Term Paper: Disaster Theory

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Disaster Theory & Emergency Management Theory

With the increasing number of emergencies and disasters that have occurred in the world, the issue of disaster and emergency management theory has become a research focus in recent years. This focus on disaster management theory and praxis has also been emphasized by event such as the 9/11 terrorism attacks on New York. There are many theoretical aspects and models considered in the literature on emergency management. This paper will deal with these theories that are controversial and which have tended to dominate the academic and practical debate in recent years. This paper is also concerned with the understanding of the significance and importance of disaster management, particularly in the larger metropolitan areas.

The central thesis that will be explored in this paper is that emergency and disaster theory must be wide ranging and inclusive in order to be practical and effective. The literature clearly points out that there are many variables and aspects that need to be taken into account in the creation of viable and competent emergency management. Contemporary disaster theory has also increasingly focused on the way that the public is prepared and educated and the way that this aspect impacts on various components of emergency management and planning. This also includes studies of stress and resilience in the general population and the importance that this has for dealing with hazards and emergences. Furthermore, a related area of concern in theory is the integration of different models and areas of emergency management. This integrative aspect is stressed in many contemporary studies, as it is through more cohesive and cooperative integration that the most effective methods and models for dealing with emergencies and disasters can be developed.

General theoretical issues

As one study in the field of emergency management theory states; " a massive transformation is taking place in emergency management right now... The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States have resulted in a significant reformulation of the purpose and nature of emergency management" (McEntire 2004). Many experts are of the opinion that theory has become more important in emergency management and that emergency managers are receiving more recognition from the general public. "Emergency managers have obtained a long-overdue (but still incomplete) recognition from the general public while politicians and legislators have increased funding for the profession to historic levels" (McEntire 2004).

A general theoretical overview of disaster and emergency management takes its basic starting point from an understanding of natural and other hazards that "...pose a threat to people, structures and economic assets" (Gaillard 2006). These natural hazards can refer to a number of events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, storms and cyclones, droughts, floods and storm surges, among others. (Gaillard 2006).

An important theoretical concern that is essential for the understanding of emergency management issues is the response capacity of people in the face of these events. This response capability is usually explained with reference to conceptual variables such as the degree or extent of vulnerability and resilience in the population.

A definition is vulnerability is"... The quantitative degree of potential loss in the event of the occurrence of a natural hazard" (Gaillard 2006).

However, as Gaillard (2006) notes, this earlier concept of vulnerability was later extended to include a much wider understanding of social vulnerability. This was subsequently defined by D'Ercole (1994) as the "...propensity of a society to suffer from damage in the event of the occurrence of a given hazard" (Gaillard 2006). Using these variables the degree of the disaster or emergency could be ascertained and this played an important part in management and planning for these events; for example, the degree to which the society is "stressed" will determine when a hazard becomes a disaster. This assessment would theoretically and practically include a host of variables, which could be demographic, social, cultural, economic and political in nature.

The question of vulnerability also forms an integral part of the theoretical foundations of disaster management in that it reflects the daily conditions of society. (Wisner 1993) in essence therefore, disaster vulnerability is viewed as "...the extension of everyday hardships wherein the victims are marginalized in three ways: geographically because they live in marginal hazard- prone areas, socially because they are poor, and politically because their voice is disregarded" (Gaillard 2006). Vulnerability is determined as varying according to the nature and the degree of the hazard.

Another factor to consider in the general theoretical understanding of the disaster or emergency situation is the concept of resilience. Resilience is define as follows by Gaillard (2006) as, "People's capability of response in the face of natural hazards..." (Gaillard 2006). This is an aspect that is still controversial and the subject of debate in the literature. Resilience is also seen to include aspects of planning, management and "... premeditated adjustments undertaken in the face of natural hazards" (Gaillard 2006).

These foundational theoretical viewpoints provide the basis from which the more complex and integral aspects and dimensions of emergency management and disaster planning can be discussed. As noted in the introduction to this paper, the contemporary theoretical emphasis is on the inclusion of a variety of related variables in management planning and the integration of various models and issues to provide a more comprehensive view of emergency management.

3. Public education theories

The involvement and awareness of the public and the way that the public relates to and participates in disaster management models is seen in many studies as an essential aspect of management and planning. A study entitled, Public Perceptions About Trust in Emergency Risk Communication: Qualitative Research Findings by Wray et al. (2006) states that, "Communication to the general public is a critical component of effective emergency response..." (Wray et al. 2006) the authors of this study also emphasize the aspect of trust in effective communication and that without a high degree of trust, emergency management that depends on communication can be problematic. The study focused on different ethnic groups, communication and strategies in the event of an emergency. Among the findings it was found that,

General lack of confidence in the government's ability to respond was associated with concerns about preparedness, lack of disclosure and dedication. Local officials and emergency responders were more trusted than federal officials, and were associated with greater levels of disclosure and empathy

(Wray et al. 2006)

Aspects such as the past experience of the respondents in the survey undertaken also played a role in the issue of trust and had concomitant implications for emergency management. Furthermore, these findings led to certain recommendations, such as closer integration between local and federal agencies in emergency response preparedness and communication. There was also an emphasis on the necessity for information sharing and the principle of full disclosure. (Wray et al. 2006) central finding of the above study is noteworthy in that it states that,

This distrust appears to be rooted in the perception that the government has not done enough to prepare for an attack, and the belief that government officials (especially at the federal level) withhold important information and are dishonest at times.

(Wray et al. 2006)

Studies such as the above serve to illustrate the importance that is being given to public responsiveness and awareness in theory. This also leads to a cardinal area that is emphasized in many contemporary studies on the subject, which is the area of public education and disaster management. A study that deals with this area of concern is Public education and disaster management: is there any guiding theory by Samuel Nielsen and John Lidstone (1998). The authors clearly state the view that public education in emergency situations is an important aspect in modern theory. "Public education is increasingly mentioned as one of the major strategies available to disaster managers, being particularly effective at the preparedness end of the prevention-preparedness-response- recovery spectrum" (Nielsen and Lidstone 1998).

To this end the authors tend to focus on the underlying theoretical concepts and precepts that determine the extent and the effectiveness of public awareness. The theoretical basis of public education in disaster management relates to the view that, while disasters and emergencies are increasing in society, there is a general expectation from the public that the authorities and the government are responsible for ensuring safety and for implementing models and means of preventing disasters and dealing with emergency situations. In other words, "... An increase in disasters is occurring simultaneously with increased expectations of public safety" (Nielsen and Lidstone 1998). Governments are therefore expected to provide for aspects of safety and emergency management and this tends to foster and perpetuate an illusion that disasters are easily manageable. It is this illusion that public education programs are intended to dispel and to make the public more aware of the importance of the integrative role that they have to play in emergencies and disasters. (Goldstein,1990)

Studies from various countries have also shown that the public often ignores safety measures and model that are provided by the authorities. A case in point… [END OF PREVIEW]

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