When disaster strikes, it’s often not individual preparedness or government intervention that enables people to survive and thrive—it’s social connections that keep people safe and ready to bounce back, according to Northeastern professor Daniel P. Aldrich, who delivered the 57th annual Robert D. Klein Lecture on Monday.
“Often our societies get ready for disasters through physical infrastructure, but primarily, what helps us survive and thrive is social infrastructure,” said Aldrich, professor of political science and public policy and director of the Security and Resilience Studies Program.
Aldrich has studied the effects of large-scale disasters around the world, such as the 2011 tsunami in Tohoku, Japan; the 2017 hurricane (Irma) in Florida; and he has experienced them firsthand. He and his family had only been living in New Orleans for a month when Hurricane Katrina flooded the Louisiana city in 2005.
In each case Aldrich has studied, he and his colleagues found that the most reliable measure for whether people were able to bounce back after a disaster was the extent of their social networks, he said.