The calm after the storm? Looting in the context of disasters

Mauricio Salgado

Collective action tends to be adaptive after a disaster: most of the affected residents perform themselves many critical tasks, such as searching for and rescuing victims, and both social cohesiveness and informal mechanisms of social control increase during disasters, resulting actually in a lower incidence of deviant behaviour [1]. However, there are also documented cases where civil disturbances escalate in the aftermath of a disaster. One of these cases is the looting that took place on the island of St. Croix following hurricane Hugo in 1989. Hugo caused serious damage in many parts of the Caribbean and the southeast, including parts of Puerto Rico and North and South Carolina. Nevertheless, looting only emerged on St. Croix, not in other hard-hit areas [2]. From a policy viewpoint it is of paramount importance to know why this violence escalation might emerge in the aftermath of a disaster and what steps can be taken to prevent it. In Section 2 we put forward our assumptions. Then, in Section 3 the model is presented. We evaluate the effect of the proposed policies in Section 4. The article finishes with some concluding remarks in Section 5.