Friday, 29 February 2008

Managing Hazards And Disasters: New Theories, New Imperatives

The Portsmouth 2000 Distinguished Lecture in Hazard and Risk Management, Geohazards Research Centre, Faculty of Science, University of Portsmouth, U.K., 17 May 2000

In this paper I will address two linked problems. The first is the status of general theories about hazards and disasters and the second is the question of how knowledge is applied to the urgent practical problems that such events cause.

Disasters have been studied using formal academic methods only since the 1920s. The conceptual underpinnings of the field are therefore young and perhaps incomplete, and its future evolution depends on the renewed development of theory, as this represents the framework within which events and phenomena are interpreted and provides a guide to the choice of research questions. Theory has also been described as a sort of "road map" by which emergency managers orient themselves during the various phases of catastrophe (Drabek 1998).

The dawn of the new millennium is a period of upheaval and transition in human societies and also marks the end of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-2000). It is thus a good point in time to examine progress in the formulation of theory and the practice of managing catastrophes.


A Brief Critique of Existing Theories of Disasters and Hazards

In earlier works (Alexander 1991a, pp. 211-212, 1993, pp. 13-14) I classified approaches to disaster into six schools of thought based on the following disciplines: geography, anthropology, sociology and social psychology, engineering and architecture, medicine and public health, and development studies. To simplify the analysis, the following critique will address only the social science models, as these offer the greatest accumulation of expertise on the human condition in disaster. Though there are significant differences between the approaches of geographers and anthropologists (and rivalries, e.g. Torry 1979, Burton et al. 1981), there is enough overlap to enable these disciplines to be considered together.

The dominant body of theory on hazards and disasters had its origins in the 1920s with the work of Harlan H. Barrows in the USA, which paved the way for the emergence of human ecology (or cultural ecology), and that of Samuel Henry Prince in North America and Pitrim Sorokin in Russia (Sorokin 1942), which led to a sociological approach based on organizational dynamics.

The human ecological model was conceived as a geographical instrument for analyzing people's cohabitation with environmental hazards. It emerged slowly from the 1940s to the 1960s under the guiding hand of Gilbert Fowler White, leading light of the Chicago school of resource geography (Kates and Burton 1986). Subsequently it gathered pace under the impetus of the quantitative and conceptual revolutions that were going on in practically all of the sciences. In essence, the core idea was that people would adapt to hazards that they could not modify in such a way as to reduce their impacts. Adaptation would be based on rational premises, tempered by quirks of perception and preference. It would be expressed both in the pattern of losses and in people's choice of strategy.

At the same time, a sociological model of reaction to hazards emerged. Like cultural ecology it had its origins around 1920 (cf. Prince 1920, Barrows 1923), its early development not long after 1940 (cf. Fritz and Williams 1957, White 1945) and its fastest growth in the 1960s and 1970s (cf. Barton 1970, Burton et al. 1968). According to this model, people would respond to the stress of disasters in rational, socialized ways at the individual, peer group, family, organizational and societal levels. By focusing strongly on classifying human reactions, the model revealed a web of behavior patterns that commonly emerge under the duress of disaster.

Over the last fifty years, work in the social sciences has generated a rich variety of generalizations and observations. But we may ask whether the twin bodies of theory thus accumulated are capable of interpreting a world that is fast changing. Though very widely applied (e.g. Islam 1974), they were mainly developed in order to explain adaptation to hazards in the Anglo-Saxon countries and in a specific epoch, the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the best efforts of eminent practitioners (e.g. Quarantelli 1998), the theoretical side of the subject has tended to stagnate since this period ended.

It is striking that social science models of disaster have evolved overwhelmingly in the United States. At least 80 per cent of general human system research on disasters has been conducted in North America and it is therefore hardly surprising that it reflects the characteristics of North American society (Drabek 1986). The dominant ideology is functionalist and rationalist. It minimizes tradition and historical constraints and emphasizes rapid adaptation to changes in circumstance. Under the functionalist approach, people's reactions to disaster can be interpreted using Herbert Simon's 'bounded rationality' model, which suggests that people seek to do what they regard as right and logical, tempered by their ability to perceive and interpret the hazards that threaten them and the options that are available to them (Simon 1956).

