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Article

Spontaneous, so-called emergent groups often arise in response to emergencies, disasters, and crises where citizens and relief workers find that pre-established norms of behavior, roles, and practices come into flux because of the severity and uncertainty of the situation. The scholarship on emergent groups dates to 1950s sociological theory on emergence and convergence, whereas contemporary research forms part of the wider disaster scholarship field. Emergent groups have been conceptualized and theorized from various angles, ranging from discussions around their effectiveness, to their possibilities as channels for the positive forces of citizen’s altruism, as well as to more skeptical accounts detailing the challenges emergent groups may pose for established emergency management organizations in relief situations. Scarce scholarly attention, however, is paid to the role of emergent groups when it comes to empowering marginalized and vulnerable communities. The few empirical studies that exist suggest linkages between active participation in emergent groups and empowerment of otherwise marginalized communities, as shown in an ethnographic study of the work of Occupy Sandy that emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that struck New York City in 2012. Although more systematic research is warranted, such empirical examples show potential in terms of shifting emergency and disaster management toward more inclusionary, participatory, and empowering practices. As low-income communities, often of color, experience the increasingly harsh effects of climate change, important issues to ponder are inclusion, participation, and empowerment.

Article

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) cover a wide range of telecommunication devices and applications, which facilitate the flow of information. Within crisis and disaster management, these devices and applications may be used explicitly for hazards or crisis detection, information management, communication, situational awareness, search and rescue efforts, and decision support systems. Everything from cell phones and social media to unmanned aerial vehicles and weather stations are used to collect, disseminate, and monitor various types of information and data to provide a common operating picture. ICTs are continually evolving, with new features developed and deployed at a rapid pace. This development has had a unique impact on crisis and disaster management, allowing for real-time communication and situational awareness, as well as novel approaches to simulations and training. With the near-ubiquitous use of some devices, information is also no longer held solely by government or private sector officials; ordinary citizens are also able to contribute to and disseminate information during and after crises. For some segments of the population, this ability to meaningfully contribute is not only empowering but necessary to highlight unmet needs. Throughout the evolution of ICTs, new research and practical concerns have highlighted persistent unmet needs of more vulnerable populations due to growing interdependence and integration across jurisdictional boundaries worldwide. The continued expansion of ICTs will most likely have a profound impact on this field in the future.

Article

Benigno E. Aguirre

The term “disaster myth” was initially used as a rhetorical device to help establish the study and management of disasters on firmer ground in the often unwelcoming political context of the Cold War. In the aftermath of World War II, social science research and theorizing eventually supplanted a civil defense perspective of disaster management. Some of the “myths” (or inaccuracies) social scientists refuted centered on assumptions that disasters brought about an increase in crime, panic, psychological dependence and shock, looting, and price gouging. This new perspective adopted a pro-social view to explain the perceived lessening of crime in the immediate post-impact periods of disasters, for credible scholarship indicated that most persons who experienced disaster firsthand as victims became involved in helpful, accommodating behavior. As time went on, ever more topics were dismissed as “myths,” and the word became a term of opprobrium. The present-day use of myth to mean untruth occurs in many of the fields that are interested in the study of disasters, such as public policy, meteorology, economics, sociology, and public health. Nevertheless, this use reveals a profound lack of appreciation of the classical view of myths as the foundational basis of societies, where they provide justifications for rites and customs. The cumulative consequence of the term’s rise may be the narrowing of substantive matters that researchers consider worth pursuing, for one hitherto unforeseen effect of this rise is that the ever increasing number of disaster myths is very likely to discourage the research needed to establish the generalizability and validity of many of these and other knowledge claims. The popularity of the term myth influences research in disaster science even as it facilitates the lack of robust, reproducible empirical knowledge from studies in different developing societies and cultures. The result is that there are not enough cross-cultural tests of the empirical propositions in disaster studies, tests which could show that some of the myth claims lack validity. Moreover, in the absence of any cross-cultural empirical basis to sustain them, the unsubstantiated myth claims fall into stereotyping and perpetuate a self-serving ideology of professional expertise that interprets the viewpoints of others as misunderstandings, or “myths.” The widespread use of the word myth in disaster research shows dubious epistemological reasoning, for it ignores the technical aspects of myths as hypotheses, and the effects of time, counterfactuals, lack of content validity, and insularity, as well as the unmet need for replication. Myths and disasters point to liminal states, to the experience of going through change and passing thresholds, in which both structure and identity are re-imagined. Admitting insufficiently examined myths into this research area is of great consequence because it could assist in the development of an interdisciplinary dialogue and more theoretically discerning approaches. Myths, a central topic for studies in anthropology, are valuable on their own terms, for their research—not as untruths but as essential parts of the world of symbols, beliefs, and ideologies—can guide theorizing and help in obtaining more incisive research findings in disaster studies.

