Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family

Maximiliano E. Korstanje (Department of Economics, University of Palermo, Argentina)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 30 August 2011



Korstanje, M.E. (2011), "Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 447-449. https://doi.org/10.1108/09653561111161761



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Disaster prevention or preparedness literature is of huge importance to prevent the negative effects of catastrophes worldwide, however, in last years, a new genre of pseudoscientific literature (linked to apocalyptic theories and cultural entertainment as the bottom days in December 2012) installed in this domain without further criticism. This is the case of the book Handbook to Practical Disasters authored by Prof. Arthur Bradley, work which will be placed under the lens of scrutiny in the present review.

The book, which is structured in 18 well‐written chapters, will introduce the readers into the fascinating world of disaster preparedness. Underpinned in the belief that the world is a dangerous place fraught with disasters such as earthquakes, floods, terrorism, pandemics, strikes and so forth, Arthur Bradley suggests that the world is demonstrating its ferocity against humankind. Under such a context, determination, knowledge and preparation are key factors to survival. A project like this is aimed at preparing the families for potential disasters. To be more precisely, “my hope is that this handbook will accomplish three things, 1) motivate you to become better prepared, 2 illustrate how to prepare effectively, and 3) help you to realize your place in a larger movement” (Bradley, 2010, p. 4). The author goes on to admit that being prepared is of paramount importance and part of a daily life. Lay‐people and citizenship in general should not expect for the assistance of government in case of emergencies, they should be ready to develop their own plan of mitigation or evacuation. The Armageddon is not only nearer than thought but also will be a key factor to save many lives in a future. Throughout this book, Bradley argues that we live in a chaotic system wherein nobody feels safe. Underpinned in the preposition that disasters can take shape anytime and anywhere, Bradley admits that life span is almost unpredictable. Another important aspect Bradley addresses in this book is the degree of vulnerability of women, elderly persons and children and their necessities for their protection.

A disaster may be understood as a “calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing a great loss of life, damage, or hardship, such a flood, airplane crash, or business failure” (Bradley, 2010, p. 7). As this definition given, disasters should be divided into five typologies (natural, pandemics, terrorism/crime, made‐man and personal). The nature and evolution of each type vary depending on the context but at least their effects are similar. In this chapter and influenced by the Maslow's theory of needs, Bradley explains succinctly not only the main characteristics of disaster's typology but also the steps to be followed in a process of evacuation. It is interesting to mention disasters operate under four dimensions, global (whenever the event involves two hemispheres), national (if the event evolves within the boundaries of the nation‐hood), regional and local.

Most certainly, the spectrum of disasters, categories and their severity depend upon the dimension where the event is. The local type is of less than five days duration; regional ranges from five to 14 days; national from 15 to 60 days; global more than two months. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is related to its practical suggestions and slogans for lay readers. This gives insight on the necessary and basic stuff we will need in case of a global emergency. First of all, Bradley ultimately discourages preparedness by means of fear and panic. His intention was to write a book that readers can share with relatives and friends to be prepared in the case of a disaster. In each chapter the author illustrates different settings and hypothesized situations where people are obliged to scramble for the basic resources and food. A short but powerful recommendation is outlined at the end of each chapter.

To be more exact:

In Addition to the chapters that discuss basic needs, are three that focus on other topics. The first addresses special needs, specifically those of children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities and pets. This section is a must read for most families. Second is a chapter on the importance of establishing a support network. You will be stronger and more capable in a group of like‐minded families. Finally, the last chapter of the book encourages you to test your level of preparedness by rehearsing several scenarios in order to test your plan before an actual disaster occurs. In my experience, this is the best way to reveal any preparation you may have overlooked (Bradley, 2010, p. 21).

Nonetheless, this book shows some conceptual asymmetries which should be reconsidered. As a whole, what makes this book different from other alternatives is a practical convergence of promoting the alarmism and paranoia in readers. On the one hand, Bradley does not focus in the existent specialized literature in pre‐ and post‐disaster‐management. Nor are academic and practical studies included in the development of this book. On another hand, there is no clear basis as to what an extent one might preclude the world is an unsafe place to live. Basically, my own criticism on Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family is based on the following points:

  1. (1)

    The thesis is structured on the basis of the belief that technology has made this world a bad place to live. However, in one‐point technology seems, paradoxically, to be useful to evaluate the risks and prevent the state of disasters. This contradiction suggests that Bradley does not see clear boundaries between the illness and the cure. It is hard to assume that if technology is part of the problem, it can also contribute to an alternative to avoid the catastrophe.

  2. (2)

    The content of this book promotes a widespread sentiment of panic because it considers implicitly that the world is hostile for humankind. This alarmism focuses on a supposed proliferation of natural disasters in the last years. Based on the principle of contingency (this means that the hope the event can be avoided), Bradley weaves a net to suppose the worst is coming and that we have prepared. This apocalyptic spirit is accompanied with an idea that a good decision can save lives. Even though illustrative, the process of evacuation is not applied as planned in the fieldwork.

  3. (3)

    The degree of instrumentality rests on the principle of forecasting. Since human beings contemplate the future, instruments for foreseeing the negative consequences of future are required. One of the aspects that lead people to intellectualize the uncertainty is the creation of risk. The scientificization of risk suggests not only that a decision correlates with two types of ambivalent effects, a1 or a2 enrooted in the probability, but also works as a form of comprehending the events of environment. This means no more than that decision makers (lay people) induced by scientifics (expertise) can prevent the state of disaster is the right decision is made. This false belief leads us in to a vicious circle because the risk engenders further derived risks. The advance of science entails in some degree the multiplication of risks. However, Bradley does not recognize the conceptual difference between a risk and a danger. While a risk obeys a probable consequence of a previous decision, a danger is understood as a derivative consequence of such a process. People who are involved in the decision‐making process create risks, simply because their expectances are subject to the principle of contingency (their courses of action hold certain consequences). Rather, dangers or threats are suffered by the victims who are unable to avoid the state of disasters. To be more precise, a commercial airplane accident in which 240 passengers died, at first glance seems to be a daunting disaster. However, the victims had no way to avoid their destiny; the risk was created by the owners who, a couple months earlier, decided to reduce their costs which in turn increased the vulnerability of the airplanes. Whereas the victims are passive actors who suffer the consequences, only the owners take the risks. This ad hoc example not only helps us to understand the divergences between risk and threats, but warns about the moral problems of pre‐conceiving the risks as dangers. A moot point like this is lost sight of in the Bradley's debate.

  4. (4)

    Apocalyptic theories which prophesize the end of the world or a state of catastrophe often misjudge the boundaries between what possible and probable is. The former refers to a hypothesized condition, which is rooted in the imaginary and fantasy. The possibilities of dying in a megadisaster exist but seem to have scant probabilities. Probabilities are specific mathematical construes aimed at giving certainness with respect to an event or occurrence. Whenever the boundaries between possibility and probability blur, panic emerges. In late modernity, the cultural industries of entertainment create pseudo‐states of disaster aimed at enhancing mass‐consumption by means of the articulation of fear and exceptionality. Of course, the crash or accident of an airplane is possible (from all perspectives) but improbable (in the concrete terms of mathematical algorithms). What remains in these types of entertainments is the fact that after all we have indeed survived. This state of exceptionality is functional not only to the status quo but also nourishes an ethnocentric discourse. In order to give more impact to the argument, apocalyptic theory emphasizes the vulnerability of children and women, who often represent the resources and next generation of the society. One recognizes that even though Professor Bradley provides some clear examples as to how one can survive in post‐disaster contexts, his main argument rests on foundations too shaky to be considered with sufficient credibility.

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