Course manual Introduction to Disaster Management

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Unit summary


Unit 4 provides information on disaster response and recovery likely to be made by institutions or agencies and residents during the management of disasters. The focus of the disaster response is shown to be the survival and medical assistance to disaster victims in a timely fashion to save lives. Disaster response is a sub-division of disaster management that takes into consideration acts of recovery and self-sufficiency; reconstruction and rehabilitation that can be carried out in the short and long term in the best interest of people involved before, during and after disasters.

Mitigative strategies such as evacuation, early warning, search and rescue have been methods of disaster response aimed at reducing the impact of disasters on people. They have been highlighted with the view to show the importance of their use in disaster management. Relationships between the disaster response and resources, security and communication in disaster management are highlighted to demonstrate the ways that people cope and survive disasters.

The modern versus traditional methods of responding to disasters are described to show distinctions and commonalities between the methods of humanitarian, remittance, networking, volunteerism and mutual aid agreements that disaster responders may choose to use, depending on the scope and magnitude of disasters experience by communities and the resource assessment made.



Research the disaster management response and recovery components of the disaster plan in your country. You are expected to discuss with appropriate resource people to answer this assignment.



  1. Protection of life and treatment of persons are reasons for evacuation. True or False

  2. The traditional response to disaster can in some cases contribute to the modern method. True or False

  3. Reconstructions after a disaster should be carried out so that they are better than before a disaster. True or False

  4. Recovery measures are short term only. True or False.


  1. True

  2. True

  3. True

  1. False


FEMA Document, Unit 5, Response. Accessed on 23/01/08 at:

FEMA Document, Unit 6, Recovery. Accessed on 23/01/08 at:

Hodgson, M. E. and S. L. Cutter, (2001). Mapping and the Spatial Analysis of Hazardscapes, in S.L. Cutter (ed.) American Hazardscapes: The Regionalization of Hazards and Disasters. Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, pp. 37-60.

Hodgson, M.E. and Palm, R., (1992) Attitude toward disaster: a GIS design for analyzing human response to earthquake hazards. Geo Info Systems July-August: 41-51.

Stephenson, R.S. and DuFranc, C., (2002) Disasters and Development: Part 2: Understanding and Exploiting Disaster-Development Linkages. Accessed on 23/01/08 at:

Unit 5

Education and Public Awareness – Part I: Community-based Initiatives


Every country is at the risk of exposure to some type of disaster, whether natural or man-made. In order for each country to prepare for any kind of disaster, it must inform its citizens about the different types of disasters. The local residents must also be aware of how they can effectively participate in preparing for a disaster, mitigating potential impacts of a disaster and the recovery process after a disaster.

One of the most effective mechanisms for a country to prepare for a disaster is by conducting education and public awareness programmes at the local community level. Public awareness in disaster management is a process of educating and empowering the population through sharing knowledge and information about the various types of disasters and their potential risks as widely as possible so that people act appropriately when a disaster happens.

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • State and explain the importance of the Community-Based Approach to Education and Public Awareness.

  • Identify the different stakeholders involved in the Community-based Approach.

  • Categorise the stakeholders according to their roles and responsibilities.
  • Identify and explain the different methods that can be used to assist communities in reducing disaster risks.

  • Describe how a community-based action plan for disaster management can be implemented actively.

  • Identify and compare the advantages and disadvantages of the Community-based Approach.


Public awareness:

the process of transmitting information to the general population to increase their levels of consciousness about disaster risks so they can prepare appropriately to cope with a disaster

Community-based approach:

a method of education and public awareness in disaster management in which community members are involved in the planning and implementation of the awareness programmes

Hazard Map:

a map which shows areas that are vulnerable to particular hazards such earthquakes, cyclones, flooding, volcanic activity

Community Disaster Management Organisation :

a national organisation which ensures that planned activities for disaster management are implemented within a given timeframe

Rationale for a Community-Based Approach

All governments are responsible for protecting their citizens and endorsing the 2005 Hyogo Declaration which states that: “strengthening community level capacities to reduce disaster risk at the local level is especially needed, considering that appropriate disaster reduction measures at that level enable the communities and individuals to reduce significantly their vulnerability to hazards.”

