Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 8 November 2011



Paton, D. (2011), "Editorial", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 20 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/dpm.2011.07320eaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Disaster Prevention and Management, Volume 20, Issue 5

Events in Japan and New Zealand earlier this year highlighted the importance and value of an effective search and rescue capability in the aftermath of catastrophic disaster. This response function plays a crucial role in limiting the scale of death and injury associated with disaster. Irrespective of the training and expertise available, the scale and complexity of impacts and the confusion that can reign during the initial 24-48 hours can make organising and implementing search and rescue a very challenging activity. In this context, Guven and Ergen introduce an approach that can expedite the planning and delivery of search and rescue functions. Guven and Ergen discuss the possibly of developing local information sources that can be stored at distributed databases in buildings (including, for example, residents, the contents of the buildings, residents’ health information, hazardous materials). Localised information can reduce the time needed for planning and facilitate the development of search and rescue strategies that can be tailored to local needs in a prompt and efficient manner.

When developing an effective search and rescue capability it is important to consider its human dimension. Search and rescue professionals work for long hours under high time pressures in challenging and often traumatic circumstances. It is important to take steps to maintain their well-being. For those compelled to exercise their professional skills in highly stressful circumstances, an important contribution to sustaining well-being is being able to assess mental health in an unobtrusive manner. Doing so rests on having a short, valid and reliable instrument available. One such instrument is the Impact of Event Scale. Wagner discusses recent research on the development of this scale with a group that is pivotal to effective disaster response (and to the effective management of other emergencies) – fire fighters. The ongoing work on developing such scales can contribute to development of strategies to maintain the well-being and performance effectiveness of the human disaster response resources.

The nature of the search and rescue role necessarily increases the risk that those performing in this capacity will have to deal with death on large scale. The challenge of responding to mass death and identifying the victims plays a significant role in community recovery. Levinson offers new insights into responding to mass death based on work undertaken in Israel. The existence of a capability to respond to mass death that can be mobilised promptly can assist community recovery and help ameliorate the stress experienced by groups such as search and rescue workers who perforce come into contact with this aspect of disaster. The stress experienced by groups such as fire fighters can also be mitigated by being able to access the kind of information resource proposed by Guven and Ergen.

Appropriate and readily available information is only one of the resources required to support effective disaster response. The scale, complexity and distribution of impacts create considerable logistical challenges for emergency response and recovery efforts. The scale and distribution of hazard impacts draws attention to the need to consider the location of logistics centres in the context of planning for recovery. Tozan et al. address this issue using fuzzy analytic hierarchy process methods to discuss a decision support system for determining the location of disaster logistics centres. Tozan et al. do so by identifying location criteria and the weightings applied them by drawing on data sourced specialists working in the Istanbul Center of Disaster Coordination.

In the next article, Islam and Chik discuss the application of advanced information systems to assist with disaster management in Bangladesh. Islam and Chik argue for the need to accommodate how perceptions or constructions of the environments at risk are dependent on the social and cultural structures in planning to mitigate natural hazard consequences in disaster prone areas. A significant contribution to the development of effective disaster information systems is knowing the likely distribution of hazards and their consequences. Kumar et al. pick up this challenge in an article that examines the distribution of seismic hazards in the Himalayas.

Articulating the distribution of hazards is fundamental to good planning and for identifying how risk is distributed within the area susceptible to experiencing hazard effects. There are many factors beyond the geographic that affect the distribution of social risk. One of these is social justice. Mallick and Vogt discuss the need for social justice to be given a more prominent position in disaster mitigation planning in Bangladesh in relation to facilitating opportunities for socially, economically and politically disadvantaged groups to participate in policy making in relation to social support services and provisions using community based disaster management principles.

One resource that could contribute to facilitating better social justice outcomes is the media. Unfortunately, the very power differentials that Mallick and Vogt identify as underpinning disempowerment can make this untenable. This would not necessarily preclude the foreign media from providing some voice in this regard, but this, as described in the final article in this edition, may require shifts in media thinking. Olofsson explores how media coverage can amplify and shift the focus of attention in relation to disaster impacts and needs. Specifically, she discusses how stereotypes and nationalistic values can frame events in ways that adversely influence public perceptions of people and places. This can make it less likely that nations that are ready and willing to provide financial support will develop their involvement in ways that will include giving voice to the social injustices, such as those described by Mallick and Vogt, that contribute to the emergence of the problems in the first place. Collectively, the articles that comprise this edition signal the need sustain research into the scientific assessment of hazards and the development of the plans and capabilities to respond, but to complement this with greater attention to the socio-political contexts in which planning preparedness and response take place. Pursuing the latter will help bring a necessary humanistic perspective to bear on disaster prevention and management.

Douglas Paton

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