SOCIO-CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF DISASTERS DUE TO
COMET IMPACTS ON EARTH
A workshop sponsored by and held under the auspices of the Western
Psychological Association in conjunction with its annual convention in
Irvine, California, on April 12, 2002.
Ivan Bekey, president of Bekey Designs, Inc., chairman of the AIAA workshop
to explore the technical issues surrounding impact of asteroids and comets
Harvey Wichman, professor of psychology emeritus and Director of the
Aerospace Psychology Laboratory at Claremont-McKenna College.
Asteroids and comets whose orbits cross the orbit of the Earth pose an
impact threat. In recent years, the scientific community has come to the
conclusion that not only has the Earth been impacted many times in the past
by such objects, the larger of which were the cause of the extinction of
large proportions of all living things at the time (for example the
dinosaurs 65 million years ago), but that there is a real and credible
threat of future impacts. While the probability of a major impact in the
near future is low, such an event could cause a global catastrophe for all
living things on the planet. Inasmuch as the threat is a virtual certainty
in the long term, the threat is serious enough to have warranted several
previous workshops on this subject within the international astronautic and
Most of those workshops concerned scientific and technical matters such as
how to detect and obtain credible warning of a real incoming object, and if
timely warning were available, how to mount an interception mission to
deflect or fragment it so as to hopefully avoid a complete catastrophe.
However no workshop or symposium has yet addressed the equally important
psychological and social issues affecting mass humanity that will arise
before, during, and after such an object crashes into the Earth. This
workshop is designed to begin to address such issues. It will be sponsored
by and held under the auspices of the Western Psychological Association in
conjunction with its annual convention in Irvine, California, on April 12,
2002. It will be organized and co-chaired by Ivan Bekey, president of Bekey
Designs, Inc. and chairman of the AIAA workshop to explore the technical
issues surrounding impact of asteroids and comets, and Harvey Wichman,
professor of psychology emeritus and Director of the Aerospace Psychology
Laboratory at Claremont-McKenna College.
The workshop will feature seven speakers who will discuss different aspects
of the psychological and socio-cultural issues in dealing with these
potential disasters. Each speaker has been asked to prepare a talk on one of
the following topics, or to prepare a broader overview talk yet one that
incorporates one the topics. The talks would focus on major regional or
global scale disasters due to asteroid or comet impacts. The speakers will
be asked to concentrate on identifying the psychological and socio-cultural
issues in their chosen areas in the context of the problem, rather than to
focus on specific technologies or disaster programs that could be modified
or created to deal with it. In this way the seven papers will provide both
insight and direction for future research.
The workshop will conclude with a panel and audience interactive discussion
of at least two hours duration, including the 7 speakers as well as the
workshop participants. This discussion will be moderated so as to address
potential steps that could or should be taken nationally and globally to
most effectively deal with the psychological and socio-cultural issues posed
by the potential threat. The most significant aspects of both the
discussions and the recommendations from this session will be issued in a
"findings and recommendations" paper. This paper will be distributed to all
attendees and submitted for special publication by the larger American
Hopefully this session will be but a beginning in addressing these important
issues concerning a potentially devastating regional or global threat due to
asteroids and comets, and will also be applicable to threats due to other
major disasters such as supervolcanism, tsunamis, earthquakes, bioterrorism,
and weapons of mass destruction.
The main topic areas are:
1. Preparing the public for an impending disaster
This talk will address public relations issues: how to coordinate an
international announcement that an impact will actually occur; how to make
the announcement so as to minimize panic and its resultant destruction; how
to coordinate public announcements of mitigation measures and measures for
surviving the event; similarities or parallels from other major disaster
events and lessons that could be learned; and similar issues
2. Life and death issues in minimizing/managing casualties
This talk will deal with measures that can be taken to enhance survival of
affected peoples. This includes means to deal with mass movement of people
from affected areas; how to select those that can be saved from the rest who
will be doomed; dealing with the anger and helplessness that will engulf
those affected; how societies have dealt with effects of wars and similar,
though possibly smaller scale incidents in the past; and similar issues.
3. Organizing for effective global action
This talk will address the issues of how to go about organizing the world's
societies into a unified capability for dealing effectively with the global
threat. This could include issues of yielding national defense sovereignty
to a UN-like organization for the common defense on a scale never before
attempted; control and release of authority for nuclear weapons; provision
of aid from the less-affected nations to those devastated; pressures and
pitfalls of attempting an all encompassing "one world" government; and other
4. Managing post-traumatic societal disruptions
This talk will deal with aspects after the event has occurred. This will
include issues such as reestablishment of hierarchies; law enforcement vs.
helping the community at large; dealing with rampant crime, homelessness,
public health, and starvation; dictatorships and state militia to impose
order vs. local anarchies and alternative self-governments; how nations have
rebuilt after major wars and lessons to be learned from them; and other
5. Managing post-traumatic stress in individuals
This talk will focus on psychological disturbances to individuals, families,
and small groups caused by exposure to the disasters; the likely effects of
such stress on the lives of those affected who are exposed to physical
dislocation or destruction, as well as effects on those far from the
physical effects; the resultant likely effects on the functioning of
individuals, families, and small groups both in industrialized and
developing nations; and where they could obtain physical and psychological
resources for rebuilding toward normal lives.
Thursday evening-April 11th, 2002
6:00-8:00 p.m. Dinner meeting for organizers and speakers.
8:00-10:00 p.m. Reception for organizers, speakers and attendees.
Friday-April 12th, 2002
8:00 Brief welcomes and announcements from the co-organizers.
Harvey Wichman, (Psychology) Claremont McKenna College
Ivan Bekey, (Space science) Bekey Associates.
8:15 The threat to Earth from asteroids and comets, and possible
Clark Chapman, Office of Space Studies, Southwest Research
8:50 Ten-minute break
9:00 Preparing the public for an impending disaster.
Benny Peiser, (Social Anthropology) Liverpool John Moores University,
9:30 Life and death issues in minimizing and managing casualties.
Albert Harrison, (Psychology) UC Davis
10:00 Organizing for effective global action.
Geoffrey Sommer, RAND Corporation.
10:30 15-minute break
10:45 Managing major post-traumatic societal disruptions.
Lee Clarke, (Sociology) Rutgers University.
11:15 Managing post-traumatic stress in individuals.
Douglas Vakoch, (Psychology) SETI and UC Davis.
11:45 Crisis leadership in coping with global scale disasters.
12:15 Lunch, relaxation and conversation
2:00 Moderated discussion/workshop: A time of discussion for the exchange
of ideas and information among the attendees and the speakers.
Moderator, Ronald Riggio (Psychology), Director, Kravis Leadership
4:50 The conference ends with closing remarks from the organizers.
For further information, please contact:
Ivan Bekey < firstname.lastname@example.org > or
Harvey Wichman < email@example.com >
CCCMENU CCC for 2002
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