Article

Ryan Scott and Branda Nowell

Managing complexity requires appropriate governance structures and effective coordination, communication, and action within the incident response network. Governance structures serve as a framework to understand the interrelated relationships that exist during a crisis. Governance structures can be classified as either hierarchical and managed, autonomous and networked, or a hybrid of hierarchies and networks, and represent a continuum of crisis response systems. As such, effective crisis management is first a function of a leader’s ability to leverage hierarchical, hybrid, and network forms of crisis management governance to manage complex disasters. Second, it hinges on the proficiency of the disaster response network in managing distributed information, coordinating operations, and collaborating among jurisdictions. Combining these two points results in high-performing disaster response networks that operate fluidly between governing structures and across jurisdictions, thus increasing our national capacity to manage complex disasters.

Article

David Alexander

Disaster risk reduction (DRR, or disaster reduction) is an umbrella term for processes of preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and managing the risk of disasters. It refers primarily to the acts of setting the policy and strategic agendas for these tasks. It reflects a long-standing need to reorientate priorities from merely responding to disasters once they have struck to reducing or avoiding their impacts. To be achieved, DRR requires a combination of physical and social measures, with full participation of affected populations and other stakeholders. Academically, disasters have been studied systematically for more than 100 years. During this period, the emphasis has changed from analyzing natural hazards as the primary drivers of disaster to a more pluralistic approach in which vulnerability and exposure to hazards and threats are viewed as playing vitally important roles. Disasters can have natural, technological, social, or intentional (i.e., terrorism-related) causes, but they are increasingly composite events that involve combinations of factors. Hence there is now much emphasis on “natech” events, in which natural hazards affect technological systems, and cascading disasters, in which escalation points caused by interacting sources of vulnerability may have the power to make the secondary effects more important than the primary trigger. Root causes and contexts have assumed a greater salience in the explanation of disaster, which tends to involve complex interactions among social, economic, political, and physical factors. Resilience has come to the fore as a positive concept for organizing processes of DRR. It is usually defined as a mixture of adaptation to hazards and threats and the ability to resist or overcome the negative effects of disaster. DRR concepts and strategies have been mainstreamed in modern society by international action under the auspices of the United Nations and the Sendai Framework for DRR, 2015–2030. The challenges of applying UN frameworks include uncertainty about whether the underlying concepts are durable, whether they can be applied rigorously, whether they have enough support among policy and decisionmakers, and whether they can acquire a sound practical basis. The future of DRR depends on humanity’s ability to implement solutions to conflict, migration, and environmental change, not merely the impact of disasters per se. In an era in which population is rising, wealth disparities and human mobility are increasing, and environmental change has begun to lead to major upheavals, DRR has gone from being a rather esoteric, specialized field to one that is central to the future of human existence.

Article

Allan McConnell

How can we know if policies succeed or fail, and what are the causes of such outcomes? Understanding the nature of these phenomena is riddled with complex methodological challenges, including differing political perspectives, persistent mixed results, ambiguous outcomes, and the issue of success/failure “for whom”? Ironically, the key to understanding policy success and failure lies not in downplaying or ignoring such challenges, but in accepting politicization and complexity as reflective of the messy world of public policy. Gaining insight from such messiness allows a better understanding of phenomena like “good politics but bad policy,” the persistence of some failures over time, and widely differing perspectives on who or what should claim credit for policy success and who or what should be blamed for policy failure.

Article

Steve Glassey

Public policy around animal welfare in disaster management is a new field, both in practice and in research. Early studies in the 1990s paved the way for a wider and more internationally focused approach to the challenge of protecting both people and animals during disasters, with some countries introducing specific legislative instruments to afford animals better protection in such events. Such reforms are largely motivated by the recognition of the bond humans often have with animals, and the likelihood that they will behave in a way that is protective of them, even at the risk of compromising human safety. However, the issues around animal disaster management and the associated policy are complex and are best categorized as a wicked problem. Production animals are generally highly vulnerable to disaster due to high stock densities and lack of hazard mitigation. However, it is the lack of human–animal bond that leaves these animals largely without disaster-risk-reduction advocacy. In contrast, companion animals that enjoy the paternalistic protection of their guardians benefit from greater rights, and their advocates have a stronger voice to effect change in public policy through democratic processes. This article looks at the historical development of policy and legal reform of animal disaster management in a global context and draws upon numerous studies to provide evidence-based arguments as to why animals matter in disasters and why there are significant public safety and political benefits in protecting them.

Article

The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.

