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Josh Greenberg and T. Joseph Scanlon
Media have always played an important role in times of emergency and disaster. Undersea cables, international news agencies, the press, radio and television, and, most recently, digital and mobile technologies—all have played myriad and complex roles in supporting emergency response and notification, and in helping constitute a shared experience that can be important to social mobilization and community formation. The geographical location of disasters and the identities of victims, the increasingly visual nature of disaster events, and the ubiquitous nature of media in our lives, all shape and influence which kinds of emergencies attract global media and public attention, and how we come to understand them.
Globalization has compressed time and space such that a whole range of disasters—from natural events (cyclones, earthquakes, and hurricanes) to industrial accidents and terrorist attacks—appear on our television and mobile screens with almost daily frequency. There is nothing inherent about these events that give them meaning—they occur in a real, material world; but for many of us, our experience of these events is shaped and determined in large part by our interactions with media industries, institutions, and technologies. Understanding the media’s construction of these events as disasters provides important insight into the nature of disaster mitigation, response and recovery.
People not only want to be safe from natural hazards; they also want to feel they are safe. Sometimes these two desires pull in different directions, and when they do, this slows the journey to greater physical adaptation and resilience.
All people want to feel safe—especially in their own homes. In fact, although not always a place of actual safety, in many cultures “home” is nonetheless idealized as a place of security and repose. The feeling of having a safe home is one part of what is termed ontological security: freedom from existential doubts and the ability to believe that life will continue in much the same way as it always has, without threat to familiar assumptions about time, space, identity, and well-being. By threatening our homes, floods, earthquakes, and similar events disrupt ontological security: they destroy the possessions that support our sense of who we are; they fracture the social structures that provide us with everyday needs such as friendship, play, and affection; they disrupt the routines that give our lives a sense of predictability; and they challenge the myth of our immortality. Such events, therefore, not only cause physical injury and loss; by damaging ontological security, they also cause emotional distress and jeopardize long-term mental health.
However, ontological security is undermined not only by the occurrence of hazard events but also by their anticipation. This affects people’s willingness to take steps that would reduce hazard vulnerability. Those who are confident that they can eliminate their exposure to a hazard will usually do so. More commonly, however, the available options come with uncertainty and social/psychological risks: often, the available options only reduce vulnerability, and sometimes people doubt the effectiveness of these options or their ability to choose and implement appropriate measures. In these circumstances, the risk to ontological security that is implied by action can have greater influence than the potential benefits. For example, although installing a floodgate might reduce a business’s flood vulnerability, the business owner might feel that its presence would act as an everyday reminder that the business, and the income derived from it, are not secure. Similarly, bolting furniture to the walls of a home might reduce injuries in the next earthquake, but householders might also anticipate that it would remind them that there is a continual threat to their home. Both of these circumstances describe situations in which the anticipation of future feelings can tap into less conscious anxieties about ontological security.
The manner in which people anticipate impacts on ontological security has several implications for preparedness. For example, it suggests that hazard warnings will be counterproductive if they are not accompanied by suggestions of easy, reliable ways of eliminating risk. It also suggests that adaptation measures should be designed not to enhance awareness of the hazard.
How big, how often, and where from? This is almost a mantra for researchers trying to understand tsunami hazard and risk. What we do know is that events such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004 IOT) caught scientists by surprise, largely because there was no “research memory” of past events for that region, and as such, there was no hazard awareness, no planning, no risk assessment, and no disaster risk reduction. Forewarned is forearmed, but to be in that position, we have to be able to understand the evidence left behind by past events—palaeootsunamis—and to have at least some inkling of what generated them.
While the 2004 IOT was a devastating wake-up call for science, we need to bear in mind that palaeotsunami research was still in its infancy at the time. What we now see is still a comparatively new discipline that is practiced worldwide, but as the “new kid on the block,” there are still many unknowns. What we do know is that in many cases, there is clear evidence of multiple palaeotsunamis generated by a variety of source mechanisms. There is a suite of proxy data—a toolbox, if you will—that can be used to identify a palaeotsunami deposit in the sedimentary record. Things are never quite as simple as they sound, though, and there are strong divisions within the research community as to whether one can really differentiate between a palaeotsunami and a palaeostorm deposit, and whether proxies as such are the way to go. As the discipline matures, though, many of these issues are being resolved, and indeed we have now arrived at a point where we have the potential to detect “invisible deposits” laid down by palaeotsunamis once they have run out of sediment to lay down as they move inland. As such, we are on the brink of being able to better understand the full extent of inundation by past events, a valuable tool in gauging the magnitude of palaeotsunamis.
Palaeotsunami research is multidisciplinary, and as such, it is a melting pot of different scientific perspectives, which leads to rapid innovations. Basically, whatever is associated with modern events may be reflected in prehistory. Also, palaeotsunamis are often part of a landscape response pushed beyond an environmental threshold from which it will never fully recover, but that leaves indelible markers for us to read. In some cases, we do not even need to find a palaeotsunami deposit to know that one happened.
