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When natural disasters strike, whether or not people in a community choose to evacuate may depend on the social ties present in that community, according to new research based on a 2018 earthquake in Japan.

The study, published May 17 in Climate Risk Management, found that towns that didn’t face significant damage after a disaster saw much more evacuation if they had low trust in government and strong social ties among people who are different from one another in terms of race, religion, class, gender or age. These findings show that governments need to build and foster trust with their citizens, especially in the face of catastrophe.

However, in communities that did face significant damage, a strong trust in government and strong social ties among community members, both similar and dissimilar from one another, motivated greater evacuation to shelters compared to those that had lower social ties across all three dimensions.

Timothy Fraser, Larissa Morikawa and Daniel Aldrich, in an interview with The Academic Times about their research, highlighted that proper evacuation can save lives, but evacuating when there is no real need costs time and money, potentially taking resources such as food, water and shelter from someone who might actually need them. All from Northeastern University, Aldrich is a professor, Fraser is a Ph.D. candidate and Morikawa is an alumna who just finished her master’s degree.

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