While acknowledging that the human ecological and sociological models of disaster have served us very well, there are various reasons why we might question their bases. For example, European intellectual traditions are more relativist and not as functionalist as their North American counterparts. The dominance of U.S. research on hazards reflects, not only the vitality and large number of the U.S. academic institutions, but also a widespread failure in other parts of the world to come up with theories of hazards that fit local conditions better than North American functionalist models do. It is not that other societies are less rational in their approach to hazards than people are in the USA, it is merely that traditions and viewpoints may interpose subtlely different perspectives and priorities. In short, one must question whether the U.S. social model is an adequate global norm.

Culture and Context in Hazards and Disasters

The root of the problem lies in the interpretation of culture. The term is remarkably difficult to define, as it reflects the sum of traditions, habits, beliefs and reactions for a people whose origins may be intricate, complex or obscure, and which at the very least tends to be multifaceted. it is even harder meaningfully to define the relationship between culture and disaster.

In synthesis, disasters are signal events in the lives of people and communities that survive them. The sum total of such events represents a current of history, which in turn impresses itself in subtle ways upon culture. A purely rational "event and response" analysis of reactions to disaster can easily miss some vital cultural signals that govern the choices made and strategies adopted. This seems to be especially true of societies with deep roots, long histories and much internal cohesion.

For instance, in the Tuscany Region of Italy, floods, earthquakes and landslides are common occurrences. Gradually, painstakingly, civil protection structures and mitigation programs are emerging to counter the threat of damage and casualties in these events (Fontanari et al. 1999). The programs are sensible, rational responses to the need for greater environmental security and public safety, and they conform to most of the usual canons of hazard management. However, when one looks at the social mechanisms involved in their creation, great emphasis is given to the achievement of an adequate political consensus among a restricted group of influential people, each of whom has a particular set of expectations and priorities. Disaster prevention therefore begins with intensive negotiation and consensus-building. It has been so in Tuscany for centuries.

Functionalist approaches to hazards often seem to miss such subtleties, or to lack the means of interpreting them. Indeed, work by geographers and sociologists who have attempted to circumscribe and interpret the cultural influence on society's adaptation to hazards have produced results that are at best crude and at worst naive (Palm 1998). This is because the instruments created for functional analysis are poorly adapted to picking up the cultural signal (Alexander 1991b). In an original approach to this problem, Brislin (1980) distinguished between 'etic' and 'emic' components of hazard perception, the former of universal application and the latter culturally specific. Functionalist social sciences tend to assume that humanity is governed by etic principles (which up to a point is true) and that emic ones are merely local variations on the grand, unifying theme. Especially for societies with ancient roots, this generalization is suspect.

In the lives of people who live through them, disasters are milestones, points of reference and yardsticks by which subsequent experience is measured. For society as a whole, catastrophic events are absorbed into the matrix of history, which forms the background of culture (Figure 1). They thus exert an indirect influence upon the latter by contributing to its historical context, often in subtle ways. A history of frequent earthquakes can disseminate latent anxiety in a society for decades (Hansen and Condon 1989), or it can lead to periodic renewals of religious fervour, or to fashions for monument-building (Kates and Pijawka 1977).

Cultural Survival and Cultural Dynamism

Culture is a fundamental determinant of how hazards are perceived. It governs, in part, the efficiency of mitigation programs and emergency measures, and the pattern of human organization to tackle hazards. We might therefore say that culture mediates attempts to reduce the impact of disasters. But it is also made up of two components: cultural survival and cultural dynamism. The former represents the weight of history, tradition and conservatism, hence the emic aspects. The latter refers to the spread of new cultural values, the etic aspects, and the metamorphosis of old ones as they encounter new influences and as the social context alters (Figure 2). In a world that is changing rapidly, 'culture' and 'context' become key factors in this process. Cultural metamorphosis is leading human societies everywhere to struggle with the relentless pace of technological development and the radical reordering of the world economic system in order to interpret such developments in the context of their traditional beliefs, customs and coping strategies.

Consider the following paradoxes of modernity:-

(a) Ninety per cent of international money transfers are speculative, 80 per cent of them with a return time of less than a week. Collectively, 358 billionaires are richer than 45 per cent of the world's population. 'Income redistribution' is thus a very relative term.

(b) Income differentials more than doubled in the second half of the 20th century and in the final decades 89 countries experienced decline in national wealth. 'Equity' is thus a very relative term.
(c) Since 1945, between 25 and 50 million people have died in about 300 conflicts. In recent wars about 84 per cent of casualties have been non-combatants, especially women and children. In all of this period there have been only 126 days of global peace. 'Security' is thus a very relative term.