Lukas U. Arenson and Matthias Jakob
Mountain environments, home to about 12% of the global population and covering nearly a quarter of the global land surface, create hazardous conditions for various infrastructures. The economic and ecologic importance of these environments for tourism, transportation, hydropower generation, or natural resource extraction requires that direct and indirect interactions between infrastructures and geohazards be evaluated. Construction of infrastructure in mountain permafrost environments can change the ground thermal regime, affect gravity-driven processes, impact the strength of ice-rich foundations, or result in permafrost aggradation via natural convection. The severity of impact, and whether permafrost will degrade or aggrade in response to the construction, is a function of numerous parameters including climate change, which needs to be considered when evaluating the changes in existing or formation of new geohazards. The main challenge relates to the uncertainties associated with the projections of medium- (decadal) and long-term (century-scale) climate change. A fundamental understanding of the various processes at play and a good knowledge of the foundation conditions is required to ascertain that infrastructure in permafrost environment functions as intended. Many of the tools required for identifying geohazards in the periglacial and appropriate risk management strategies are already available.
Anna Bozza, Domenico Asprone, and Gaetano Manfredi
In the early 21st century, achieving the sustainability of urban environments while coping with increasingly occurring natural disasters is a very ambitious challenge for contemporary communities. In this context, urban resilience is a comprehensive objective that communities can follow to ensure future sustainable cities able to cope with the risks to which they are exposed.
Researchers have developed different definitions of resilience as this concept has been applied to diverse topics and issues in recent decades. Essentially, resilience is defined as the capability of a system to withstand major unexpected events and recover in a functional and efficient manner. When dealing with urban environments, the efficiency of the recovery can be related to multiple aspects, many of which are often hard to control. Mainly it is quantified in terms of the restoration of urban economy, population, and built form (Davoudi et al., 2012). In this article, engineering resilience is defined in relation to cities’ capability to be sustainable in the phase of an extreme event occurrence while reconfiguring their physical configuration. In this view, a city is resilient if it is sustainable in the occurrence of a hazardous event.
Accordingly, in an urban context, a wide range of nonhomogeneous factors and intrinsic dynamics have to be accounted for, which requires a multi-scale approach, from the single building level to the urban and, ultimately, the global environmental scale. As a consequence, cities can be understood as physical systems assessed through engineering metrics. Hence, the physical dimension represents a starting point from which to approach resilience. When shifting the focus from the single structure to the city scale, human behavior is revealed to be a critical factor because social actors behave and make choices every day in an unpredictable and unorganized manner, which affects city functioning. According to the ecosystem theory, urban complexity can be addressed through the ecosystem theory approach, which accounts for interrelations between physical and human components.
Abdelghani Meslem and Dominik H. Lang
In the fields of earthquake engineering and seismic risk reduction the term “physical vulnerability” defines the component that translates the relationship between seismic shaking intensity, dynamic structural uake damage and loss assessment discipline in the early 1980s, which aimed at predicting the consequences of earthquake shaking for an individual building or a portfolio of buildings. In general, physical vulnerability has become one of the main key components used as model input data by agencies when developinresponse (physical damage), and cost of repair for a particular class of buildings or infrastructure facilities. The concept of physical vulnerability started with the development of the earthqg prevention and mitigation actions, code provisions, and guidelines. The same may apply to insurance and reinsurance industry in developing catastrophe models (also known as CAT models).
Since the late 1990s, a blossoming of methodologies and procedures can be observed, which range from empirical to basic and more advanced analytical, implemented for modelling and measuring physical vulnerability. These methods use approaches that differ in terms of level of complexity, calculation efforts (in evaluating the seismic demand-to-structural response and damage analysis) and modelling assumptions adopted in the development process. At this stage, one of the challenges that is often encountered is that some of these assumptions may highly affect the reliability and accuracy of the resulted physical vulnerability models in a negative way, hence introducing important uncertainties in estimating and predicting the inherent risk (i.e., estimated damage and losses).
Other challenges that are commonly encountered when developing physical vulnerability models are the paucity of exposure information and the lack of knowledge due to either technical or nontechnical problems, such as inventory data that would allow for accurate building stock modeling, or economic data that would allow for a better conversion from damage to monetary losses. Hence, these physical vulnerability models will carry different types of intrinsic uncertainties of both aleatory and epistemic character. To come up with appropriate predictions on expected damage and losses of an individual asset (e.g., a building) or a class of assets (e.g., a building typology class, a group of buildings), reliable physical vulnerability models have to be generated considering all these peculiarities and the associated intrinsic uncertainties at each stage of the development process.
