Here, in this website, is a home for radical
interpretations of disaster as it appears all over the world. The word "radical"
is used in the sense of radix or "root", the root causes of vulnerability and
what to do about it. The website is committed to a critical analysis of hazards and
disasters, their meanings and their management. Readers/surfers are invited to
participate/send comments related to this project. Please send material to either:
Environmental Studies Program, Oberlin College. Mailing address: 373 Edgemeer Place,
Oberlin, OH 44074, USA. Fax: 440-775-8898. (Resumé [long] [short])
Maureen Fordham. Northumbria University, School of the Built and Natural Environment, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST,UK. (Resumé)
RADIX now has a mailing list, generously managed by Alberto Delgardo
- thank you! If you would like to send a message to the list, please send to:
We have set up this list in order
to reserve the web site as a resource base for those who are studying these issues, for
teachers and students, for activists, for practitioners. The list will offer a more
interactive and spontaneous way of sharing brief news items, ideas, commentaries without
the time lag involved in placing things on the web site.
Go to: Civil Protection - A New
Discipline?; Anshu Sharma; Disaster Diplomacy; DesInventar Disaster Data Base; help or extend the RADIX project
Civil Protection - A New Discipline? by David E. Alexander
Why is there no chair of civil protection in any British university? The question may
appear strange, or at least novel, but it is becoming ever more significant.
Recently, earthquakes, floods and landslides in Asia, Europe and Latin America have put
the spotlight on emergency management. There are increasing signs that the usual mixture
of amateurism, stop-gap measures, improvisation and excuses will not be tolerated in the
future. It is time to apply our accumulated knowledge and skills more efficiently to the
overwhelming practical problems that emergencies create. Efficiency requires training and
education, which in turn demand strong leadership in the academic and professional worlds.
Universities and colleges should help create a new interdisciplinary discipline" of
disaster sciences, in which the connections between more traditional fields of knowledge
are actively sought in the interests of applying the sciences: in short, a 'lateral'
rather than a 'vertical' approach to knowledge is required.
Civil protection, or emergency preparedness as it is known in the United States, has grown
over the last 25 years out of its parent field, civil defence, which underwent its
greatest development during the Cold War as a response to the threat of a nuclear
exchange. In the 1970s, rising concern about the impossibility of managing the civilian
population in a nuclear attack, coupled with the increasing toll of natural and
technological disasters, led more resources to be devoted to planning for civil
emergencies such as floods, earthquakes, transportation crashes and hazardous materials
This was a very necessary step: although death tolls in disaster have not increased
substantially in recent decades (they tend to be erratic from year to year), costs have
skyrocketed. The Munich Reinsurance Corporation, which monitors disasters throughout the
world, estimates that the costs of damage, losses and clear-up operations have risen by a
factor of 15.3 over the last half-century. They appear set to increase further, and
perhaps even faster, in future decades.
Natural and technological disasters are also having an increasingly complex effect upon
society. Rapid urbanization of areas at risk is common throughout the world, and is
creating large groups of residents who have limited experience of the risks (for example
of living on river floodplains) and inadequate knowledge of how to reduce them. It all
begs for a more concerted and professional approach to preparedness, and thus for better
trained emergency planners and managers.
In a recent study, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's training wing concluded
that emergency preparedness is not yet a profession. American emergency managers tend to
be middle-aged, white males, usually with a military background. Planning for disaster is
their second or third career and may be only part of their daily work. Their training will
probably have been erratic and somewhat unsystematic and they are unlikely to have gone
into the field with any intention of making a lifetime career in it. Almost none of them
will have been to college or university to learn their skills.
The emergency planner and manager may have a different profile in other countries: for
example, a larger proportion of women and young graduates take up the field in Italy,
which has perhaps the greatest need for good management of emergencies of any country in
Europe. Aware of the discrepancies, FEMA has so far encouraged 67 U.S. colleges and
universities to develop training programmes in the field (27 others are considering doing
so). The offerings vary from two-year diplomas to PhD programmes, but their most striking
characteristic is lack of homogeneity. Distance learning is gaining ground rapidly, as it
may be particularly appropriate to a field like this, in which many people in need of
training already have full-time jobs.
Despite gradual improvement of the training situation, much of the world is dogged by poor
emergency management and lack of prior planning for essentially predictable disasters.
Each new crisis brings accusations of failure to save people from avoidable death or
suffering. Rescuers are more often shown as untrained local people in tee-shirts and
trainers than disciplined professionals in protective clothing.
There is little doubt that civil protection needs to become a fully-fledged discipline,
with strong, detailed professional standards of world-wide applicability. Yet at present
only one major standard exists. This is NFPA1600 of the U.S. National Fire Protection
Association, a set of proprietary specifications largely aimed at business managers. As a
universal blueprint it is incomplete, insufficiently comprehensive and lacking in detail.
The heart of the problem lies in the failure of research to connect with practice. By and
large, emergency managers are 'doers' rather than 'thinkers'. Very few of them read
academic research on disasters, which in any case tends to be arcane and riddled with
unintelligible jargon. It is mainly written for other academics, not for people who work
in the front line dealing with collapsed buildings, trapped victims and twisted wreckage.
