Sometimes the Disaster Chooses You

Doing a class on the topic of disasters during a global pandemic has certainly been a unique situation. Normally, I ask students to choose a disaster to research for their final paper, but this semester, the disaster has chosen us. We have a unique, unfortunate opportunity to use what we’ve talked about in this class on disasters to try to understand an evolving global pandemic.  So, that’s what we’re going to do.

For the rest of the semester, your assignment is to keep an eye on US and international news. Focus on reputable news sources that have a history of doing good reporting: outlets like the BBC, the Washington Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, etc. Some newer publications may also be helpful but please be very careful in evaluating where the story in coming from and who is writing it and publishing it. Try your best to keep apprised, on a daily or weekly basis, of what’s going on with the coronavirus in the US, the UK, Europe, China, and any other country where the disaster response is notable for being either particularly extensive or particularly lacking–or interesting in some other way.

The final project assignment asks you to summarize your findings about what the coronavirus pandemic does over the course of the spring (from its first appearance in the US in January to the time you write your final paper) and to compare the disaster responses of different countries and regions. How is this disaster following the “rules” of disasters that we’ve discussed in this course? How is media coverage affecting and influencing real life outcomes of the pandemic? Why do you think different countries responded so differently, with some taking very proactive measures and others seemingly unable to even take basic precautions? 

In addition, the final paper also asks you to make comparisons between the coronavirus outbreak and the disasters you’ve learned about after spring break. What are the differences and similarities between the disaster response to coronavirus in the US and the response of Dow Chemical to Bhopal for instance? What can be learned by comparing and contrasting the response to coronavirus in China with the response of the US government (federal and Missouri) to the residents of Pruitt Igoe? What about comparing the global reaction to the Boeing 737 Max disaster with the reaction to the coronavirus globally?

The paper that you produce should be no more than 6-8 pages, or roughly 3,000-4,000 words. lt is due on our final exam day: Tuesday May 5, at 5pm. You will upload it in a comment to this post. Please remember to LEAVE AN EXTRA LINE of space (hit ‘return’ or ‘enter’ twice) after every paragraph, because this system strips out indents and your paragraphs will run together. Your paper will not show up after you post it because I have to read and approve them. If you would ALSO like to send me a PDF file of your paper via email ( just to be on the safe side, or to make sure that special formatting is preserved, feel free to do so.

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