(d) Half of the people in the world have never used a telephone and more than 97 per cent are not Internet users. 'Information technology revolution' is thus a very relative term.
In a world in which capital has gained the upper hand over labour, the processes that reinforce differentials have strengthened, while those that reduce them have weakened in relative terms (Albala-Bertrand 1993). It is therefore hardly surprising that the toll of suffering and losses caused by disasters has increased. As a result of this growing polarization, the demands that people face are resolving themselves into two groups: the wealthy are challenged to take advantage of the new opportunities that technology and globalism are providing, while the poor are challenged merely to survive. Sophisticated mechanisms keep these processes going, despite the apparent simplicity and relatively small sums of money required to reduce suffering. The pattern of extreme geophysical events may be well-distributed among the world's 200 nations, but nine out of every ten catastrophes and 96 per cent of casualties occur in poorer nations, and especially among marginalized groups (IFRCRCS 1999, p. 7). Even in places where capital flows freely, the seriousness of damage and the complexity of losses merely illustrate how fragile and unprotected much current technology actually is.

Technological hegemony and global capitalism have polarized world society and culture. This, then, is the emerging matrix in which to set a new model designed to interpret hazards and disasters.

Towards a New Model of Hazards and Disasters

The 'classical' model of natural hazards developed from the 1940s to the 1970s by Gilbert White and his students proposed a linear chain of causality that runs from physical events to human consequences, mediated by humanity's tendency to put itself voluntarily or involuntarily at risk (Burton et al. 1993). The model is summarized by the following syllogism:-

Extreme geophysical events
act upon
human vulnerability and risk-taking
to produce
casualties and damage

White's aim was to take the field away from excessive reliance on technological mitigation and reintroduce the social aspects connected with non-structural measures, such as land-use control and insurance. But the linear pattern of causality in this model has tended nonetheless to favour technocentrism, as it is implicitly assumed that abating hazards will reduce vulnerability.

By treating social relations in a functionalist way, the sociological approaches to disaster have been no less dependent on this form of causal model. It has also been suggested that traditional sociology, born with the Industrial Revolution, was developed to justify the forms of capitalism that have propagated the technocentric approach to hazard management, not to criticize them (Anderson 1997, p. 4). In the world's poorer countries technocentrism in development and hazard mitigation have often led to the opposite of what was intended, i.e. the spread of increased vulnerability and the reduction of traditional coping mechanisms.

By the 1980s a 'radical critique' had emerged to counter what had become the orthodox view of hazards (Hewitt 1983). In this, vulnerability was treated as a more significant cause of disaster than hazards such as earthquakes, floods or chemical explosions (Blaikie et al. 1984). This model can be summarized as follows:-

Society's risk-taking and vulnerability
interact with
extreme geophysical events
to produce
casualties and damage

While one is justified in assuming that more vulnerable communities suffer greater losses, the problem with this model lies in the high degree of confusion and overlap between the terms 'hazard', 'vulnerability' and 'risk', each of which enjoys a range of subtle interpretations (Alexander 2000, pp. 7-22). The model also tends to reduce hazard mitigation to a mechanistic process of vulnerability reduction. As vulnerability is not a simple function of poverty (Cannon 1994), the model encourages superficiality in the analysis of why communities are vulnerable in the first place, which may have as much to do with culture and the yoke of history as it does to average incomes, gross domestic product or investment ratios.

As culture and context offer a route to further insight into hazards, an alternative model is needed based on these concepts. It might be summarized as follows:-

Extreme geophysical events
cumulatively offer a
historical and cultural context
that helps determine the nature of
adaptation to risk and disaster
which influences the toll of
casualties and damage

In this, the toll of casualties and damage results from the interaction of three factors: the nature of culture and society, the forces of socio-economic change, and the impact of extreme geophysical events.

In its details, this model is governed by opposing tendencies. As time progresses, culture is metamorphosed from the product of emic cultural survivals and etic cultural dynamism (Figure 2). Technological developments, which are the driving force of the latter, both create and mitigate vulnerability to disaster (Figure 3). Thus the cultural background of society, and the cultural filter through which hazard information is interpreted and adapted to, are continually changing as the balance between risk and mitigation alters.

Further development of the model depends on one's ability to codify and evaluate factors that contribute to the tension of opposites in the modern world (Figure 4), especially with respect to the factors that increase vulnerability in relation to those that reduce it (Alexander 2000, p. 246).


