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College of Charleston Professor Investigates Vulnerability and Urban Terrorism

30 December 2013 | 12:00 pm By:

College of Charleston Assistant Professor Kevin Keenan has made a novel contribution to the social sciences with a recent study on vulnerability to isolation in an urban disaster. His research is especially relevant in light of the December 29 and 30, 2013 bombings in Russia.

 Keenan, assistant professor of political science and director of the College’s undergraduate program in urban studies and graduate certificate in urban and regional planning, has completed work on a paper titled “Place Ontologies and a New Mobilities Paradigm for Understanding Awareness of Vulnerability to Terrorism in American Cities,” to be published by the Journal on Urban Geography in 2014.

Keenan’s paper focuses on three factors that impact urban-dwelling individuals’ perceived vulnerability in a hazard, such as a terrorist attack.

[Related: Read about Keenan’s previous paper about the contexts in which men and women discuss terrorism]

“I studied people in Boston, and addressed how mobility and transportation affect their preparedness and projected reaction in an attack,” Keenan said. “So people on a subway will feel and react differently than people in a car or on a plane. It seems obvious but no one had written about it in this context before.”

Specifically, Keenan looked into how physical location, gender and socioeconomic status affect mobility and vulnerability.

“Women think about things like shoes – if there was an attack and the subways were closed, could I walk home in these shoes? Men tend not to think that way. But middle and upper class urban residents always assume that they can get where they need to go because they are accustomed to traveling at will, when in fact this would likely not be the case in a disaster.”

Keenan referenced the Boston Marathon Bombings of April 2013 in his paper, citing the local government shutdown of all regional public transportation, leaving many residents stranded in their homes.

[Related: Learn more about the House and Senate intelligence committees’ stance on terrorism against U.S. interests]

Keenan’s research into this subject is part of a larger effort of the social sciences community to reevaluate long-standing theories in the face of the evolving threat of urban terrorism. Underscoring the threat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) announced that terrorism directed toward U.S. interests is more present and dangerous now than a year or two ago in a December 2013 appearance on CNN.

For more information, email Kevin Keenan at keenank@cofc.edu.

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