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October 27, 1989

Psychosocial Aspects of Disaster

JAMA. 1989;262(16):2305. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430160133043

A hurricane devastates an entire region of the country; an occupied office building collapses in a busy downtown district; a nuclear reactor accident threatens, and the populace flees; a terrorist lays siege to an elementary school; a volcano awakens and disrupts life for thousands of square miles; two airliners collide over an airport, and hundreds are injured and killed; a dam breaks, and floods engulf entire cities and lives—disasters strike, and professionals need to know what will be the likely effects on communities and inhabitants, what can be done to minimize negative consequences and restore optimal functioning, and what must be done to prevent the adverse effects of future catastrophes.

Disasters are cataclysmic events that disrupt entire communities, environments, and normal social networks, producing stress upon individuals. Because disaster is by definition a communitylevel event, the study of disaster has evolved from a focus on the individual toward an ecological