Course manual Introduction to Disaster Management


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Unit summary


This unit sets the scope for what disaster management entails. As an introductory course, the content focuses on definitions and descriptions of terminologies; articulating the concept of disaster management; distinguishing between emergency and disaster situations; identifying and describing the types of natural and human-caused disasters; listing and describing the main hazards your country is vulnerable to; and identifying and briefly describing the implications disasters can have on people and the environment.



  1. Define the following:

  1. (a) Disaster management;

  2. (b) Hazard;

  3. (c) Emergency;

  4. (d) Disaster;

  5. e) Vulnerability; and

  6. (f) Risk

  1. Differentiate between an emergency and a disaster situation

  2. Identify and describe three natural disasters which you are familiar with; identify and describe three man-made disasters you have learnt about.

  3. List and describe one main hazard to which your country is vulnerable to.

  4. Identify and briefly discuss one adverse impact that a particular disaster has left behind on your lifestyle and environment


Srinivas, H. (2005) Disasters: a quick FAQ. Accessed on 24/01/08 at:

Unit 2

Disaster Management Cycle – Phase I: Mitigation


Disaster management is an enormous task. They are not confined to any particular location, neither do they disappear as quickly as they appear. Therefore, it is imperative that there is proper management to optimize efficiency of planning and response. Due to limited resources, collaborative efforts at the governmental, private and community levels are necessary. This level of collaboration requires a coordinated and organized effort to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and their effects in the shortest possible time.

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • Define the various phases of the disaster management cycle.

  • Explain the importance of disaster mitigation.

  • Describe how disaster management can be integrated into public policy.

  • Explain how planning and design of infrastructure should take into account the vulnerability of the communities.


Disaster management cycle:

A cycle with phases that reduce or prevent disasters


Reducing or minimizing an impact of a hazard or disaster.

Risk management:

Consists of identifying threats (hazards likely to occur), determining their probability of occurrence, estimating what the impact of the threat might be to the communities at risk, determining measures that can reduce the risk, and taking action to reduce the threat.


A condition wherein human settlements, buildings, agriculture, or human health are exposed to a disaster by virtue of their construction or proximity to hazardous terrain.

Disaster Management Cycle

Disaster management is a cyclical process; the end of one phase is the beginning of another (see diagram below), although one phase of the cycle does not necessarily have to be completed in order for the next to take place. Often several phases are taking place concurrently. Timely decision making during each phase results in greater preparedness, better warnings, reduced vulnerability and/or the prevention of future disasters. The complete disaster management cycle includes the shaping of public policies and plans that either addresses the causes of disasters or mitigates their effects on people, property, and infrastructure.

The mitigation and preparedness phases occur as improvements are made in anticipation of an event. By embracing development, a community’s ability to mitigate against and prepare for a disaster is improved. As the event unfolds, disaster managers become involved in the immediate response and long-term recovery phases.

The diagram below shows the Disaster Management Cycle.

Figure 3: Disaster Management Cycle

Mitigation: Measures put in place to minimize the results from a disaster. Examples: building codes and zoning; vulnerability analyses; public education.

Preparedness: Planning how to respond. Examples: preparedness plans; emergency exercises/training; warning systems.

Response: Initial actions taken as the event takes place. It involves efforts to minimize the hazards created by a disaster. Examples: evacuation; search and rescue; emergency relief.

Recovery: Returning the community to normal. Ideally, the affected area should be put in a condition equal to or better than it was before the disaster took place. Examples: temporary housing; grants; medical care.

An excellent source of more information can be found in the Global Development Research Centre’s article, “The Disaster Management Cycle” (Warfield, 2005)

Disaster Mitigation

Mitigation refers to all actions taken before a disaster to reduce its impacts, including preparedness and long-term risk reduction measures. Mitigation activities fall broadly into two categories:

  1. Structural mitigation – construction projects which reduce economic and social impacts

  2. Non-structural activities – policies and practices which raise awareness of hazards or encourage developments to reduce the impact of disasters.

Mitigation includes reviewing building codes; vulnerability analysis updates; zoning and land-use management and planning; reviewing of building use regulations and safety codes; and implementing preventative health measures. (World Development Report, 1998) Mitigation can also involve educating businesses and the public on simple measures they can take to reduce loss or injury, for instance fastening bookshelves, water heaters, and filing cabinets to walls to keep them from falling during earthquakes. Ideally, these preventative measures and public education programmes will occur before the disaster.

