Fires, Floods, and Earthquakes in the age of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scientists Report This Is Causing the Increase in Natural Disasters

By IGI Global on Aug 31, 2020

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.


Between the upcoming tropical storm Laura, hurricane Marco, the historic fires in California and Australia, flooding in Indonesia, and countless earthquakes around the world, 2020 has seen an increase in natural disasters. Researchers are pointing to one thing that these catastrophes have in common: climate change. According to a recent CBS News article, human-caused climate change has accelerated the pace and severity of these natural disasters as “there's more energy in the system and that energy is expended in the form of more extreme heat, fire, wind and rain.”  

Although experts have been able to pinpoint a likely cause for these natural disasters and warn against compound threats (multiple disasters happening at the same time, which overwhelms resources and comprises emergency response), they are still developing how to manage emergency responses during the pandemic. Many countries are advising against individuals going to shelters due to social distancing protocols, and these threats are limiting food, energy, and medical supplies.

To discuss this complex issue, Profs. Mihoko Sakurai and Devinder Thapa, from University of Agder, Norway, explain how to take a holistic approach to build resilience for emergency management through the ecosystem in their article, “Building Resilience Through Effective Disaster Management: An Information Ecology Perspective” featured in Research Anthology on Emergency and Disaster Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global). To learn more, view the article below:

Research Anthology on Emergency and Disaster Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications
Copyright 2019 | Pages: 1,723 | ISBN: 9781522561958 | EISBN:9781522561965

This publication is an innovative reference source for the latest research on the theoretical and practical components of initiating crisis management and emergency response. Highlighting a range of topics such as preparedness and assessment, aid and relief, and the integration of smart technologies, this multi-volume book is designed for emergency professionals, policy makers, practitioners, academicians, and researchers interested in all aspects of disaster, crisis, and emergency studies...Learn More.

Sometimes, a series of earthquakes and their effects may last for several months. Recently, numerous large earthquakes hit central Italy in August and October 2016 and January 2017. Similarly, in 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, which caused economic damage of around USD 13.9 billion and up to 250,000 casualties. Because of the intensity of the earthquake, it was difficult for relief organizations to meet basic needs in the field (Starbird & Palen, 2011). After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, the port of Tacloban and neighboring areas were destroyed, and some buildings were carried away by the storm which required more than several years to recover from the devastation. These events show that we need to consider how to deal with the consequences of disaster events, not only during the aftermath but also by protecting against and preventing long-term consequences before events occur. Disaster management demands more personnel to handle new problems that arise in the field (Post & Diltz, 1986). Different types of demands and responses should emerge in such an environment, and disaster management requires different levels of capacity in the system (Comfort, Ko, & Zagorecki, 2004). The lessons we can extract from previous studies (when we consider effective disaster management) suggest that examining each organization in isolation is not enough; a holistic approach (Ritchie, 2004) is important (Baharmand, Boersma, Meesters, Mulder, & Wolbers, 2016; Soden, Budhathoki, & Palen, 2014). During a disaster, we should consider organizations not as stable states (Holling, 2004) but as entities that coevolve to adapt to a particular situation.

In this regard, resilience, which refers to the capability to absorb disturbances (Holling, 1973), is a purpose that disaster relief organizations should achieve in disaster management. Studies show that disasters are naturally complex phenomena, involving international and national organizations and individuals from local communities, and most disaster cases are unpredictable (Perrow, 1983, 1984). The core idea of resilience is to see disturbances as opportunities for a recombination of structures and processes; further, resilience provides adaptive capacity (Smit & Wandel, 2006). Resilience identifies the capacity for collective action in the face of unexpected extreme events that shatter infrastructure and disrupt normal operating conditions (Comfort, Siciliano, & Okada, 2011) and the capacity of a community to mobilize action in response to the threat, once it has occurred (Comfort, Sungu, Johnson, & Dunn, 2001). Although the literature reflects different views of resilience, this paper regards resilience as a set of adaptive capacities (Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche, & Pfefferbaum, 2008) to reorganize the functions of a community while a situation changes all the time during a disaster. The goal in emergency management should not be set as returning to an equilibrium state; instead, we should create an ecosystem to support gaining these capabilities in the field. Then, the question arises, how can we create such an effective and efficient ecosystem?

