[1/13/20] – Puerto Rico Earthquakes

Puerto Rico has experienced thousands of seismic events in the last two weeks. Some registering as high as 6.0 on the Richter scale, each bringing compounding devastation to an already blighted island community. Thousands are without power. Thousands more are homeless. Bridges are destroyed. Homes are unsafe to return to. Food and clean water are a growing concern to those living in the southern part of the island. Last week, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency, and the President of the United States signed an emergency order granting aid. The most powerful earthquakes have brought new challenges to people who are already attempting to adjust to life post-Hurricane Maria. Schools are disrupted. Hospitals, too. Local government struggles to maintain order. Social order is challenging to maintain as it is. When something like a natural disaster occurs, functionalists begin to focus on how social institutions might adjust to accommodate function and stability in society. Conflict theorists lean towards investigations of how people at different levels of social strata are disproportionately advantaged to survive and recover. Symbolic-interactionists focus on lived experiences and how this shapes our character and decision-making. Individually, each perspective offers a unique view of our social world in the context of natural disasters. This week we focus on how social inequality influences experiences of survival and recovery in natural disasters.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Puerto Rico Earthquakes

Learning Objectives

LO1: Describe how the social order in Puerto Rico is disrupted in the wake of natural disasters.

LO2: Understand the importance of knowing how social forces like race, social class, nationality, and more influence the social response to those affected by the earthquake.

LO3: Think critically about why some communities are more easily able to recover than others.


What’s Happening in Puerto Rico After The 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake

Check out VICE News for more: http://vicenews.com

Thousands in Puerto Rico sleeping outside after earthquakes

Hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico are still without power following a series of earthquakes. The power grid is slowly returning to normal, but tens of thousands are sleeping outside because they said they feel safer there than in their homes. CBS News correspondent David Begnaud joined our partners BBC News from Yauco, Puerto Rico, with the latest on the ground.

Puerto Rico earthquake: At least 1 dead, island without power

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck off the southern coast of the US territory of Puerto Rico. One person was killed, and eight others injured after it hit, making houses collapse, destroying a popular tourist landmark and leaving the island without power, officials said. Residents reported feeling several powerful aftershocks. Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico two years ago, and this latest disaster will put pressure on its already fragile infrastructure as rescue workers rush to help the needy.

Discussion Questions

Define a natural disaster in your own words. How is your understanding of this concept influenced by your socialization experience? What agent(s) were most significant in the creation of this definition for you?

How has the experience of surviving the earthquakes in Puerto Rico changed the social order of many communities? Are these communities sustainable in their new form? What needs to change about their current circumstances to ensure their survival in the future? What role should the island’s elite play in the recover?

Why might the people of Puerto Rico be more likely to work to retain social norms in the wake of a natural disaster? What is the importance of maintaining community for the people of Puerto Rico that are displaced by the destruction caused by the earthquake? Who benefits from the maintenance of social order? What does this group stand to lose?

Imagine you would like to conduct a sociological study of the experience of Puerto Ricans impacted by the earthquake to determine factors influencing their outcomes. Which of the three major theoretical perspectives would you employ in your study? Why?

How might the experience of surviving a natural disaster influence one’s likelihood of committing deviant acts to continue their survival? Why might the suspension of sanctions related to social norms influence one’s likelihood of violating social norms?



Rules of behavior and attitude that govern our social world that might be challenged in the presence of disruptions to social order can best be described as…
a. sanctions
b. social facts
c. breaches
d. social norms

Which of the following sociological theories would focus on the following research question: How do the meanings people had about their neighbors prior to the earthquake influence how they interact in the aftermath?
a. Structural-Functional
b. Ecological Fallacy
c. Symbolic-Interaction
d. Social Conflict

A sociologist would be interested in researching how all of the following EXCEPT _______ influences one’s support for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and attitudes towards the populations that are most negatively affected.
a. race
b. social class
c. nationality
d. morality


Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/mustafabilgesatkin

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