The practical application of knowledge about disasters

In no field are practical applications more important than they are in disaster research. In fact, applicability is usually a good test of the value of new ideas. At present, hazard mitigation, disaster planning and emergency management are all developing with unparallelled speed and intensity. This is giving rise to new demands, especially in terms of training and the sharing of knowledge, but there is considerable unevenness in the extent to which accumulated knowledge is being applied.

Overall, the degree to which knowledge about hazards and disasters acquired over the last half century has been applied varies from one school of thought to another. By and large, mitigation lessons have been learned in the physical sciences and engineering disciplines—often the hard way, as inefficiencies in design have led directly to avoidable damage and casualties. Many research institutions have developed programs for the critical analysis of failure, for example, by conducting post-earthquake surveys (Hays 1986). Furthermore, there is no shortage of expertise on seismic, volcanic, meteorological hydrological monitoring practices (e.g. McGuire et al. 1994). Similarly, there have been strenuous efforts in the development studies field to apply the results of studies and improve the work of safeguarding the world's poorer communities against disaster (Anderson and Woodrow 1989). There have also been widespread improvements in disaster medicine and epidemiology (Manni 1989).

Yet the situation is not so clear cut with respect to the social sciences. Given that there is no lack of mitigation technology, it is perhaps more important to learn how to apply it more widely and efficiently than it is to invent novel technical solutions. This is true even though the increasing technological complexity of society tends to demand intricate new means of safeguarding it. The social sciences therefore have a pivotal role to play in analyzing the conditions needed for the application of useful knowledge, examining why and where it is not being utilized, and helping to create the conditions for better mitigation. They can and should fulfill the role of critical watchdog on the use of technology in disaster mitigation. They should help determine the most appropriate balance between structural and non-structural measures (Denis 1997).

The rest of this section will consider four examples of the challenges and pitfalls associated with making the world safer against major hazards: the question of rising costs and losses; increasing diffusion of information technology to mitigate the impacts of disaster; the role of education and training for emergency management; and the delicate relationship between disasters and democracy.

Relentless Rise in the Cost of Disasters

Since 1970 the cost of the world's most expensive disaster has risen by one order of magnitude per decade (Alexander 2000, p. 157). Moreover, in the last half of the 20th century, the total cost of major disasters rose by a factor of 15.3 and insured losses by a factor of 16 (Figure 5; Munich Re 1999). It is widely recognized that the economic impact of catastrophes is out of control, and not merely because increasingly sophisticated methods of calculation now include more aspects of loss than was the case in 1950. In fact, in industrialized countries the spread of capital and technology across hazard zones has lead to increased risk-taking, while in developing nations debt repayments and armaments sales have led to increased instability and marginalization.

Rapidly escalating costs have come at a time of increasing fiscal stringency. The increasing tendency to devolve government powers for disaster mitigation has not been matched by ability to fund the initiatives well at lower levels of government (Roenigk 1993). The problem that has stimulated much creative thinking (May et al. 1996) but probably has no easy solution. Moreover, privatization is seldom an option, as companies are usually unwilling to assume the risks associated with confronting disasters. Yet benefit-cost ratios for majorhazard abatement are almost always positive and sometimes highly so (Ouellette et al. 1988). It is therefore paradoxical that mitigation has not kept pace with rising losses.

Third world countries have experienced conflict between the goals of short-term emergency management and long-term economic development (IFRCRCS 1999, pp. 52-3), while industrialized nations have not found adequate sources of capital to finance mitigation measures (Kunreuther and Roth 1998). In both settings, market forces have not proved efficient at guaranteeing individual freedoms while discouraging excessive risk-taking, and this is likely to remain so until the predicted $3.2 trillion Japanese earthquake sets the world's financial markets on end (RMS 1995) and the tide of risk management turns. In the meantime, disaster losses are evidently a supportable tax for investors but are an unavoidable—and increasing—burden for the poor. International assistance has declined since the mid-1990s to barely 0.2 per cent of donor countries' GNPs (IFRCRCS 1999, p. 102) and technology and expertise have not been adequately transferred to where they is most needed.

As these tendencies offer no hope of long-term sustainability, they will have to be reversed sooner or later. However, despite talk of debt relief, and despite many new global initiatives for hazard reduction, at present there is no sense that the problem of building community resistance to disasters is about to be solved (Hendrickson 1998). The world's financial markets have refused a 0.25 per cent tax on international capital transfers, which would have provided a substantial pool of funds for development and mitigation in the poorer countries (Alexander 2000, p. 131). At the same time, most of the sources of instability and unsustainability are still there and many have, if anything, continued to intensify (IFRCRCS 1998, Ch. 2).

