Federico Marco Federici
Communication underpins all phases of disaster risk reduction: it is at the heart of risk mitigation, by increasing resilience and preparedness, and by interacting with affected communities in the response phase and throughout the reconstruction and recovery after a disaster. Communication does not alter the scope or severity of a disaster triggered by natural hazards, but the extent to which risk reduction strategies impact on affected regions depends greatly on existing differences inherent in the society of these regions. Ethnic minorities and multilingual language groups―which are not always one and the same―may become vulnerable groups when there has been little or no planning or no awareness of the impact of limited access to trustworthy information when the disaster strikes.
Furthermore, large-scale disasters are likely to involve personnel from the humanitarian sector from both local and international offices. Communication in most large-scale events has progressively become multilingual; from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is expected that large disasters see collaboration between intergovernmental, governmental, local, national, and international entities that operate in different ways in rescue and relief operations. Regardless of linguistic contexts, communication of reliable information in a trustworthy manner is complex to achieve in the aftermath of a disaster, which may instantaneously affect telecommunication infrastructures (overloading VOIP and GPS systems). From coordination to information, clear communication plays a role in any activity intending to reduce risks, damages, morbidity, and mortality. Achieving clear communication in crisis management is a feat in a monolingual context: people from different organizations and with different capacities in multi-agency operations have at least a common language, nonetheless, terminology varies from one organization to another, thus hampering successful communication. Achieving effective and clear communication with multilingual communities, while using one language (or lingua franca), such as English, Arabic, Spanish, or Hindi, depending on the region, is impossible without due consideration to language translation.
Ricardo Marten, Theresa Abrassart, and Camillo Boano
The establishment of effective linkages between institutional urban planning and disaster risk strategies remains a challenge for formal governance structures. For governments at all administrative scales, disaster resilience planning has required systemic capacities that rely on structures of governance, humanitarian frameworks, and budgetary capacities. However, with growing urbanization trends, humanitarian responses and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) frameworks have had to adapt their operations in contexts with high population density, complex infrastructure systems, informal dynamics, and a broader range of actors. Urban areas concentrate an array of different groups with the capability of contributing to urban responses and strategies to cope with disaster effects, including community groups, government agencies, international organizations and humanitarian practitioners. In addition, cities have running planning structures that support their administration and spatial organization, with instruments that supply constant information about population characteristics, infrastructure capacity and potential weaknesses. Processes and data ascribed to urban planning can provide vital knowledge to natural hazard governance frameworks, from technical resources to conceptual approaches towards spatial analysis. Authorities managing risk could improve their strategic objectives if they could access and integrate urban planning information. Furthermore, a collaborative hazard governance can provide equity to multiple urban actors that are usually left out of institutional DRM, including nongovernmental organizations, academia, and community groups. Traditional top-down models can operate in parallel with horizontal arrangements, giving voice to groups with limited access to political platforms but who are knowledgeable on urban space and social codes. Their still limited recognition is evidence that there is still a disconnect between the intentions of global frameworks for inclusive governance, and the co-production of an urban planning designed for inclusive resilience.
Large-scale displacement takes place in the context of disaster because the threat or occurrence of hazard onset makes the region of residence of a population uninhabitable, either temporarily or permanently. Contributing to that outcome, the wide array of disaster events is invariably complicated by human institutions and practices that can contribute to large-scale population displacements. Growing trends of socially driven exposure and vulnerability around the world as well as the global intensification and frequency of climate-related hazards have increased both the incidence and the likelihood of large-scale population dislocations in the near future. However, legally binding international and national accords and conventions have not yet been put in place to deal with the serious impacts, and material, health-related, and sociocultural losses and human rights violations that are experienced by the millions of people being swept up in the events and processes of disasters and mass population displacements. Effective policy development is challenged by the increasing complexity of disaster risk and occurrence as well as issues of causation, adequate information, lack of capacity, and legal responsibility. States, international organizations, state and international development and aid agencies must frame, define, and categorize appropriately disaster forced displacement and resettlement to influence effective institutional responses in emergency humanitarian assistance, transitional shelter and care, and durable solutions in managing migration and resettlement if return is not possible. The forms that disaster-associated forced displacements are projected to take and corresponding national responses are explored in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in Sri Lanka, a massive disaster in a nation riven by civil conflict; Hurricane Katrina of 2005 in the United States, where the scale and nature of displacement bore little relation to hazard intensity; and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and nuclear exposure incident exemplifying the emerging trend of complex, concatenating, multihazard disasters that bring about large-scale population displacements.
