Elaine Enarson

I am an ‘accidental’ disaster sociologist by way of Hurricane Andrew which took my home and neighborhood in Miami, 1992. It was a rapid-fire introduction to the academic study of disaster, too, as I was lucky enough to meet kindred souls at Florida International University. As my previous work focused on domestic violence and on gender relations in organizations, I brought a gender lens to my observations, thinking, and research around disaster and disaster risk reduction. I’ve studied the division of labor (formal, informal) in disaster work because gender shapes organizational culture as well as people’s activity around hazards and disasters; and also the effects of disasters on single mothers –because I felt like one during Hurricane Andrew when my geologist husband was far away.  I’ve looked at how women undertake preparedness and mitigation, and at how women’s groups in the US and beyond promote sustainable recovery. Some of my work has been with women who use quilting to convey disaster experiences, and with women on public education, perhaps the influence of my grandmothers in rural Iowa and New Mexico. As the mother of boys and because the study of gender is all about relationships, I’m increasingly interested in disaster risk ‘through men’s eyes,’ and want to learn more about sexual minorities and US disaster resilience, too.  My pre-disaster women’s studies background taught me long ago that gender never acts alone, any more than age, ethnicity, or other power dynamics.

Moving the family to Australia and then Canada helped me put our own experience in context. I now do considerable international gender and disaster consulting. In my view, it is urgent that we integrate disaster reduction and climate change adaptation—with women full and equal partners in both realms.  Finally, disaster risk seems to me to fundamentally a question of morality and social justice so my abiding passion is to put our hard-won knowledge about disasters to good use—out of the journals, and into emergency management practice and community organizing. In that spirit, I have written several gender mainstreaming training manuals, worked with women’s organizations on risk assessments in and out of the US, developed preparedness guidelines for grassroots women’s groups like domestic violence shelters, and conducted disaster planning workshops with antiviolence organizations. To help move toward more gender-sensitive policy and practice, I recently initiated the US-based Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance to extend the excellent work of the global network to our own country. This also led me to write Women Confronting Natural Disaster: From Vulnerability to Resilience, a book that pulls together two decades of research on women, gender and disaster in the US (following on two earlier international readers) and to co-edit The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race, and Class Matter in an American Disaster. These are the passions that guide my teaching, too. I initiated the social vulnerability class FEMA developed for the Higher Education Project, and teach graduate and undergraduate courses on-line on  emergency management, gender and disaster, gender and climate change, and the sociology of disaster, both in the US and in Canada.  Coming home from Canada to the US has been a ‘coming home’ with energy to invest in community change leading us toward safer, more resilient, and more just communities. I look forward to working with you!

Dr. Elaine Enarson is an American disaster sociologist currently working independently in Lyons, Colorado.  The author of Woods-Working Women: Sexual Integration in the U.S. Forest Service (1984) and co-editor of the international readers The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women’s Eyes (1998) and Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives (2010), her research and publications have addressed social vulnerability issues with particular emphasis on women and gender. Among these are studies of the impacts of hurricane Andrew on women, response and preparedness in US and Canadian domestic violence agencies, women’s paid and paid work in the Red River Valley flood, gender patterns in flood evacuation, women’s human rights in disasters, the impacts of drought and earthquake on rural Indian women, gender-sensitive disaster recovery from the Indian Ocean tsunami, work and employment in disasters, and strategies for addressing high-risk social groups in local emergency management.  Elaine was lead course developer of a FEMA course on social vulnerability, and initiated and directed a grassroots risk assessment project with women in the Caribbean as well as the on-line Gender and Disaster Sourcebook project. An international consultant on gender and disaster risk reduction, her work has an applied focus and she was a co-founder the global Gender and Disaster Network and the US-based Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance. Currently, Elaine teaches disaster studies and emergency management on-line for US and Canadian universities. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1981.

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