There is a growing body of literature that uses the ecosystem and socio-ecological perspectives (Adger, Hughes, Folke, Carpenter, & Rockström, 2005; Berkes, Colding, & Folke, 2003; Gunderson, 2000, 2001) as means to understand the nature of resilience in a societal context. Resilience also refers to ecological systems which are recognized as a measure of a system’s persistence and the ability to absorb disturbances while maintaining the existing relationships between system entities (Holling, 1973). Based on this understanding, resilience theory envisions ecosystems as constantly changing and reorganizing processes (Berkes, 2007) which indicates that adaptive capacity can affect its ecosystem shapes. Agder et al. (2005) suggest that resilient socio-ecological systems reduce vulnerability to the impacts of a disaster and enhance a positive response which must last for a long time after the event. They also argue that resilient socio-ecological systems incorporate diverse mechanisms for living with, and learning from, change and unexpected shocks. In this sense, resilient socio-ecological systems work as a driving force for a community’s reorganization process.

Existing studies advocate the importance of resilience as a strategy that each disaster relief organization should possess, and the usefulness of an ecosystem point of view as a holistic approach to resilience. However, we lack theoretical underpinnings to explore ecosystem activities during a disaster situation. To contribute to a similar research strand, this paper applied the information ecology framework to describe how an ecosystem works during a disaster situation and what roles digital tools can play in such a situation. The information ecology is considered a complex system of parts and relationships. It exhibits diversity and experiences continual evolution. An information ecology is defined as “…a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment…” (Nardi & O’Day, 1999, p. 49). The framework focuses on human activities and the activities that can be served by technology, whereas the social ecology framework focuses mainly on human activities and undermines the role of technology. Based on this framework, we analyzed two different cases from Japan and Nepal, and show how different elements of information ecology interact, influence, and coevolve each other. The findings inform us about the key notion of resilience (i.e. adaptive capability) and guide us to identify mechanisms of how adaptive capability emerges within the ecosystem. Two cases from completely different contexts enhanced a deeper understanding of the phenomenon as suggested by Yin (2008). For example, in the Japan case, the main focus was on the role of the local government, as it was the agency closest to the residents and had knowledge of the residents and resources in the area (Sakurai, Watson, Abraham, & Kokuryo, 2014). The Nepal case, however, focused on the role of digital and local communities in addressing the disaster-related challenges.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows: (1) a description of theoretical premises, (2) data collection and analysis, (3) a case description and findings, (4) discussion of mechanisms, and (5) conclusion.

Theoretical Premises

Information ecology is considered a complex system of parts and relationships. It exhibits diversity and experiences continual evolution. Different parts of ecology coevolve, changing together according to the relationships in the system. Several keystone species are necessary for the survival of the ecology. In addition, information ecologies have a sense of locality. The key elements of information ecology are summarized in Table 1:

  1. System: Like a biological ecology, an information ecology is marked by strong interrelationships and dependencies among its different parts. The parts of information ecology may differ from each other;
  2. Diversity: In information ecology, there are different kinds of people and tools. In a well-functioning information ecology, they work together in a complementary way;
  3. Coevolution: A well-functioning ecology is not static, even when it is in equilibrium. Similar dynamics are at work in evolving information ecologies. The pace of new technology development ensures that school, work, and home settings will continue to be offered newer, faster, and different tools and services—not just once, but repeatedly. Information ecologies evolve as new ideas, tools, activities, and forms of expertise arise in them. This means that people must be prepared to participate in the ongoing development of their information ecologies;
  4. Keystone Species: An ecology is marked by the presence of certain keystone species whose presence is crucial to the survival of the ecology itself;
  5. Locality: The habitation of a local context is its location within a network of relationships. To whom does it belong? To what and to whom is it connected? Through what relations? The habitation of a local context is its set of family ties in the local information ecology.

Interested in Reading the Rest of the Article? Access the Full Article Through IGI Global’s InfoSci-Demo Account, here.

Understanding the need for research around this topic, this research is featured in the publication, Research Anthology on Emergency and Disaster Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global). This title is an innovative reference source for the latest research on the theoretical and practical components of initiating crisis management and emergency response. Highlighting a range of topics such as preparedness and assessment, aid and relief, and the integration of smart technologies, this multi-volume book is designed for emergency professionals, policy makers, practitioners, academicians, and researchers interested in all aspects of disaster, crisis, and emergency studies.

It is currently available in electronic format (EISBN: 9781522561965) through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 50% discount, and the chapters are featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci®-Books database (5,900+ e-books). Recommend this publication and the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical research, as well as thousands of other research resources, including the chapters below, in the IGI Global InfoSci-Books database.

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