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Legislative News...

August 11, 2005

Rep. Patrick Kennedy Proposes Disaster Legislation
Informed by Sociological Research

In the August 2 Air France plane crash in Toronto, passengers did not panic as some reports stated. Contrary to popular belief, passengers may have been scared, but because they did NOT panic, everyone escaped safely. As first responders, the passengers displayed social coordination. Reaction to a disaster is "spur of the moment."

Capitol Hill is beginning to recognize this. For example, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) introduced his Ready, Willing and Able Act [HR 3565] on July 26. The bill extensively taps concrete knowledge (extracted from sociological research) about actual human behavior in disaster situations. Sociologist Kathleen Tierney, head of the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center, was cited in the legislation. The bill's objective is to change mind-sets and get public officials to engage the public in the development of emergency plans. It aims specifically to avoid the adverse consequences of failing to incorporate citizens' knowledge, and avoid alienating Americans as citizen-participants, thereby jeopardizing the ability of the United States to respond effectively to domestic emergencies. To quote Rep. Kennedy, "Direct, participatory community-based disaster planning incorporates unique local conditions of culture, geography, language, and infrastructure, as a fail-safe against developing unrealistic emergency plans, and gives citizens a meaningful role in preparing for disasters."

Renowned mathematical/decision-science psychologist Baruch Fischhoff, Carnegie Mellon University, published an August 7 New York Times op-ed that captures the importance of this. Kennedy has already gained support from members of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Co-sponsors of his bill include Bennie Thompson, Mike McIntyre, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jim Langevin, Bobby Sepucha and others. ASA's July/August 2004 Footnotes newsletter (see bottom photo and caption) described early meetings with Kennedy's legislative staff as he began developing an earlier version of the bill.

For more information, see the press release from Kennedy's Office.

About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.