Members of a community are the immediate victims of adverse effects of a disaster. They have the best knowledge about their local surrounding in terms of the most disaster-prone areas, the demography of their community and their social and traditional organisation. It is important that they have the capacity to cope with the impacts of a disaster and are involved in the development of disaster management activities right from the initial planning stages. Community participation can also make them more confident in their capabilities to act in the event of a disaster leading to a self-reliant community (Newport & Jawahar, 2003).

Every community has members who can be ignorant of events around them especially when these events do not affect them directly or more frequently. This type of attitude can also be gradually changed by involving members of the local community in decision-making processes such as planning national disaster management plans or even designing awareness programmes. This bottom-up, participatory approach can make community members more receptive of new knowledge and information presented to them. Local residents who speak or understand their native language only may be hesitant to accept non-native people conducting education and awareness programmes for them.

Stakeholders’ Roles and Responsibilities

An effective and successful community-based approach in reducing disaster risks is often attributed to the spontaneous participation and involvement of the following stakeholders:

  • Government

  • Non-governments (NGOs)

  • Regional and International Organisations/Donor Agencies

  • Island council (Local government)

  • National/Local Organisations (women committees, youth groups, schools, etc)

  • Community workers

  • Trainers

  • Disaster Managers (Local and National)

  • Policy Makers

  • Grass-roots people

  • Religious Denominations

There is a need for coordination in the Community-Based Approach among all the stakeholders. The parameters for participation by each of the stakeholders need to be clearly outlined at the national level to avoid overlap and confusion. The focus for all of the stakeholders should be the local people, who are at risk of being potential victims and who should also assume responsibility in managing that risk. The stakeholders must:

  • develop a strong governance framework through legislation and policies;

  • mainstream disaster risk management and capacity building into decision making, the budget process, and sector, provincial and community development plans;

  • strengthen, empower and support local and national structures; and

  • understand and recognize that disaster management and disaster risk reduction are environmental, humanitarian and developmental issues, so there is a need to coordinate the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the approach.

Categories of stakeholders


To have an effective and sustainable impact on the community-based disaster programmes, policy makers should consider incorporating community- based disaster programmes into their drafting of appropriate acts and regulations in order to implement them effectively. The governments have a prime responsibility for managing disasters and for taking into consideration the roles taken by different people in the community in terms of developing and providing approaches and strategic actions which can be used to manage the consequences of disaster within the community. Community-based disaster initiatives produce results so long as there is also government support.

Non Government Organisations (NGOs)

NGOs are the appropriate organisations to conduct community-based disaster activities at the different communities and with different stakeholders. They consist of professionals, activists and grass-roots people who have wide networks which facilitate their capacity in programme development.

Regional and International Organisations / Donor Agencies

Selected donor agencies, regional and international organisations assist the communities in terms of initiating the community-based disaster programmes and providing financial assistance and sometimes resource people for the programmes.

Island Councils / Local Government

The most common elements of the community-based disaster involvement are partnership, participation, empowerment and ownership by the local people. Thus, it is the responsibility of the local government and/or island council to ensure there is an effective partnership in place, plus participation, empowerment and ownership by local people in their communities towards disaster reducing initiatives and programmes.

Community Workers

Community workers are the most reliable arms of the local government/island council in the implementation stage of the disaster policy and reduction initiatives. They have experience in handling disasters, hazards, emotional problems and coping mechanism and uncertainties. They assist the local government/island council in establishing a strong cooperation and understanding among diverse stakeholders including the local government, local NGOs, government, regional and international organisations. If this cooperation is effective, every person involved in all community-based disaster programmes is benefited, but the actual ownership still remains with the concerned community. This will be considered as a successful model for sustainable community-based disaster recovery, especially when the regional and international agencies leave. The community workers should also know that the timing of any activity is important. Therefore their responsibility is to make sure the timeframe of any community-based disaster reduction activity is followed otherwise the involvement of the people in the community will be reduced.

National/Local Organisations

National and local organisations such as women’s committees, youth groups, schools, religious groups, etc. should consider adapting the community-based disaster initiatives provided by the government, regional and international organisations as part of their overall disaster risks management. They are the main bodies in the community that can assist in the implementation of the community-based disaster programmes effectively.

