Disaster recovery expert: Neighbors are key to beating the heat

July 3, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - While many people struggling with the national heat wave and mass power outages may be forced offline from their social media friends, coping is possible with help from the faces next door, says a Purdue University disaster recovery expert.

"A virtual network isn't of any use, but a neighborhood net is powerful during a crisis like this," says Daniel Aldrich, associate professor of political science. "Someone may have a thousand friends on Facebook but if those friends don't live close by then they can't help. Research shows that people who fare better during heat waves or ice storms do so because they have face-to-face relationships with neighbors. It also can be life-saving for elderly and other compromised individuals."

About two million households are without power in various parts of the United States, and many may be without power through the week.

"It is difficult to go to someone's house to cool off or borrow space in their fridge if you haven't met that neighbor before," says Aldrich, who has been personally affected by the power outage in Maryland. "This kind of disaster drives us outside and gives us something to talk about and as a result, our face-to-face social connections deepen. People trust their neighbors during these situations and that trust will last for a few weeks or months after the event."

Aldrich says relying on neighbors during crisis isn't just about access to material resources, but also information. For example, when most people don't have access to television, the Internet or other forms of mass communication, word of mouth is the best way for people to learn about cooling-off centers, businesses distributing free ice or children's activities.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Daniel Aldrich, 202-712-0723, daniel.aldrich@gmail.com. Aldrich is in Washington, D.C., and can be contacted by email to schedule phone or Skype interviews.

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