Populations that are rendered socially invisible by their relegation to realms that are excluded—either physically or experientially—from the rest of society tend to similarly be left out of community disaster planning, often with dire consequences. Older adults, persons with disabilities, linguistic minorities, and other socially marginalized groups face amplified risks that translate into disproportionately negative outcomes when disasters strike. Moreover, these disparities are often reproduced in the aftermath of disasters, further reinforcing preexisting inequities. Even well-intentioned approaches to disaster service delivery have historically homogenized and segregated distinct populations under the generic moniker of “special needs,” thereby undermining their own effectiveness at serving those in need.
The access and functional needs perspective has been promoted within the emergency management field as a practical and inclusive means of accommodating a range of functional capacities in disaster planning. This framework calls for operationalizing needs into specific mechanisms of functional support that can be applied at each stage of the disaster lifecycle. Additionally, experts have emphasized the need to engage advocacy groups, organizations that routinely serve socially marginalized populations, and persons with activity limitations themselves to identify support needs. Incorporating these diverse entities into the planning process can help to build stronger, more resilient communities.
Jonathan J. Gourley and Robert A. Clark III
Flash floods are one of the world’s deadliest and costliest weather-related natural hazards. In the United States alone, they account for an average of approximately 80 fatalities per year. Damages to crops and infrastructure are particularly costly. In 2015 alone, flash floods accounted for over $2 billion of losses; this was nearly half the total cost of damage caused by all weather hazards. Flash floods can be either pluvial or fluvial, but their occurrence is primarily driven by intense rainfall. Predicting the specific locations and times of flash floods requires a multidisciplinary approach because the severity of the impact depends on meteorological factors, surface hydrologic preconditions and controls, spatial patterns of sensitive infrastructure, and the dynamics describing how society is using or occupying the infrastructure.
Real-time flash flood forecasting systems rely on the observations and/or forecasts of rainfall, preexisting soil moisture and river-stage states, and geomorphological characteristics of the land surface and subsurface. The design of the forecast systems varies across the world in terms of their forcing, methodology, forecast horizon, and temporal and spatial scales. Their diversity can be attributed at least partially to the availability of observing systems and numerical weather prediction models that provide information at relevant scales regarding the location, timing, and severity of impending flash floods. In the United States, the National Weather Service (NWS) has relied upon the flash flood guidance (FFG) approach for decades. This is an inverse method in which a hydrologic model is run under differing rainfall scenarios until flooding conditions are reached. Forecasters then monitor observations and forecasts of rainfall and issue warnings to the public and local emergency management communities when the rainfall amounts approach or exceed FFG thresholds. This technique has been expanded to other countries throughout the world. Another approach, used in Europe, relies on model forecasts of heavy rainfall, where anomalous conditions are identified through comparison of the forecast cumulative rainfall (in space and time) with a 20-year archive of prior forecasts. Finally, explicit forecasts of flash flooding are generated in real time across the United States based on estimates of rainfall from a national network of weather radar systems.
Like any other species, Homo sapiens can potentially go extinct. This risk is an existential risk: a threat to the entire future of the species (and possible descendants). While anthropogenic risks may contribute the most to total extinction risk natural hazard events can plausibly cause extinction.
Historically, end-of-the-world scenarios have been popular topics in most cultures. In the early modern period scientific discoveries of changes in the sky, meteors, past catastrophes, evolution and thermodynamics led to the understanding that Homo sapiens was a species among others and vulnerable to extinction. In the 20th century, anthropogenic risks from nuclear war and environmental degradation made extinction risks more salient and an issue of possible policy. Near the end of the century an interdisciplinary field of existential risk studies emerged.
Human extinction requires a global hazard that either destroys the ecological niche of the species or harms enough individuals to reduce the population below a minimum viable size. Long-run fertility trends are highly uncertain and could potentially lead to overpopulation or demographic collapse, both contributors to extinction risk.