National and Local Disaster Managers

Disaster Managers are the disaster professionals and technical people in the national government, who are responsible for the implementation of the disaster management initiatives of the country. Since the communities are important parts of the national government, these disaster professionals and managers should be aware that the key aspect of community-based disaster initiatives is its sustainability. Therefore, it is the trainers, local managers and/or national managers’ roles and responsibilities to train people in the community to understand the basic community-based disaster mitigation practices. While people in the community should own the problems, consequences, challenges of disaster mitigations and preparedness initiatives, it is still necessary for the trainers, local disaster managers and /or national disaster managers to take people’s involvement further by training them to be aware of disaster policy and strategy. One of the roles and responsibilities is to empower all concerned stakeholders through awareness training to involve them in decision making. They work together with local government on the development of schemes to ensure the sustainability of disaster initiatives is always in place at the individual, community and island levels. They are responsible for the implementation of local disaster management initiatives. These include island, city, province, department officers and practitioners.


Trainers provide training to the community leaders and agents. Through the facilitation process, the trainers provide awareness training which includes activities that aim at assessing the people’s capacity and vulnerability in relation to community-based disaster happenings. Trainers’ responsibility is also to develop and provide proposals about possible awareness activities aimed at the improving the assessed capacity and decreasing the vulnerability rate of the community residents. The other important responsibility for the trainers is to make sure that their training content is visible within the community and through the daily contacts with the residents. Training is a very important channel for the community, and ensuring that the whole community can better react to future disaster happenings.

Policy Makers

The policy makers are the ministers, permanent secretaries of the ministries and heads of the national disaster management units. There are also policy makers at the local government level, including island council presidents, city mayors and local politicians who prepare the island and/or city policies.

Grass-roots people

People at the grass-roots should understand their own disaster risks and be well versed in taking actions against such risks.

Methods of Dissemination

The methods of dissemination that can be utilized in the Community- Based Approach are varied and depend entirely on the needs of the community and the resources available on hand. As you go through this section, you may think of other methods more relevant or applicable for use in your community. This section focuses on the most common methods that can be utilized in almost any community.

The use of audiovisuals is one method of creating awareness and education at the community-based level. Audiovisuals typically used in developing countries are print based because of the unavailability of more highly advanced technically based mediums of delivery (e.g. television or the internet). Discussed here are the used of hazard maps and posters. The use of community theatre or drama is another method of communicating messages to the community on disaster preparedness and response.

The Simple Hazard Map

A common visual aid utilized in the Community Based Approach is the Simple Hazard Map. It is basically a map of the local community which points out safe escape routes and safe refuges as a guide to where people can run and where they can gather if there is a hazard event (March 2009). Simple hazard maps generally map out areas of risk and lead to action to reduce risk in those areas. It enables people to take the correct escape routes and gather at safe places when disaster strikes. It helps save many lives, homes and belongings which would otherwise be lost in a disaster.

You must also be aware that there is another kind of a hazard map which is more detailed than the simple hazard map. This is the complex hazard map. The complex hazard map is not discussed here because it is used at a level higher than the community level by trained planners and disaster managers.

Source: NDMO, Port Vila

Figure 4: Simple Hazard Map

Posters and Videos

Posters and leaflets on natural, technical and manmade disasters and their impacts can be produced and distributed or put up on community notice boards. The production and viewing of videos on past disasters can also be shown to communities to highlight important issues in preparation for or in response to disaster.

Community Theatre (Drama)

A different but exciting method used in the dissemination of information that you may have heard of is community theatre. The delight of theatre groups to dramatize disaster management awareness message is a medium that is very powerful. During the awareness meetings a mobile travelling theatre group or a local group can highlight the event with classical important messages. This is also a highly effective means of creating awareness in developing countries as the majority of people often have no access to newspapers and television. Local theatre groups therefore provide entertainment for the local community to which they belong and simultaneously present issues that directly affect the people as themes for their drama. Community theatre groups from a disaster prone area can produce drama relevant to the kind of disaster their community is prone to. People watching the drama are not only entertained but also gain a great deal of information and are made more aware of preparedness for and prevention of disaster in their community.

Informal Training

The Community Based Approach to Education and Awareness in Disaster Management also uses informal training as an efficient tool to prepare communities in the event that disaster strikes. This training takes place not only outside of the formal curriculum but often even outside the setting of a formal learning or training institution. Informal training is sponsored by the government, NGOs or other donor funding agencies. It targets community leaders and covers important information for people in disaster prone communities.