Article

Arjen Boin, Christer Brown, and James A. Richardson

The response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been widely described as a disaster in itself. Politicians, media, academics, survivors, and the public at large have slammed the federal, state, and local response to this mega disaster. According to the critics, the response was late, ineffective, politically charged, and even influenced by racist motives. But is this criticism true? Was the response really that poor? This article offers a framework for the analysis and assessment of a large-scale response to a mega disaster, which is then applied to the Katrina response (with an emphasis on New Orleans). The article identifies some failings (where the response could and should have been better) but also points to successes that somehow got lost in the politicized aftermath of this disaster. The article demonstrates the importance of a proper framework based on insights from crisis management studies.

Article

Thomas A. Birkland and Kathryn L. Schwaeble

Agenda setting is a crucial aspect of the public policy process. Sudden, rare, and harmful events, known as focusing events, can be important influences on the policy process. Such events can reveal current and potential future harms, mobilize people and groups to address the policy failures that may be revealed by such events, and open the “window of opportunity” for intensive policy discussion and potential policy change. But focusing events operate differently at different times and in different policy domains. Although the idea of focusing events is firmly rooted in Kingdon’s “streams approach” to the policy process, focusing events are an important element of most contemporary theories of the policy process. But not every event works as a focusing event. The process by which a focusing event can yield policy change is complex and involves attention to the problems revealed by the event as well as evidence of learning from the event on the part of policymakers. Although focusing events are important, in many ways the concept remains underdeveloped, with few researchers seeking to understand the dynamics of these important events.

Article

Havidán Rodriguez and Marie T. Mora

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico with great ferocity. The impact and outcomes of this event were devastating for the population of over three million American citizens. The electrical grid was decimated, the transportation infrastructure was significantly impacted, and an already deteriorating healthcare system was further eroded. Furthermore, the local, islandwide, and especially the federal response to Hurricane Maria failed to meet the emerging and critical needs of those impacted by the catastrophic event and left island residents and isolated communities on their own. Official estimates placed the death toll close to 3,000. Hurricane Maria also accelerated the largest migratory movement in Puerto Rico’s history from the island to the continental United States and decimated an already weak and deteriorating economy after more than a decade of a severe economic crisis. Recovery efforts remained slow in many parts of the island, and the social, economic, and healthcare impacts of the hurricane will be felt for decades to come. The disaster research literature shows the disasters are not “natural,” but socially constructed or produced events. Indeed, a number of preexisting factors contributed to the disaster situation in Puerto Rico, including the severe economic crisis, which was also reflected in high levels of unemployment and poverty; the island’s complicated relationship with the U.S. mainland; massive net outmigration; and a frail and deteriorating healthcare system. Furthermore, the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the mainland affected federal-level disaster response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.

Article

Flooding remains one of the globe’s most devastating natural hazards and a leading driver of natural disaster losses across many countries, including the United States. As such, a rich and growing literature aims to better understand, model, and assess flood losses. Several major theoretical and empirical themes emerge from the literature. Fundamental to the flood damage assessment literature are definitions of flood damage, including a typology of flood damage, such as direct and indirect losses. In addition, the literature theoretically and empirically assesses major determinants of flood damage including hydrological factors, measurement of the physical features in harm’s way, as well as understanding and modeling protective activities, such as flood risk mitigation and adaptation, that all co-determine the overall flood losses. From there, common methods to quantify flood damage take these factors as inputs, modeling hydrological risk, exposure, and vulnerability into quantifiable flood loss estimates through a flood damage function, and include both ex ante expected loss assessments and ex post event-specific analyses. To do so, high-quality data are key across all model steps and can be found across a variety of sources. Early 21st-century advancements in spatial data and remote sensing push the literature forward. While topics and themes apply more generally to flood damage across the globe, examples from the United States illustrate key topics. Understanding main themes and insights in this important research area is critical for researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to better understand, utilize, and extend existing flood damage assessment literatures in order to lessen or even prevent future tragedy.

Article

Disproportionate policy response—which is composed of two core concepts, namely policy overreaction and under-reaction—is typically understood to be a lack of “fit” or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits deriving from this policy and/or between a policy’s ends and means. The disproportionate policy perspective introduces an intentional component into disproportionate response. It represents a conceptual turn whereby the concepts of policy overreaction and under-reaction are reentering the policy lexicon as types of intentional policy responses that are largely undertaken when political executives are vulnerable to voters. In times of crisis, disproportionate policy responses may be intentionally designed, implemented as planned, and sometimes successful in achieving policy goals and in delivering the political benefits sought by the political executives who design them. The premise underlying this argument is that crises vary in many respects, some of which may incentivize a deliberate crisis response by political executives that is either excessive, or lacking. For example, when crises occur at times of electoral vulnerability, the relevancy of policy instruments’ visibility, theatricality, spectacularity, and popularity may dominate the calculus of crisis management decisions. The same applies in cases where strong negative emotions emerge, and subsequently, political executives may opt to overwhelm hysterical populations cognitively and emotionally, trying to convince them that the policy system is viable.