Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 15, 2005

CQ on the social and cultural nature of emergency response

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on December 15, 2005

CQ has an interesting story up today on the impact of social and cultural differences in preparing to respond to threats such as avian flu. The first two paragraphs:

In Japan, the sick often wear surgical masks in public to protect others from contracting their illness. In the United States, such behavior is rare.

The contrast highlights the impact of cultural and social phenomena on a country’s ability to protect against pandemic outbreaks or even biological terrorism, some experts say.

This is a good point, and reminds me of when I was traveling with my sister in late March 2003, at the height of the SARS crisis, through Hong Kong airport. Nearly every Asian person in the airport was wearing a mask. A large percentage of the Americans boarding flights back to the U.S. had managed somehow to find masks as well. (My sister and I had them…I had brought a few with me on the trip, taken from the DC subway disaster kit I kept in my laptop case). But surprisingly, very few Europeans boarding flights to places like Paris and Frankfurt were wearing them. I judged this at the time to be because of social and cultural differences…perhaps as a sign of a variable perception of threat and risk between Europe and the United States. If anyone has a different interpretation or observed otherwise durings the SARS crisis, I’d be happy to hear it.

The rest of the CQ story focuses on comments at a House Science committee meeting held on Wednesday to discuss the role of the social sciences in planning for response.

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