The existing government and the local structures should form the basis for the facilitation and implementing of the awareness training programme, progress and process. It is imperative that whole process of awareness is mainstreamed across sectors. The integration and involvement of disaster management is everybody’s business but the crucial focus should be within the communities. There should be a gradual shift from disaster response to disaster management. The awareness training based in the communities is geared towards supporting them to understand and manage their hazard to reduce and mitigate their risks. The responsibilities should not only rest on the communities as such but that the public and private sectors should cooperate and be partners to discourage risk contributing activities and factors.


Workshops are excellent examples of informal training provided to the community. A week long workshop facilitated by experts in disaster management for community leaders covers enough information, examples, activities and discussion to adequately prepare them in the event that disaster strikes. In this situation, the Education Officers, teachers and schools will be involved within their own structure. The Government Officers which includes education staff, in the divisions form teams to organize the workshops to the communities. You see then that the dissemination of knowledge and awareness to community leaders is in turn transferred to other members of the community. This is done by gathering all the members of the community at a communal meeting place (e.g. a community hall, church or other traditional meeting place) and imparting this information to the rest of the community. In so doing, the community at large is then aware and better prepared to cope in the event that disaster strikes in their community.

Mass Campaigns

The mass campaign is a huge undertaking whereby the entire Islands, countries and international donor agencies will be participating. The governments, the donor funding agencies, the non-government organizations (NGOs), the communities and other possible stakeholders need to cooperate fully by pooling resources. The outcomes must meet the objectives of the process so the planning of the entire operation is crucial.

  • Church groups, meetings and gathering are also effective avenues to inform and advice their congregation to further the impact disaster have on and the importance of awareness messages of preparedness, response and recovery

  • Women’s groups: It is imperative that women’s group should also play a leading role in the dissemination of information amongst their structures either within church women’s organization or Ministry and Department responsible for Woman’s Affairs and other sub women’s groups.

  • Youth Groups. Youth holds the future of disaster management in their hands. They are resourceful people who need guidance to display leadership skills to be spearheading the implementation stage.

Mock Exercises

Another kind of informal training given at the community level is the use of mock exercises in reducing disaster risks. Community leaders from high risk communities are encouraged to organize occasional mock exercises so as to familiarize their communities with escape routes, safe areas to gather, etc.

The Community Based Action Plan

Community leaders can also create Community Based Action Plans specific to their needs. This action plan incorporates the hazard map, mock exercises and other important methods, skills and information needed in preparation for a disaster. The implementation of a community-based action plan involves a long process. The following describes how a community-based action plan (referred to here as a ‘disaster management plan’) can be actively implemented.

Implementation Actions

Through participatory planning a Disaster Management Plan can be formulated. In most cases it may include a few small scale activities whereas in other communities it may entail a comprehensive disaster management project. To oversee and monitor progress of implemented activities, there is a need for the establishment of a central management body. This body or organization will have numerous roles from planning, implementation, monitoring and review phases of planned activities.

Such a body or organization may differ from country to country or community to community and may have different names but its roles and responsibilities are essentially the same. For the purpose of this course this central management body will be referred to as the Community Disaster Management Organization (CDMO) and its primary role is to ensure the planned activities are implemented on time within the given resources.

The success of activities of the disaster management plan will depend on the successful operation of the CDMO and will include various tasks and processes e.g. tasking, mobilizing community resources, capacity building, monitoring and review and making necessary adjustments.


The CDMO should be responsible for setting up appropriate committees to implement the various necessary risk reduction measures such as risk communication, health, evacuation, early warning, agricultural etc. The CDMO should ensure that committees responsible for risk reduction measure are clear on the roles assigned to them and each has access to individuals and groups with necessary skills and expertise to implement the tasks assigned to them.

To ensure that these activities can be carried out, the CDMO could mobilize the broader community and its resources. The CDMO should also assign at least one person to carry out each of the following roles

  • Leadership role – have overall responsibility for activities of the committee

  • Management role – ensure implementation of agreed activities

  • Administrative role – assist in management

  • Technical role – provides inputs

  • Financial management role – provides proper accounting

  • Social mobilization – to mobilize community resources

Capacity Building

To implement their respective tasks it is imperative that responsible individuals and committee members have the technical capability. Without capacity building, the quality of risk reduction measures will be compromised.