Economic trends have become increasingly bound up with the electronic flow of data and hence it is apposite to examine the impact of the new information technologies on disaster preparedness and emergency work.

Information Technology Revolution

The increasing use of information technology is an almost universal trend in disaster management. Software has been written to assist functions during each of the phases of disaster (mitigation, preparedness, emergency management, recovery and reconstruction; Fischer 1998). For instance, there are programs to aid search-and-rescue missions and to log emergency communications. Geographic information systems, in particular, have become popular means of depicting both patterns of vulnerability to disaster and spatial aspects of emergency response (Coppock 1995). GIS has been combined with predictive models of building response and emergency actions to predict casualties for specific events such as earthquakes (FEMA 1997). Increasingly, expert systems are being used to improve decision-making in the stressful and difficult circumstances created by emergencies (Comfort 1999, pp. 177-8).

The main advantage of computerizing emergency functions is ability to process large quantities of data rapidly and efficiently. Intelligent use of well-designed computer programs is thus a substantial aid to disaster prevention and management. They help make sense out of apparent chaos by synthesizing and classifying data under the assumption that it is possible adequately to predict what will happen in disaster and to anticipate the main informational needs. The principal risk is one of over-reliance on abstract procedures, which can render emergency management artificial and therefore less, not more, efficient.

Disaster heightens the paradox of the information age: there is a plethora of data but a shortage of information on what one really needs to know. Though it is indeed probable that current forecasts will prove correct and civil protection will undergo a wide-ranging information technology revolution (Gruntfest and Weber 1998), there is a substantial risk that it will be a hollow victory, rich in quantity but poor in quality, for subtle problems that have defied neat solutions for centuries will not yield easily to abstract codification by programmers. There is no substitute for experience and direct contact with problems in the field. Nevertheless, there are signs that information technology will fill several important gaps in training. First, a large number of Internet sites which deal with hazards and disasters (at least 650 at present—see NOAA Disaster Finder at ndrd/disaster/) will help remedy a widespread shortage of basic knowledge. Secondly, distance learning offers a useful solution to the problem of how to train large numbers of people in the rudiments of hazard and emergency management. In this respect, progress is currently far slower than both the potential of the method and the forecast demand would warrant.

Mention of the potential for new methods of training and education prompts a closer examination of this topic.

Education and Training

A fundamental aim of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction has been to increase the quantity and quality of training programmes for disaster preparedness and management. There is currently intense interest in this objective, and courses are being inaugurated in many parts of the world. There are, however, problems, which are mainly those one would expect from a new field of enquiry.

To begin with, there are no international standards or protocols on what should be taught in courses and how people should be trained, even with respect to limited and specific goals, such as instruction for specific jobs. Something like an ISO standard is probably needed in order to specify the content of general emergency planning courses, and another for the training of disaster managers. There is currently immense variability in the duration, content, methodology and quality of training programmes. There is also much variability in what instructors know and what students learn. This inhibits the international—indeed, often the regional—exchange of technical information, expertise and personnel. It also means that, for the most part, professional standards of planning and management cannot adequately be guaranteed.

Counter-disaster training has burgeoned in diverse parts of the world: Australia, India, the Caribbean, northern Europe, the northern Mediterranean countries, North America, and so on. But even in the USA, where it is perhaps the most highly developed, only about 2 per cent of universities and colleges have degree, diploma, certificate or post-graduate courses on emergencies and 4 per cent offer lesser forms of instruction (Figure 6). In order to ensure the supply of adequately trained workers, stronger institutions are needed at the world level to promote and coordinate professional training with adequate standards.

One particular characteristic of counter-disaster training is that it depends on a complementary mixture of experience and theory. Many courses tend to have plenty of one or the other, but it is rare to encounter both in adequate measure in the same training scheme. International procedures have not yet been developed formally to evaluate and utilize experience of disaster planning and management in pedagogy. This is yet another area in which we are still feeling our way.

As the next section will show, training for professional disaster managers is linked to the question of public education and participation in mitigation efforts, and this in turn responds to the question of how disasters fit in with the exercise of democratic principles.

Disasters and Democracy

One of the lessons of the late 20th century is that disasters are about democracy (Platt 1999). The challenge of the next half-century is to ensure that democratic principles are applied to disaster management in order to guarantee justice and equity for the survivors of these events.