From time to time some mitigation requirements may be outside of the scope of the disaster manager, however, this does not lessen the role to be played by mitigation. On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the emergency manager to avail him or herself with the requisite information to engage community involvement.

The primary focus of disaster management is to prevent disasters wherever possible or to mitigate those which are inevitable. Four sets of tools that could be used to prevent or mitigate disasters include:

  1. Hazard management and vulnerability reduction

  2. Economic diversification

  3. Political intervention and commitment

  4. Public awareness

The first two apply exclusively to disasters caused by natural phenomena while the latter are used to mitigate any other hazards.

Mitigation strategies

Two aspects of mitigation include:

  1. Hazard identification and vulnerability analysis and

  2. Various mitigation strategies or measures.

These are discussed in greater detail below.
Hazard identification and vulnerability analysis

A hazard can cause the full range of natural disasters, major man-made incidents, and resource crises that become the concern of the entire community, not just emergency management personnel. The ideal is for communities to be prepared at all times for all types of hazards. In practical terms however, this is not possible. Preparedness for one hazard or disaster may increase your risk to another. For example, structures designed to withstand hurricane force winds may incur or cause greater damage if there is an earthquake. The more logical solution would be to adapt best practices as much as possible for the most likely scenario.

But what about the hazards associated with our 21st-century lifestyle such as chemical spills, ecological disasters, explosions, major transportation accidents? Mitigation involves addressing both natural and man-made hazards, different as they are in many respects. A crucial first step in mitigation is deciding which hazards have the greatest potential to affect your jurisdiction.

The most critical part of implementing a mitigation strategy is a full understanding of the nature of the threat as the hazards faced vary between locations and from hazard to hazard. Some countries are prone to floods and drought; others have histories of tropical storm damage; and others are at risk from earthquakes. Most countries are prone to at least some combination of hazards and all face the possibility of technological disasters as industrial development progresses. The effects these hazards are likely to have and their potential damage is dependent on the risks, the people, their livelihoods and the existing infrastructure. For any particular location, therefore, it is critical to know which hazards are the most likely.

Furthermore, targeting mitigation efforts relies heavily on correctly assessing vulnerability – see tables in Unit 1. Vulnerability assessment can also be extended to social groups or economic sectors: People who rent houses rely on a landlord to repair any damage and are more likely to be rendered homeless in the event of a disaster. Correctly identifying the groups of tenants and establishing rights of tenure and landlords’ obligations to repair may reduce the number of people rendered homeless in the event of a disaster. Similarly, food growers sending their produce to market through a single mountain pass will be unable to sell their produce if the pass is blocked. Developing an alternative route to market will reduce disruption of the agricultural sector. Thus, building or constructing a number of routes is very important because in a time of disaster it will be easier for the affected group or community to employ alternatives.

Mitigation strategies or measures

  • Adjusting normal development programmes to reduce losses. For instance, varieties of crops that are more wind, flood or drought resistant can often be introduced in areas prone to floods, drought and cyclones.

  • Economic diversification. In areas where the principal or sole source of the income may be threatened, attempts should be made to diversify the economy and introduce the economic activities that are less vulnerable. Diversification is extremely important where economies are dependent on a single cash crop.

  • Developing disaster resistant economic activities. Some economic activities are relatively unaffected by disasters. For instance, situating warehouses in flood plains may be more appropriate than manufacturing plants in the same location. Coconut palms could be more suitable than other fruit trees in cyclone-prone coastal areas. Efforts should be made to identify and encourage the development of enterprises that are less vulnerable to the hazards.

An excellent overview on disaster mitigation can be found in one of the FEMA emergency management training modules – see the Reference List at the end of this unit.

Disaster Mitigation and Infrastructure

Investment in infrastructure for the management of hydrological hazards – such as cyclones and floods – has significantly reduced the loss of life from an annual average of 100,000 persons during the past 50 years to 41,000 persons during the past 15 years. Investment in disaster management infrastructure falls into two categories:
  1. Investment in infrastructure to support sustainable socioeconomic development; and

  2. Investment in infrastructure for reconstruction and recovery.

Source: ESCAP, 1995. Asian and the Pacific Report on Natural Hazards and Natural Disaster Reduction.

  1. Operations

To maintain operations during a disaster, ensure that a backup generator is available in case of power failure and that a battery-operated radio is at hand as well as a back-up supply of critical goods/needs – a continuous supply if at all possible.