Depending on the local situation and the existence or non existence of a CDMO, capacity building can be done either before the start of participatory risk assessment and planning or during the implementation process. The CDMO once formed can get assistance from partner NGOs and government organizations or ministries.

Mobilising Resources

During the participatory disaster risk assessment and planning stages is when resource mobilization commences. To ensure the availability of resources at all times it should continue through to the implementation phase. Should there be a lack of required technical skills within the community, it is the responsibility of the CDMO to mobilize external partners and stakeholders e.g. relevant government departments and ministries, NGOs and local business organizations to meet the needs. It should also involve mobilization of resources to build capacity of the CDMO members and committees and mobilization of appropriate range of resources e.g. human, physical/material, natural and financial.


It should be a vital role of the CDMO to arrange participatory monitoring activities in order to track progress on implementation of the risk reduction measures. This includes monitoring of progress on activities, time frames, budgets, indicators, outputs and objectives and the impact of risk reduction measures. The CDMO should also monitor those who would be negatively affected and those who have dropped out and if so find out why. All stakeholders should be involved in the participatory monitoring system to ensure their particular needs are met in relation to what they would like to monitor, how and when data can be collected. This monitoring system will involve data collection, review meeting and reporting. It is essential that periodical review of the progress being achieved in the implementation of risk reduction measures.

Periodical reviews of progress should include all stakeholders and depending on the duration of the project reviews could be weekly, fortnightly, monthly etc. The requirements of the disaster reduction plan and concerns of stakeholders should be addressed. Reports from all implementing individuals and groups should be presented during this review. In addition to participatory review activities written reports can be used to monitor and document progress and these reports can be prepared to meet demands of donors and partners. Depending on the kind of information the stakeholders would like to report, the format can be designed to meet this need.

Such a report should cover the following:

  • Date of report preparation

  • Agency preparing the report

  • Period covered by the report

  • Progress on activities

  • Achievements on indicators

  • Achievements on objectives

  • Problems faced

  • Actions taken to address the problems

  • Recommendations

  • Financial Report

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Community-Based Approach

As with any other approach, the community-based approach has its pros and cons. The following are some that you should be aware of:


The following are advantages of using the Community-Based Approach:

  1. Ownership and Sustainability

The Community Based-Approach involves people and gives them a sense of ownership of the materials created or methods incorporated in education and public awareness. Through ownership comes sustainability. The projects used as tools at this level become ongoing projects that can then be modified whenever the need arises.

  1. Addresses the Immediate Needs of Communities

The Community-Based Approach is targeted specifically at particular communities and it addresses their immediate needs. This is because at the community based level, immediate needs are better identified.

  1. User Friendly

Information is presented in such a way that people can easily understand or relate to, for example, the use of the language that people in a community are most familiar with.

  1. Provides Knowledge and Skills

Finally the Community Based Approach empowers or equips people with the necessary knowledge and skills to help themselves in the first seventy-two (72) hours of a disaster. This is the most crucial time at the onset of a disaster when outside help is still on its way.


These are some of its disadvantages:

  1. Fear

Communities are sometimes reluctant to expose the vulnerabilities of their localities to outsiders. This is because they fear that they will lose potential investors in their communities, e.g. tourists.

  1. Lack of Resources

At the community based level, the lack or unavailability of resources required to effectively carry out awareness is also a disadvantage. Without the necessary resources, people have to improvise with what limited resources they have and this not only makes it very difficult for them but also impacts on the quality of work they have produced.

  1. Misleading Information

When public awareness and education is not carried out properly at the community level, misleading information is disseminated to the rest of the community. This can lead to a chaotic situation and ultimately loss of lives at the onset of a disaster.

  1. Lack of Proper Training

A further problem with this approach is also the fact that those utilizing the tools of the communicative approach may not have had proper training in what they are doing. This can also lead to distortion of information, thus misleading the rest of the community.

  1. Gender Bias

Last but not the least, there is a tendency in many developing countries not to involve women and young people in the creation of the tools of the Community Based Approach due to religious and cultural influences. Observation shows that too often those involved in public awareness and education at the community based level are males (middle aged and older). There are certain needs of communities that are overlooked by males (middle aged and older) but easily identified by women or youth.

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