Democracy is also a fundamental consideration in the emergence of catastrophe mitigation systems. In many countries civil protection structures only matured after the end of the Cold War, which had inhibited their development. The main reason for this was that disaster management tends to require sweeping powers: laws for the maintenance of public order, special procedures for passing temporary or highly specific legal instruments quickly, means of increasing the strength of police forces, and so on. With respect to the progenitor of civil protection, civil defence, it is hard to dispel the lingering suspicion that the structures were often created, not to protect the people, but to protect the state, if necessary against the people. In Turkey, for instance, that situation has persisted into the present day: the national civil protection agency is headed by a three-star general and specifically exists to safeguard the integrity of the state. In many countries that were bound up with the Cold War, the forces in the field and the sophisticated communications systems associated with civil defence could have been used either to defend the state against a coup d'ĂȘtat or to promote one. Hence, many political leaders were reluctant to develop them beyond a certain point.

The end of the Cold War led to the widespread formulation or revision of basic legal instruments for civil protection, for example in Italy (Law no. 225 of 1992) and the United States (the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Assistance Act of 1993). Such laws are necessary in order to determine the extent of government liability for and involvement in disaster response. They are a fundamental part of any guarantee that survivors will be treated equitably.

The approaches to disaster relief tend to fall between two extremes. On the one hand assistance is offered to all who need it, irrespective of risk-taking culpability, while, on the other, only victims who have made specific efforts to reduce their exposure to risk are fully indemnified. It is generally considered that improvement in mitigation is represented by progress from the former towards the latter approach. This, however, tends to reflect North American concepts of personal self-sufficiency. It does not consider the use of disaster aid as a means of redistributing wealth from rich to poor people.

This leads on to a further problem, the relative extent of involvement in disaster response of the various levels of government (here considered in simplified form as national, regional and local, where regional may mean state, province, country, etc., and local usually means municipal or metropolitan). Faced with steeply rising costs of disaster reduction and management, national governments have tended to pass increasing proportions of the responsibility down to lower levels of civil administration, but not to increase funding commensurably. Problems of providing services at the local level have been compounded by equivocacy in the roles of local and regional governments, and even more so where there is more than one intermediate level (such as regions and counties), and where special forms of autonomy exist. The situation is fluid and offers no clear signs of what the final outcome will be. All that can be said with certainty is that further massive losses in disaster will stimulate greater expenditures on civil protection in a way that governments can ill afford, if they have made pledges to reduce taxation, but can ill afford to renounce, if they want the electorate to regard them as compassionate.

The challenge of the 2000s is to involve the general public more in disaster prevention. The Japanese lead the way, and the Chinese have worked hard at this problem in a less sophisticated manner. However, Western nations have not succeeded very well in such endeavours. Conceptions of individual liberty cloud the issue. As a result, freedom to take risks, especially voluntary ones, is not always matched by the obligation to take full responsibility for them. The so-called "forgiveness money"—disbursement of public money to voluntary risk takers who have suffered losses—is officially frowned upon but remains extremely common because of such people are also voters and their favour has to be curried.

A further challenge is to make full use of the political "window of opportunity" that opens when disaster occurs (Solecki and Michaels 1994). It is axiomatic that most significant legislation on hazards and disasters follows specific large events: for example, the Stafford Disaster Assistance Act (1993) came after Hurricane Andrew (August 1992), at that time the most expensive disaster to have occurred in the USA. When catastrophe strikes there is enhanced public and political support for mitigation measures, but programmes cannot be designed overnight. Given that the broad pattern of catastrophes is remarkably predictable, there is unutilized scope for foresightedness: not merely should mitigation plans rely on average circumstances, they should be flexible enough to take advantage of unusual opportunities for funding and participation. Despite initiatives like the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's 'Project Impact', which brings together a wide range of participants in designing hazard mitigation measures, remarkably little expertise has accrued on how better to utilize the post-disaster 'window of opportunity'.



Although there are plenty of exceptions, as a rule, civil protection professionals in the field tend to have little time for academics, and the latter tend to have little appreciation of the imperatives of disaster management. This failure to meet half way is a tragedy in its own right. Theoretical and abstract thinking are useful to the practice of civil protection in ways that front-line practitioners may not realize. On the other hand, abstraction can benefit greatly for the injections of realism derived from field experience.

