The shape of disaster and the universe of relief: A social history of disaster relief and the "Hurricane of '38," Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, 1938--1941
Bergman, Jonathan C.
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This study presents a social history of disaster relief in the wake of the "Hurricane of '38" on Long Island, New York. Disaster is the epitome of disorder where social and ecological systems are set in motion and thrown out of balance. Modern disaster relief is an attempt to manage the complexities wrought by a breakdown in these systems; to activate novel and traditional methods of relief; and to extend the reach of public and private organizations in ways both new and familiar. But where most scholars have focused on the omnibus legislation of the 1950's as the line of demarcation between old and new forms of relief, this study demonstrates that it was in the 1930's, when the Red Cross expanded its national disaster management role and the New Deal exploded onto the scene, that our modern disaster aid schema began to take shape. This era also witnessed a unique mix of individual, community and lower echelon public institutions utilizing relief neutral ideals and organizational methods. This combination of large scale public and localized private relief covered the field of disaster aid and management representing the emergence of a modern disaster relief style. The "Hurricane of '38" demonstrated the universe of modern disaster relief measures from frontier methods of self-help to substantial governmental initiatives. Disaster relief was found in both pre-existing relief agencies and traditional organizations unrelated to the disaster relief role. The Red Cross would apply talents gleaned over decades of real world disaster relief experience. The federal government quickly assumed disaster specific and relief neutral duties through an array of New Deal programs. Disaster relief would also be found in everyday religious groups and county bureaus. The Suffolk County Mosquito Extermination Commission (S.C.M.E.C.) successfully mobilized sanitary health techniques used to rid Suffolk County of the mosquito menace and secure its economic viability. Finally, individuals and churches contributed to the clean-up effort through community outreach, traditional ideals and faith. 1930's disaster relief therefore stands as a vital bridge between old and new forms of relief, uncoordinated and hierarchical organizational structures, and individual and interdependent cultural regimes.