Aldrich thinks each of us can do something on our own: Instead of practicing earthquake drills and building bunkers, we could reach out and make more friends among our co-workers and neighbors.

"Get more involved in neighborhood events," Aldrich said. "If there is a planning club, a homeowners association if there are sports clubs nearby, PTAs those groups have us in contact with people we wouldn't normally meet and help us build up these stocks of trust and reciprocity."

"Really, at the end of the day, the people who will save you, and the people who will help you," he added, "they're usually neighbors."

I omitted some interesting stuff, so go back to the link and check out.

While this wouldn't necessarily have a huge connection to P&C losses in a catastrophe, but it would be interesting if there's a mortality difference.

I would think, though, that even absent catastrophe there would be mortality differences in communities that are more connected than those that aren't. I believe that there's research out there indicating that people who have more different types of social interactions tend to have lower mortality.


Anyway, perhaps all those "social do-gooding" initiatives that many insurance companies put on in the communities they sell to (or want to sell to) might not just be beneficial from a pure branding/company reputation point-of-view.

07-04-2011, 09:53 PM
This won't work in the summer of hell. You need ammo and food, and you need to shoot anyone trying to take your food!

07-04-2011, 09:57 PM
1. I take that under advisement.


2. Not letting people know what I've got stocked in my basement already.

07-04-2011, 10:00 PM
In reality, it makes more sense to work together in a disaster of any kind. While you work together, best not let anyone know about your food.

07-06-2011, 06:36 PM
Side question: What does the word "granular" mean in an actuarial context?

07-06-2011, 06:54 PM
I believe by "granular" in this article ("granular knowledge") they're talking about the specific, detailed knowledge people in a community know about each other that a government would not know.

In general, "granular" is a fancied-up way of saying "detailed".


07-06-2011, 07:11 PM
That helped. Thanks.

07-07-2011, 08:31 AM
How I think of the word, usually talking about some kind of data: When you slice and dice, "granular" describes how small the pieces are.

07-12-2011, 12:10 PM
I think of granular as the opposite of aggregate.
Example: in the aggregate, sales are on target, but when you look at granular data you'll see that product A is behind by 50 units and product B is ahead by 50 units.

07-12-2011, 12:43 PM
This conversation has gotten too granular. How actuarial.

07-12-2011, 12:44 PM
It would be interesting (read: funny) to see underwriting questions like

"Do you work well with others?"

"Does your neighbor have a chainsaw?"

"Do you even know your neighbors?"