  1. Critical Information and Communication

Ensure that there is a backup copy of all critical information – namely employee data, customer list, production formulas, a list of software and hardware and logon and passwords – in an accessible yet safe place; regularly update the backup copy of all files.

  1. Insurance

Ensure that all critical assets, including business interruption are insured and be aware of the content of the insurance policy.

  1. Infrastructure planning

For most infrastructure projects, natural hazard mitigation should be addressed during the conceptual development of the project. The preliminary design should take into consideration the prevalent hazards and methods to avoid or to minimize the effects of the extreme natural events. These factors include:

  • Situating the facility to avoid flooding, soil erosion, exposure to high winds and unstable soils, and to minimize exposure to storm surge and high waves for harbours, docking facilities and coastal buildings;
  • Designing the shape of the buildings and structural systems to minimize effects of high winds and earthquake effects, tornados, and, in the case of protection works, to avoid unwanted effects such as beach erosion, accretion, or negative impact on coral reefs and wetlands;

  • Construction materials that are corrosion resistant and of appropriate durability and strength.

Furthermore, targeting mitigation efforts relies heavily on correctly assessing vulnerability. Vulnerability assessment can also be extended to social groups or economic sectors: People who rent houses rely on a landlord to repair any damage and are more likely to be rendered homeless in the event of a disaster. Correctly identifying the groups of tenants and establishing rights of tenure and landlords’ obligations to repair may reduce the number of people rendered homeless in the event of a disaster. Similarly, food growers sending their produce to market through a single mountain pass will be unable to sell their produce if the pass is blocked. Developing an alternative route to market will reduce disruption of the agricultural sector. Thus, building or constructing number of routes is very important because in a time of disaster it will be easier for the effected group or community to employ alternatives.

  1. Mitigation Activities at Home

Homes can be destroyed by high winds. Flying debris can break windows and doors, allowing high winds and rain into your house. High winds can also cause weaker places in your home to crumble. Strengthening vulnerable areas such as roofs, exterior doors, windows, and garage doors; clearing debris from possibly affected areas; and building a safe room in your home can all contribute to personal mitigation strategies. It is also very important to encourage people to learn more about other protective measures that fall within the purview of their local building code.

Additionally, in areas that are prone to strong winds, there is a need for a number of other measures to be considered such as engineering structures to withstand wind forces; including wind load requirements in building codes; planting windbreaks; planning forestry areas upwind of towns; and the provision of wind-safety buildings, for example providing strong village halls for community shelter in vulnerable settlements.

Disaster and Development

Disasters and development are closely linked in that disasters can both destroy development initiatives and create development opportunities and that development schemes can both increase and decrease vulnerability.

The prevailing attitude has been that disasters, especially natural ones, were an act of nature and as such were beyond human control; accepting death and damage to property was part of the costs. With such an attitude, most development plans were designed without consideration for the effect disasters would have on community plans and vice versa. When a disaster did occur, the response was directed at meeting emergency needs and cleaning up. Now it is realized that much more can and need to be done to reduce the severity of hazards and disasters.

A growing body of knowledge on the relationships between disasters and development indicates four basic themes as follows:

  1. Disasters set back development programming, destroying years of development initiatives.

  2. Rebuilding after a disaster provides significant opportunities to initiate development programmes.

  3. Development programmes can increase an area’s susceptibility to disasters.

  4. Development programmes can be designed to decrease the susceptibility to disasters and their negative consequences.

Decision-makers who ignore these relationships between disasters and development do a disservice to their people, who place their trust in them. Increasingly forward-thinking Ministries of Planning and Finance, with support from the United Nations and other non-governmental officials, are assessing development projects in the context of disaster mitigation. Projects are thus being designed to include disaster recovery programmes and with long term development needs in mind.

Development requires institutional and structural transformations of societies to speed up economic growth, reduce levels of inequality, and eradicate absolute poverty. Over time, the effects of disasters can seriously degrade a country’s long-term potential for sustained development and cause governments to substantially modify their economic development priorities and programmes.

At the same time, disasters often provide opportunities for development. They can improve the atmosphere in favour of change and create a rationale to establish development programmes such as job training, housing construction and land reform. However, poor management of the relief and rehabilitation responses may have severe negative implications for development for years to come, and may even increase vulnerability to future hazards.