Thomas A. Birkland
Natural disasters pose important problems for societies and governments. Governments are charged with making policies to protect public safety. Large disasters, then, can reveal problems in government policies designed to protect the public from the effects of such disasters. Large disasters can serve as focusing events, a term used to describe large, sudden, rare, and harmful events that gain a lot of attention from the public and from policy makers. Such disasters highlight problems and, as the public policy literature suggests, open windows of opportunity for policy change. However, as a review of United States disaster policy from 1950 through 2015 shows, change in disaster policy is often, but not always, driven by major disasters that act as focusing events. But the accumulation of experience from such disasters can lead to learning, which can be useful if later, even more damaging and attention-grabbing events arise.
Rapid urbanization and growing populations have put tremendous pressures on limited global housing stocks. As the frequency of disasters has increased with devastating impacts on this limited stock of housing, the discourse on post-disaster housing recovery has evolved in several ways. Prior to the 1970s, the field was largely understudied, and there was a narrow understanding of how households and communities rebuilt their homes after a catastrophic event and on the effectiveness of housing recovery policy and programs designed to assist them. Early debates on post-disaster housing recovery centered on cultural and technological appropriateness of housing recovery programs. The focus on materials, technology, and climate missed larger socioeconomic and political complexities of housing recovery. Since then, the field has come a long way: current theoretical and policy debates focus on the effect of governance structures, funding practices, the consequences of public and private interventions, and socioeconomic and institutional arrangements that effect housing recovery outcomes.
There are a number of critical issues that shape long-term post-disaster housing recovery processes and outcomes, especially in urban contexts. Some of them include the role of the government in post-disaster housing recovery, governance practices that drive recovery processes and outcomes, the challenges of paying for post-disaster housing repair and reconstruction, the disconnect between planning for rebuilding and planning for housing recovery, and the mismatch between existing policy programs and housing needs after a catastrophic event—particularly for affordable housing recovery. Moreover, as housing losses after disasters continue to increase, and as the funding available to rebuild housing stocks shrinks, it has become increasingly important to craft post-disaster housing recovery policy and programs that apply the limited resources in the most efficient and impactful ways. Creating housing recovery programs by employing a needs-based approach instead of one based solely on loss could more effectively focus limited resources on those that might need it the most. Such an approach would be broad based and proportional, as it would address the housing recovery of a wide range of groups based upon their needs, including low-income renters, long-term leaseholders, residents of informal settlements and manufactured homes, as well as those with preexisting resources such as owner-occupant housing.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Natural disasters have increased dramatically in the twenty-first century. An estimated 217 million people are affected by natural disasters each year. Recent disasters, both nationally and globally, provide insight into how the degree of destruction and number of fatalities can negatively affect survivors. Cultural, political, and geographic factors may increase risk of trauma and negative mental health outcomes. Understanding these risks is critical to helping survivors recover in the aftermath of disasters. Different disasters pose different risks, and some communities are chronically affected. How to support these communities psychologically in the face of ongoing threats of destruction is an important question.
Recent years have also seen major advances in technology that provide new and innovative ways to manage disasters. Technological strategies can be harnessed to better serve the interests of disaster-affected communities. For example, warning times for disasters have increased because of better instrumentation and the ability to send messages sooner to communities that may be in the path of a disaster. These increased warning times may allow for psychological preparation before a disaster that can support positive mental health outcomes in recovery. Demands for evidence-based mental health interventions require an understanding of best practices in disaster response, challenges to past relief efforts, and the strategies and factors that can enhance effective future efforts.
Public Finance of Natural Hazards Risk Reduction and Community Resilience Promotion in Developed Countries
Charlotte Kirschner and Akheil Singla
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.
As more and more of the population moves to areas prone to natural hazards, the costs of disasters are on the rise. Given that these events are an eventuality, governments must aid their communities in promoting disaster resilience, enabling their communities to reduce their susceptibility to natural hazards, and adapting to and recovering from disasters when they occur.
The federal system in the United States divides these responsibilities among national, state, and local governments. Local and state governments are largely responsible for the direct provision of services to their communities, and the Stafford Act of 1988 provides that the federal government will pay at least seventy-five percent of all eligible expenses once a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration has been made. As a result, state and local governments have become largely reliant on transfers from the federal government to pay for disaster relief and recovery efforts. This system encourages state and local governments to ignore the risks they face and turn to the federal government for aid after a disaster.
This system also seems to underemphasize an important mechanism that can bolster disaster resilience: financing the costs of disasters through ex ante budgeting by using contingency funds specific to disasters, otherwise known as disaster stabilization funds. While some states have these funds, their practical effect or theoretical purpose is currently unknown. States may be using their disaster stabilization funds as a means to build resilience by putting the state in a better position to provide a quicker response to individuals and communities, rather than waiting for federal relief. Alternatively, state disaster stabilization funds may simply be a placeholder for states to appropriate the 25% matching funds they must provide to receive the federal funds. These issues are explored through examination of a state’s use of disaster contingency funds and are compared to the efforts of other developed countries to build resilience through ex ante budgeting practices.