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Race, Ethnicity and Disasters in the United States: A Review of the Literature

Fothergill, A.; Maestas, E.G.M.; Darlington, J.D.

June 1, 1999

In this paper we synthesise past disaster research that addresses issues of race and ethnicity in the United States. Using an eight-stage typology to organise the findings, this literature review presents the results from a wide range of studies. The synthesis shows how various racial and ethnic groups perceive natural hazard risks and respond to warnings, how groups may be differentially affected, both physically and psychologically, and how disaster effects vary by race and ethnicity during the periods of emergency response, recovery and reconstruction. We show that studies have important findings, many illustrating that racial and ethnic communities in the US are more vulnerable to natural disasters, due to factors such as language, housing patterns, building construction, community isolation and cultural insensitivities. By presenting these studies together, we are able to witness patterns of racial and ethnic inequalities that may be more difficult to see or interpret in individual studies that take place in one specific time and place. We conclude the review with policy and research recommendations.