A Systemic Approach to Managing Natural Disasters

A Systemic Approach to Managing Natural Disasters

Jaime Santos-Reyes (SEPI-ESIME, IPN, Mexico) and Alan N. Beard (Heriot-Watt University, Scotland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-987-3.ch001

Abstract

The objective of this chapter is to present a Systemic Disaster Management System (SDMS) model. The SDMS model is intended to provide a sufficient structure for effective disaster management. It may be argued that it has a fundamentally preventive potentiality in that if all the subsystems (i.e., systems 1-5) and channels of communication are present and working effectively, the probability of failure should be less than otherwise. Moreover, the model is capable of being applied proactively in the case of the design of a new ‘disaster management system’ as well as reactively. In the latter case, a past disaster may be examined using the model as a ‘template’ for comparison. In this way, lessons may be learned from past disasters. It may also be employed as a ‘template’ to examine an existing ‘disaster management system’. It is hoped that this approach will lead to more effective management of natural disasters.
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Introduction

Natural disasters may be defined as events that are triggered by natural phenomena or natural hazards (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, windstorms, landslides, volcanic eruptions and wildfires). Throughout history, natural disasters have exerted a heavy toll of death and suffering and are increasing alarmingly worldwide. During the past two decades they have killed millions of people, and adversely affected the life of at least one billion people. For example, recent disasters, such as the quake that triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2005); earthquake in Pakistan (Kamp et al., 2008); the Wenchuan earthquake in China (Zhao et al., 2009) and more recently the L’Aquila earthquake in Italy (Owen & Bannerman, 2009). On the other hand, hurricanes have shown how vulnerable coastal communities could be to such events. For instance, Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated $35 to $60 billion in damage and resulted in at least 1000 deaths in the United States alone. More recently, on November 2007, the State of Tabasco, Mexico, has been flooded and it has been regarded as one of the worst in more than 50 years. It is believed that the disaster left more than one million people homeless. Finally, it is thought that 2008 has been one of the most devastating years on record; i.e., more than 220,000 people have been killed in 2008 alone.

The above stresses the importance of prevention, mitigation and preparedness including evacuation planning in order to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Disaster prevention includes all those activities intended to avoid the adverse impact of natural hazards (e.g., a decision not to build houses in a disaster-prone area). Mitigation, on the other hand, refers to measures that should be taken in advance of a disaster order to decrease its impact on society (e.g., developing building codes). Finally, disaster preparedness includes pre- and post- emergency measures that are intended to minimize the loss of life, and to organize and facilitate timely effective rescue, relief, and rehabilitation in case of disaster (e.g., organizing simulation activities to prepare for an eventual disaster relief operation).

Given the above, natural disasters present a great challenge to society today concerning how they are to be mitigated so as to produce an acceptable risk is a question which has come to the fore in dramatic ways in recent years. As a society we have tended to shift from one crisis to another and from one bout of crisis management to another. There is a need to see things in their entirety, as far as we are able. In relation to disaster management, it becomes vital to see disaster risk as a product of a system; to have a ‘systemic’ approach. Despite this, very little emphasis has been given by academe, international organizations, NGO (Non Governmental Organizations), and practitioners as to what constitutes and defines an effective disaster management system, both in terms of structure and process, from a systemic point of view. This chapter presents a Systemic Disaster Management System (SDMS) model. The model is intended to help to maintain disaster risk within an acceptable range whatever that might mean. The model is intended to provide a structure for an effective disaster management system. It may be argued that it has a fundamentally preventive potentiality in that if all the sub-systems and channels of communication are present and working effectively, the probability of a failure should be less than otherwise. It is hoped that this approach will lead to more effective management of natural disasters

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