People who either suffer from some disability or belong to ethnic minorities, such as African Americans and Latinos, are more susceptible to terrorism-related fears than others, according to a new study.
University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have found that such people make more behavioural changes based on terrorism-related fears, such as avoiding certain activities, than others.
Revealing their findings in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers say that these groups also tend to overestimate the threat of terrorism, perceiving the risk as high even when the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System's (HSAS) colour-coded alert system rates it lower.
"Just like natural disasters have been shown to affect certain groups of people more than others, we're now seeing evidence that terrorism fears are having a disproportionate effect on some of our most vulnerable groups," said leady study author David P. Eisenman, assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"It's important for the public to know this because it shows that terrorism's intention to induce fear and change does work - on the most vulnerable. Terrorism affects these groups even when there has not been an event in a long time.
"It also shows," he added, "that the HSAS color-coding is misjudged by citizens, and the same persons who have the most fear and avoid activities are also misjudging it," he added.
The researchers came up with these findings after conducting random-digit dial surveys conducted in six languages in Los Angeles County between October 2004 and January 2005.
During the study, the respondents were asked the colour of the country's alert level at the time, how often they worried about terrorist attacks, and how often they avoided activities because of those fears.
The researchers observed that the mentally ill, the disabled, African Americans, Latinos, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans and non-U.S. citizens were more likely to think that the HSAS alert level was higher than it was, and to worry more and change their behaviour due to those fears.
Eisenman said that the study's findings went on to suggest that the structure of the HSAS alerts needed to be re-evaluated - in part to ensure that terrorism alerts better reach vulnerable populations.
He further said that vulnerable groups also needed assistance to help reduce their fears and avoidance, so as to ensure that structures could be safely evacuated in the event of a terrorist act, and could help reduce some of the fears among the physically disabled.
"Terrorism-related fears and avoidant behavior can be considered part of the 'disaster burden' - the amount of adverse health effects ranging from loss of well-being or security to injury, illness or death caused by a disaster associated with terrorism and national terrorism policies. The disaster burden associated with terrorism and consequent policies may fall disproportionately on the vulnerable groups we studied," the researchers conclude.