Astronomical extinction risks include damage to the biosphere due to radiation from supernovas or gamma ray bursts, major asteroid or comet impacts, or hypothesized physical phenomena such as stable strange matter or vacuum decay. The most likely extinction pathway would be a disturbance reducing agricultural productivity due to ozone loss, low temperatures, or lack of sunlight over a long period. The return time of extinction-level impacts is reasonably well characterized and on the order of millions of years. Geophysical risks include supervolcanism and climate change that affects global food security. Multiyear periods of low or high temperature can impair agriculture enough to stress or threaten the species. Sufficiently radical environmental changes that lead to direct extinction are unlikely. Pandemics can cause species extinction, although historical human pandemics have merely killed a fraction of the species.
Extinction risks are amplified by systemic effects, where multiple risk factors and events conspire to increase vulnerability and eventual damage. Human activity plays an important role in aggravating and mitigating these effects.
Estimates from natural extinction rates in other species suggest an overall risk to the species from natural events smaller than 0.15% per century, likely orders of magnitude smaller. However, due to the current situation with an unusually numerous and widely dispersed population the actual probability is hard to estimate. The natural extinction risk is also likely dwarfed by the extinction risk from human activities.
Many extinction hazards are at present impossible to prevent or even predict, requiring resilience strategies. Many risks have common pathways that are promising targets for mitigation. Endurance mechanisms against extinction may require creating refuges that can survive the disaster and rebuild. Because of the global public goods and transgenerational nature of extinction risks plus cognitive biases there is a large undersupply of mitigation effort despite strong arguments that it is morally imperative.
Recent extreme hydrological events (e.g., in the United States in 2005 or 2012, Pakistan in 2010, and Thailand in 2011) revealed increasing flood risks due to climate and societal change. Consequently, the roles of multiple stakeholders in flood risk management have transformed significantly. A central aspect here is the question of sharing responsibilities among global, national, regional, and local stakeholders in organizing flood risk management of all kinds. This new policy agenda of sharing responsibilities strives to delegate responsibilities and costs from the central government to local authorities, and from public administration to private citizens. The main reasons for this decentralization are that local authorities can deal more efficiently with public administration tasks concerned with risks and emergency management. Resulting locally based strategies for risk reduction are expected to tighten the feedback loops between complex environmental dynamics and human decision-making processes. However, there are a series of consequences to this rescaling process in flood risk management, regarding the development of new governance structures and institutions, like resilience teams or flood action groups in the United Kingdom. Additionally, downscaling to local-level tasks without additional resources is particularly challenging. This development has tightened further with fiscal and administrative cuts around the world resulting from the global economic crisis of 2007–2008, which tightening eventually causes budget restrictions for flood risk management. Managing local risks easily exceeds the technical and budgetary capacities of municipal institutions, and individual citizens struggle to carry the full responsibility of flood protection. To manage community engagement in flood risk management, emphasis should be given to the development of multi-level governance structures, so that multiple stakeholders share fairly the power, resources, and responsibility in disaster planning. If we fail to do so, some consequences would be: (1), “hollowing out” the government, including the downscaling of the responsibility towards local stakeholders; and (2), inability of the government to deal with the new tasks due to lack of resources transferred to local authorities.
Vincenzo Bollettino, Tilly Alcayna, Philip Dy, and Patrick Vinck
In recent years, the notion of resilience has grown into an important concept for both scholars and practitioners working on disasters. This evolution reflects a growing interest from diverse disciplines in a holistic understanding of complex systems, including how societies interact with their environment. This new lens offers an opportunity to focus on communities’ ability to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by natural hazards, and the mechanism they have developed to cope and adapt to threats. This is important because repeated stresses and shocks still cause serious damages to communities across the world, despite efforts to better prepare for disasters.
Scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed resilience frameworks both to guide macro-level policy decisions about where to invest in preparedness and to measure which systems perform best in limiting losses from disasters and ensuring rapid recovery. Yet there are competing conceptions of what resilience encompasses and how best to measure it. While there is a significant amount of scholarship produced on resilience, the lack of a shared understanding of its conceptual boundaries and means of measurement make it difficult to demonstrate the results or impact of resilience programs.
If resilience is to emerge as a concept capable of aiding decision-makers in identifying socio-geographical areas of vulnerability and improving preparedness, then scholars and practitioners need to adopt a common lexicon on the different elements of the concept and harmonize understandings of the relationships amongst them and means of measuring them. This article reviews the origins and evolution of resilience as an interdisciplinary, conceptual umbrella term for efforts by different disciplines to tackle complex problems arising from more frequent natural disasters. It concludes that resilience is a useful concept for bridging different academic disciplines focused on this complex problem set, while acknowledging that specific measures of resilience will differ as different units and levels of analysis are employed to measure disparate research questions.