From the academic point of view, the study of hazards and disasters does not require an interdisciplinary approach, which implies respect for disciplinary boundaries, but a non-disciplinary one, which seeks to overcome the burden of academic territoriality. The approach should be determined by the exigencies of the problem, not the methodological mind-set of the problem solver. This requires a drastic change, not only in how disasters are perceived, but how novitiates are taught to view them. Once again progress has been slow, and it has been retarded by rearguard attempts to defend academic and professional territory against the lateral approach that links specific aspects of diverse bodies of knowledge over a broad compass. By compartmentalizing analysis along the lines of traditional academic disciplines, the traditional, linear view of disasters as proceeding from physical hazard, through human vulnerability to impacts (see above) tends to foster the wrong approach. New models should not seek to reconquer intellectual territory, but should look for new and more solvable ways of conceptualizing problems. An emphasis on culture and context may aid this by reminding us that even problem solving takes place within the context of specific academic and professional cultures.

From the professional point of view, more rigorous and universal standards are urgently required for both training and emergency procedures. In this context one is left with the feeling that more could have been achieved by the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, and one hopes that its successor, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), will do better. Exchange of information and expertise needs not only to be increased but also to be guided towards a more formal pursuit of common benefit.

Finally, all people involved in emergency management need to recognize that reducing the toll of disasters depends on creating and successfully launching new initiatives to improve political consensus, public participation, and economic commitment with regard to disaster mitigation. This is the challenge for the new century.


Albala-Bertrand, J.M. 1993. The Political Economy of Large Natural Disasters, With Special Reference to Developing Countries. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 275 pp.

Alexander, D.E. 1991a. Natural disasters: a framework for research and teaching. Disasters 15(3): 209-226.

Alexander, D.E. 1991b. Applied geomorphology and the impact of natural hazards on the built environment. Natural Hazards 4(1): 57-80.

Alexander, D.E. 1993. Natural Disasters. UCL Press, London, Kluwer, Boston, 632 pp.

Alexander, D.E. 2000. Confronting Catastrophe: New Perspectives on Natural Disasters. Terra Publishing, Harpenden, UK; Oxford University Press, New York, 280 pp.

Anderson, A. 1997. Media, Culture and the Environment. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 229 pp.

Anderson, M. and P. Woodrow 1989. Rising from the Ashes: Developing Strategies in Times of Disaster. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 338 pp.

Barrows, H.H. 1923. Geography as human ecology. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 13: 1-14.

Barton, A.M. 1970. Communities in Disaster: A Sociological Analysis of Collective Stress Situations. Anchor Books, Garden City, New York.

Blaikie, P., T. Cannon, I. Davis and B. Wisner 1994. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability and Disasters. Routledge, London, 320 pp.

Brislin, R.W. 1980. Cross-cultural research methods: strategies, problems, applications. In I. Altman, A. Rapoport and J.F. Wohwill (eds) Human Behavior and Environment, Vol. 4, Environment and Culture. Plenum Press, New York: 47-82.

Burton, I., R.W. Kates and G.F. White 1968. The Human Ecology of Extreme Geophysical Events. Working Paper no. 1. Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, 37 pp.

Burton, I., R.W. Kates and G.F. White 1981. The future of hazard research: a reply to William I. Torry. Canadian Geographer 25(3): 286-289.

Burton, I., R.W. Kates and G.F. White 1993. The Environment as Hazard (2nd edn). Guilford Press, New York, 304 pp.

Cannon, T. 1994. Vulnerability analysis and the explanation of 'natural' disasters. In A. Varley (ed.) Disasters, Development and Environment. Wiley, Chichester, UK: 13-30.

Comfort, L.K. 1999. The impact of information technology upon disaster mitigation and management. In P. Fontanari, S. Pittino, D. Alexander and S. Boncinelli (eds) La Protezione Civile verso gli Anni 2000. Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Florence, Italy: 171-180.

Coppock, J.T. 1995. GIS and natural hazards: an overview from a GIS perspective. In A. Carrara and F. Guzzetti (eds) Geographical Information Systems in Assessing Natural Hazards. Kluwer, Dordrecht: 21-34.

Denis, H. 1997. Technology, structure and culture in disaster management: coping with uncertainty. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 15(2): 293-308.

Drabek, T.E. 1986. Human System Response to Disaster: An Inventory of Sociological Findings. Springer-Verlag, New York, 509 pp.

Drabek, T.E. 1998. Sociology of disasters course. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington, D.C.

FEMA 1997. HAZUS: Earthquake Loss Estimation Methdology User's Manual. National Institute of Building Sciences, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington, D.C., 4 vols.

