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Crisis Mapping and Crowdsourcing in Complex Emergencies  

Jen Ziemke, Buddhika Jayamaha, and Molly M. Jahn

Crisis mappers secure satellite imagery, photos, video, event data, incident data, and other documentary evidence to create an operational picture of a disaster in order to facilitate improved humanitarian response and assistance in a crisis. The era of human-powered crisis mapping between 2009 and 2014 was a bootstrapped effort very much a function of the peculiar state of technological development at the time—available but not yet formalized, streamlined, and automated. Humans filled the gap until machine assistance could catch up. These efforts, often mundane (e.g., cut and paste over and over for hours), were more reflective of the state of technology at the time than anything else. Another precondition that enabled the field to grow is the often taken-for-granted public good provided by the GPS satellites maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Without this service, the project at the time would not have emerged where and when it did. The future will be shaped as a result of improvements in automated forms of data collection; improved machine learning techniques to help filter, identify, visualize, and analyze the data; and the proliferation of low-cost drones and other forms of sensors, to name a few.


Networks and Crisis Management  

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.


Disaster Risk Reduction  

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.


A Disproportionate Policy Perspective on the Politics of Crisis Management  

Moshe Maor

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.


Hurricane Katrina: Analyzing a Mega-Disaster  

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.