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Rural America more prepared for disaster -- also more vulnerable

URBANA - From winter storms, to earthquakes, to terrorism -- when a disaster strikes a community, who fares better, a rural community or an urban one? A new study at the University of Illinois attempts to understand the differences in how rural and urban citizens across the US respond to disaster. Preliminary results show that although rural residents may be more directly involved in responding to crisis, their location also makes them more vulnerable.

Courtney Flint, a rural sociologist and assistant professor at the U of I, and her student, Joanne Rinaldi, interviewed 20 coordinators of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) across Illinois to find out what they are doing, what disasters they are prepared for and what they do between disasters.

"What we've learned so far is that in rural communities there is a tradition of being more self-reliant," said Flint. "They're off the grid, so that makes them check on each other more, but they are also uniquely situated, closer in some ways to the physical environment and more isolated, making them uniquely vulnerable."

Perhaps it's that vulnerability that makes rural communities more self-reliant. Flint said that people in farm communities say, "We're on our own. We know we're not going to get the same first response in an emergency as the cities." While people in urban communities ask questions about liability, rural dwellers say, "We can't wait around for funding. If we need bandages, we'll just start ripping up old bed sheets."

"Farm families have to keep going," said Flint. "They may have livestock. They can't wait for someone to flip the switch. They are more prepared for disaster. They have generators, kerosene heaters, snow plows and other equipment."

Tornadoes, flooding, winter storms, and hazardous material accidents can strike a city as well as a farm. But in urban communities they are faced with a heavier concentration of people and a social vulnerability --
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Contact: Debra Levey Larson
dlarson@uiuc.edu
217-244-2880
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
12-Jan-2007


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