The impact of disasters on development programmes

Disasters can significantly impede the effectiveness of development resource allocation. The damage is done in many ways and the impacts can be as complex as the economy itself. It is for specific reasons that practitioners explore the issues of lost resources to determine what will no longer be available to the country after a disaster such as assessing the effects of programme interruptions and the switching of crucial resources to other, shorter-term needs as disasters often change the political, economic and social conditions within a country. There will also be a need to consider the negative impacts on investment climates (of the now declared disaster zone) to determine what opportunities will be left to attract local and international investment capital to the area or country that has been devastated by the disaster. And lastly, in what state will the disruption of the non-formal sector leave the disaster area in terms of citizens proceeding with their lives in ways closest to conditions before the disaster. This non-formal sector may involve the way private citizens conduct business in their lives after the disaster.
Vulnerabilities caused by development

Lack of access to education and information often has wider implications and local people may be simply unaware of the options open to them in reducing their vulnerability. Poor people, for example, have fewer assets to invest in resources which may reduce their vulnerability; they may also be unwilling to make any significant investment without clear and obvious benefits. Poor people are also less likely to be in a position to organize collectively to reduce common risks, partially because these groups are usually have a higher proportion of women, young children, elderly people, the sick and disabled. Furthermore, after a disaster, the effects of malnutrition and chronic illness put people at additional risk. Although in aggregate terms development will usually contribute to a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters, any development activity may substantially increase particular types of vulnerability. Illustrations of such development activities are as follows:

  • Urban development often leads to an influx of low-income groups such as large-scale settlements on marginal land or in high densities with poor quality housing. Buildings may be situated on earthquake faults, in flash-flood zones, or on slopes prone to landslides.

  • Marine and coastal zone development leads to concentrations of populations exposed to possible storm-surges, high winds, flash floods, and landslide risks. Tourist development can increase potential vulnerability substantially when low-lying beach areas are targets for infrastructure and capital investments. Tsunamis and tropical storms can quickly destroy these improvements as well as placing tourists and workers at substantial risk to death and injury.

  • Construction of transportation lines and poorly managed forestry programmes will often lead to deforestation and increased risks of landslides.

  • Water resource management projects, including dams and irrigation schemes, potentially increase risks to large populations, either by displacing natural habitats, increasing risks of severe flooding, or by increasing the risk of dam failure.

  • Investment in poorly controlled hazardous industries may lead to concentrations of population around the plant; increases in air and water pollution; and exposure to hazards from both chronic and catastrophic release of toxic materials.

  • Livestock development projects can lead to severe loss of vegetation cover and conditions of near-desertification around specific natural points such as wells.

  • Agricultural projects promoting cash crops may reduce the production of staple foods.

Each of these examples illustrates the importance of including risk assessment as an integral part of programme planning and evaluation, and highlights the critical importance of training and education in these areas.

Development programmes can decrease vulnerability

The term mitigation is increasingly applied to measures which reduce economic losses, as well as those which reduce death and injury. The distinction between the two types of mitigation is as follows:

Structural mitigation includes measures to reduce the economic and social impact of hazardous agents and involve construction programmes, especially dams, windbreaks, terracing and hazard resistant buildings.

Non-structural mitigation is most commonly used to refer to policies and practices, including land-use policies, zoning, crop diversification, building codes, and procedures for forecasting and warning. In a broader context, non-structural mitigation can also include education, awareness, environmental understanding, community organization, and empowerment strategies.

Mitigation is most effective as part of a medium- to long-term development programme which incorporates hazard-reduction measures into regular investment projects. Under these conditions risks can be assessed analytically and explicitly in the context of national planning and investment programme reviews. The cost effectiveness of specific emergency preparedness measures and hazard reduction activities can be assessed. There are opportunities to build links between government and international organizations involved in relief and recovery and to provide opportunities for investment institutions to help governments gain access to new developments in hazard-reduction technologies. In regular investment project design and sector loans, attention can be given to early warning systems and other elements of emergency preparedness through financial or technical assistance.

Using development programmes to decrease vulnerability should increasingly be incorporated into every level of programme and project preparation and review within UNDP country programming as well as other financial and technical assistance projects. Structured review procedures should require that the disaster implications of new projects be explicitly taken into consideration.

There is a wide range of options for incorporating mitigation measures into regular development programmes. Each of the following examples suggests ways of protecting populations and critical economic assets against hazards and of reducing the overall impact of a disaster.

  1. Strengthening urban utility systems and industrial support infrastructures is a common aim of development projects. This is achieved through a variety of external inputs including loans, technical assistance, and support for institutional development. “Lifeline systems” – such as water, electric power, transportation links and communications – can be made more effective as well as more selectively resistant to particular hazards.

