According to Veitch and Arkkelin a disaster is something that has extreme negative consequences for those affected by it and is brought about as the result of the interaction of natural events and social systems. But catastrophe’s are different to natural disasters in that they are the direct result of some kind of human activity, this may be by intention, such as bombings, or they may result from an error of judgement or miscalculation like radiation leaks. The characteristics of disaster and catastrophe’s are quite different except for a few.
Disasters are sudden, usually unpredictable and even with warning it does not specify when it will occur and what results will be, often uncontrollable, extremely powerful but often don’t last very long. While on the other hand catastrophe’s are artificially caused and not product of natural forces, they are not selective in where they might occur (in any geographical location), they vary in duration, they many have no obvious low point, so can not tell when the worst point is reached and when things are likely to start getting better, they may lack visible destruction; for example, radioactive contamination.
There are a number of dynamic models used to look at the nature of human responses to disasters. From Tyhurst (1951) he produced the model of three overlapping stages of the human responses in disasters, these 3 sections are: Period of Impact, Period of recoil, Period of post-trauma, all containing different types of behaviour in the three situations. Period of Impact, Denial, obvious thing to do in a disaster is to run and hide, but there are numerous TV reports of people stood around watching the destruction of World Trade Centre, or even trying to get a better look.
This is that their immediate response was that of shock – stunned into disbelief and denial at what they saw. Leach claims that behaviour becomes automatic and emotionless and have problems thinking rationally. It has also been suggested during the period of impact you can also suffer Perceptual Distortion, the best example of this is even when the 1st tower started to collapse in 9/11, some people needed to be told to run to safety. People seemed to be suffering a kind of perceptual distortion, in which attention narrowed to one event only, ignoring what was going on around them.
Also people’s level of activity during disasters can be one of two, the most common behaviour after a catastrophe is inactivity which is caused by over-arousal and causing the inability to make decisions. However, there are also instances where people become hyperactive instead, basically they panic and behave in ways which could endanger themselves or others. Rationality some people act very calmly in these situations this only happens in a small number of cases.
Archea (1990) interviewed Japanese people who experienced a severe earthquake in 1982 and asked them what they actually did. Last form of behaviour in Tyhurst’s theory is Affiliation this was demonstrated though by Drabek and Stephenson (1971) the importance of loved ones was observed when they studied responses to warnings of a flash flood. They found that when families weren’t together when warning was issued, instead of evacuating the area, family members were more interested in finding each other.