Marian Muste and Ton Hoitink
With a continuous global increase in flood frequency and intensity, there is an immediate need for new science-based solutions for flood mitigation, resilience, and adaptation that can be quickly deployed in any flood-prone area. An integral part of these solutions is the availability of river discharge measurements delivered in real time with high spatiotemporal density and over large-scale areas. Stream stages and the associated discharges are the most perceivable variables of the water cycle and the ones that eventually determine the levels of hazard during floods. Consequently, the availability of discharge records (a.k.a. streamflows) is paramount for flood-risk management because they provide actionable information for organizing the activities before, during, and after floods, and they supply the data for planning and designing floodplain infrastructure. Moreover, the discharge records represent the ground-truth data for developing and continuously improving the accuracy of the hydrologic models used for forecasting streamflows. Acquiring discharge data for streams is critically important not only for flood forecasting and monitoring but also for many other practical uses, such as monitoring water abstractions for supporting decisions in various socioeconomic activities (from agriculture to industry, transportation, and recreation) and for ensuring healthy ecological flows. All these activities require knowledge of past, current, and future flows in rivers and streams.
Given its importance, an ability to measure the flow in channels has preoccupied water users for millennia. Starting with the simplest volumetric methods to estimate flows, the measurement of discharge has evolved through continued innovation to sophisticated methods so that today we can continuously acquire and communicate the data in real time. There is no essential difference between the instruments and methods used to acquire streamflow data during normal conditions versus during floods. The measurements during floods are, however, complex, hazardous, and of limited accuracy compared with those acquired during normal flows. The essential differences in the configuration and operation of the instruments and methods for discharge estimation stem from the type of measurements they acquire—that is, discrete and autonomous measurements (i.e., measurements that can be taken any time any place) and those acquired continuously (i.e., estimates based on indirect methods developed for fixed locations). Regardless of the measurement situation and approach, the main concern of the data providers for flooding (as well as for other areas of water resource management) is the timely delivery of accurate discharge data at flood-prone locations across river basins.
Children and youth are greatly affected by disasters, and as climate instability leads to more weather-related disasters, the risks to the youngest members of societies will continue to increase. Children are more likely to live in risky places, such as floodplains, coastal areas, and earthquake zones, and more likely to be poor than other groups of people. While children and youth in industrialized countries are experiencing increased risks, the children and youth in developing countries are the most at risk to disasters.
Children and youth are vulnerable before, during, and after a disaster. In a disaster, many children and youth experience simultaneous and ongoing disruptions in their families, schooling, housing, health and access to healthcare, friendships, and other key areas of their lives. Many are at risk to separation from guardians, long-term displacement, injury, illness, and even death. In disaster planning, there is often an assumption that parents will protect their children in a disaster event, and yet children are often separated from their parents when they are at school, childcare centers, home alone, with friends, and at work. Children do not have the resources or independence to prepare for disasters, so they are often reliant on adults to make evacuation decisions, secure shelter, and provide resources. Children also may hide or have trouble articulating their distress to adults after a disaster. In the disaster aftermath, it has been found that children and youth—no matter how personally resilient—cannot fully recover without the necessary resources and social support.
Social location—such as social class, race, gender, neighborhood, resources, and networks—prior to a disaster often determines, at least in part, many of the children’s post-disaster outcomes. In other words, age intersects with many other factors. Girls, for example, are at risk to sexual violence and exploitation in some disaster aftermath situations. In addition, a child’s experience in a disaster could also be affected by language, type of housing, immigration status, legal status, and disability issues. Those living in poverty have more difficulties preparing for disasters, do not have the resources to evacuate, and live in lower quality housing that is less able to withstand a disaster. Thus, it is crucial to consider the child’s environment before and after the disaster, to realize that some children experience cumulative vulnerability, or an accumulation of risk factors, and that disasters may occur on top of other crises, such as drought, epidemics, political instability, violence, or a family crisis such as divorce or death.
Even as children and youth are vulnerable, they also demonstrate important and often unnoticed capacities, skills, and strengths, as they assist themselves and others before and after disaster strikes. Frequently, children are portrayed as helpless, fragile, passive, and powerless. But children and youth are creative social beings and active agents, and they have played important roles in preparedness activities and recovery for their families and communities. Thus, both children’s vulnerabilities and capacities in disasters should be a research and policy priority.