  2. Many other opportunities exist to incorporate hazard resistant building techniques in housing and other construction programmes. These opportunities are usually specific to the type of housing used in the region and the nature of local hazards. Such measures can substantially reduce injuries and deaths from earthquakes and tropical storms. Additionally, these programmes can protect high value economic resources, reducing the total costs of damage and improving the chances of more rapid recovery. On a wider scale, the application of building codes, associated training programmes, and more extensive use of zoning regulations in urban development reduce the risk for the local population, and the likelihood of damage to industrial facilities. Improved drainage systems and flood protection measures can further protect people and facilities in hazardous areas.

  3. Investments in improving administration and strengthening the resource-base of public institutions will have a general positive impact on the effectiveness of preparedness arrangements, emergency responses and the quality of longer-term recovery planning. Training programmes in general, and especially those with a management or technical focus, can be expected to improve the implementation of mitigation and response measures.
  4. Agricultural and forestry programmes provide a range of opportunities for mitigation. Reforestation programmes reduce risks of erosion, landslides and flash flooding. Changes in cropping patterns can also ameliorate erosion problems and losses due to floods and drought. The introduction of pest-resistant crops can reduce the economic and other impacts of infestations. Programmes for soil conservation, water harvesting and improving on-farm storage can mitigate the effects of drought.

    Each of these examples represents an opportunity for mitigation. Each also requires investment of scarce resources.

According to USAID:

  • The operation must be directed at restoring assets or productivity in a long-term development perspective - not relief.

  • The prospective economic returns should be high.

  • The effects of the emergency should be significant.

  • The event triggering the emergency should have a low probability of happening again soon.

  • The need for an urgent response should be evident.

  • Emergency lending is limited to cases where effective action can be felt in two to three years.

  • There should be some prospect for future reduction in the hazard.

Developing a draft country-level disaster and development policy

Outlined below is a policy framework for bilateral foreign aid based on an example from USAID. The framework highlights three areas of concern for development initiatives for countries faced with disasters. These areas are as follows:

  1. Partnership:

Development cannot be unilaterally mandated and implemented. The success, or lack thereof, of development initiatives requires close collaboration among donors, governments, communities, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and universities. Partnerships build ownership and capacity and achieve significant results through joint efforts, based on comparative advantage and common objectives.

  1. Flexibility:

Local conditions for development vary widely and can change rapidly – for better or worse. Development agencies must be efficient and flexible; adaptable to local environments and capable of adjusting to changing conditions and seizing opportunities when they arise.
  1. Selectivity:

Development resources are limited relative to the world’s needs. They are a public asset that must be invested prudently to achieve maximum impact. Assistance allocations among countries should be based on three criteria: need; the foreign policy interests of the country supplying the aid (e.g., the United States); and the commitment of a country and its leadership to reform. At the country level, resources should be invested where they have maximum impact in achieving priority strategic objectives.

Given the scope of the degradation to infrastructures, human and social systems, political and economical that a country can suffer from disasters to its development, no private individual or company will have the resources to take disaster preventative steps to manage its developmental growth. Therefore, the government of a country is to develop policies that will steer disaster prevention that will lead to sustainable development in the long term. Experts in the field of disaster and development policy recommend that the following action must be taken by government at the national, regional and local levels. The effect of disasters should be counteracted using policies aimed at sustaining development. If development polices are developed adequately, they can achieve the following:

  • Permit governments to define rehabilitation and reconstruction methods in response and recovery in the disaster management cycle.

  • Set standards to manage public and private resources and their distribution for recovery by disaster victims

  • Back local laws and regulations, interagency cooperation and collaboration to benefits sustain the development.

  • Provide for local communities to access resources for recovery that sustains development.

  • Design risk reduction strategies for communities such as early warning measures.
  • Allow government officials to use of hazard vulnerability mapping information to control relocation.

  • Enforce land elevation and set procedures for compliance with zoning laws and regulations.

  • Provide for the development of land preservation in danger zones.

  • Establish the framework for disaster assistance in the form of loans and public assistance for immediate recovery.

  • Set out procedures for land use including maintaining natural mangrove for storm surge protection.

Quarantelli (1997) claimed that “policies can be established and steps can be taken that will reduce and weaken some negative effects of the probable catastrophic disasters of the future.” The policies mentioned above can reduce the catastrophic impact that disasters place on development initiatives, particularly in very poor countries.

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