Fischer, H.W. III 1998. The role of the new information technologies in emergency mitigation, planning, response and recovery. Disaster Prevention and Management 7(1): 28-37.

Fontanari, P., S. Pittino, D. Alexander and S. Boncinelli (eds) 1999. La Protezione Civile verso gli Anni 2000. Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Florence, Italy, 405 pp.

Fritz, C.E. and H.B. Williams 1957. The human being in disasters: a research perspective. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 309: 42-51.

Gruntfest, E. and M. Weber 1998. Internet and emergency management: prospects for the future. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 16(1): 55-72.

Hansen, G. and E. Condon 1989. Denial of Disaster: The Untold Story and Photographs of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Cameron, San Francisco.

Hays, W.W. 1986. The importance of post-earthquake investigations. Earthquake Spectra 2(3): 653-668.

Hendrickson, D. 1998. Humanitarian action in protracted crisis: an overview of the debates and dilemmas. Disasters 22(4): 283-287.

Hewitt, K. 1983. The idea of calamity in a technocratic age. In K. Hewitt (ed.) Interpretations of Calamity. Unwin-Hyman, London: 3-32.

IFRCRCS 1998. World Disasters Report 1998. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 198 pp.

IFRCRCS 1999. World Disasters Report 1999. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva, 198 pp.

Islam, M.A. 1974. Tropical cyclones: coastal Bangladesh. In G.F. White (ed.) Natural Hazards, Local, National, Global. Oxford University Press, New York: 19-25.

Kates, R.W. and I. Burton (eds) 1986. Geography, Resources and Environment. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (2 vols).

Kates, R.W. and D. Pijawka 1977. From rubble to monument: the pace of reconstruction. In J.E. Haas, R.W. Kates and M.J. Bowden (eds) Disaster and Reconstruction. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1-23.

Kunreuther, H. and R.J. Roth Sr (eds) 1998. Paying the Price: the Status and Role of Insurance Against Natural Disasters in the United States. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 320 pp.

Manni, C. (ed.) 1989. Disaster medicine: a new discipline or a new approach. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 4(2).

May, P.M., R.J. Burby, J. Dixon, N. Ericksen, J. Handmer, S. Michaels and D.I. Smith 1996. Environmental Management and Governance: Intergovernmental Approaches to Hazards and Sustainability. Routledge, London.

McGuire, W.J., C.R.J. Kilburn and J.B. Murray (eds) 1994. Monitoring Active Volcanoes. UCL Press, London.

Munich Re 1999. Topics 2000. Natural Catastrophes: The Current Position. Geoscience Research Group, Munich Reinsurance, Munich, 126 pp.

Ouellette, P., D. Leblanc, N. El-Jabi and J. Rouselle 1988. Cost-benefit analysis of flood-plain zoning. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 114(3): 326-334.

Palm, R. 1998. Urban earthquake hazards: the impact of culture on perceived risk and response in the USA and Japan. Applied Geography 18(1): 35-46.

Platt, R.H. 1999. Disasters and Democracy: The Politics of Extreme Natural Events. Island Press, Washington, D.C., 320 pp.

Prince, S.H. 1920. Catastrophe and social change: based upon a sociological study of the Halifax disaster. Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law 94: 1-152.

Quarantelli, E.L. (ed.) 1998. What is a Disaster? Perspectives on the Question. Routledge, London, 312 pp.

RMS 1995. What if the 1923 Earthquake Strikes Again? A Five-Prefecture Tokyo Region Scenario. Risk Management Solutions, Inc., Menlo Park, California.

Roenigk, D.J. 1993. Federal disaster relief and local government financial condition. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 11(2): 207-225.

Simon, H.A. 1956. Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychological Review 63: 129-138.

Solecki, W.D. and S. Michaels 1994. Looking through the post-disaster policy window. Environmental Management 18(4): 587-595.

Sorokin, P.A. 1942. Man and Society in Calamity: The Effects of War, Revolution, Famine, Pestilence Upon Human Mind, Behavior, Social Organization and Cultural Life. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 353 pp.

Torry, W.I. 1979. Hazards, hazes and holes: a critique of 'The Environment as Hazard' and general reflections on disaster research. Canadian Geographer 23(4): 368-383.

White, G.F. 1945. Human Adjustment to Floods: A Geographical Approach to the Flood Problem in the United States. Research Paper no. 29. Department of Geography, University of Chicago, 225 pp.