Yet universities have many of the prerequisites for developing this field in a practical
way. For example, most of them now have courses on management science. In response to
demand from students, most have developed a vocational orientation. And over the years the
difficult transition has been made from highly specialized courses to those which embrace
a wide breadth of knowledge.
Breadth of knowledge is the key to civil protection. It requires graduates who are
familiar with a wide variety of technical subjects--architecture, engineering, earth
sciences, sociology, and so on--to the extent that they can communicate effectively with
specialists in these fields and coordinate their activities both when disaster strikes (in
"times of war", as they say in the business) and in daily work aimed at reducing
risks to public safety (conversely known as "times of peace").
Courses on emergency management now exist at several British universities (Leicester and
Coventry, for example). But we need a new professional figure to emerge: a breed of senior
academic who is enough of a generalist to teach and direct courses that span the
extraordinary breadth of this field, which encompasses parts of about 30 of the more
traditional academic disciplines. It is possible: as evidence, several good textbooks
exist and more are in preparation. Moreover, there is no reason why the field should lack
respectability, as disaster studies can draw on half a century of the intensive
development of theory in its constituent disciplines, especially geography and sociology.
A leader is needed in universities who can communicate equally effectively with academics,
students and practitioners. In the end, there should be professional examinations for
emergency managers, and vocational degree courses should be available to both new entrants
to the field and people who already work in it.
In my experience, the best emergency managers are people who have both a firm academic
background and a great deal of practical experience. Theory is the route map that enables
them to navigate the chaotic world of the disaster aftermath. Practice has made them
proficient in anticipating the unexpected, communicating with colleagues and dealing with
The modern emergency manager has to be politically savvy. Policy is at the heart of
disaster planning and the field needs people who can raise its profile with public
officials and keep its concerns in the public view even in "times of peace" when
preparations need to be made for the next disaster. It is currently tragic that too little
symbiosis is occurring between the academic world of research and teaching, and the
practical world of emergency managers, for the latter needs more kudos and the former
ought to be able to help supply it.
In addition, it is now becoming fashionable--and is obviously prudent--for universities
and colleges to have their own emergency plans. In the USA several such institutions have
recently experienced serious floods, tornado strikes, riots or other disasters. Many more
are at risk. As a result there is intense interest in campus disaster planning, and it
would be as well for expertise to be available among the academic staff.
When disaster occurs, whether on a large or a small scale, people demand the best quality
of emergency management. Obviously, they do not want substandard rescue and care. At
present the field has a reputation for ad hoc organisation, based on occasional hand-outs
from politicians, and it is distinguished by stop-gap solutions to enduring problems of
public safety. We live in a world which still tackles disaster much more retroactively
than proactively: it ameliorates the consequences but often shies away from tackling the
causes. Yet if we had more articulate, knowledgeable, better trained emergency managers
this would help raise the profile of the field and point out the glaring inadequacies of
current approaches. Universities need to provide leadership here and perhaps that is why
we need to establish civil protection in them.
David E. Alexander, PhD
Professor of Geography
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA
Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Management
Editor, Springer Book Series on Environmental Management
Borgo Sarchiani 19, 50026 San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Firenze, Italy
Tel: (+39) 055 822-9423 / (+39) 0333 432-8832
E-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
writes in the Natural Hazards and Disasters list:
In view of the powerful earthquake that hit
Western India on Friday, we are running a Gujarat Earthquake Special at our site www.seedsindia.org, wherein we are airing an appeal
for assistance, and providing situation updates and other information. Some of this
material may also be of academic interest.
We request you to visit the site, and to pass this
information to others who may be interested. We welcome suggestions to improve the content
and utility of the site.
best wishes, Anshu Sharma
Diplomacy refers to the occurrence or threat of disaster facilitating
cooperation amongst states in conflict. The Disaster Diplomacy website has
been created to foster discussion on this issue, through examining case studies and
applying the concept to all disaster management activities.
Disaster Diplomacy can be applied to:
1. improving disaster management activities when confronted with international political
2. recognising the true role of disaster in international affairs.
Such discussion would go beyond the original definition of Disaster Diplomacy which was
focussed on three case studies of natural disaster management plus a conceptual model to
analyse them. The ideas and implementation could be further developed for, and take
lessons from, other areas such as disasters and human rights or disasters and sustainable
development, thereby being part of Radix radical interpretations of and solutions
The goal is to determine how and when Disaster Diplomacy could bring about advantageous
change. No one wishes for disaster, but the least we can do is to attempt to extract as
many positive aspects as possible from a terrible situation. Disaster Diplomacy, should it
turn out to be a viable route for change, is far better than what is often the usual
inertia of disastrous diplomacy.
Kelman, The Martin
Centre, University of Cambridge
Disaster Data Base
This is just a note to inform you that in El Salvador there is DesInventar team supporting
the Comite Nacional de Emergencias ? COEN to build a detailed data base of the disaster
effects, for each municipality in DesInventar system.
You can view some results at DesInventar website in the Link www.desinventar.org/terremoto
There is no english version yet, but we are working on
that. Similar results can be reach in both sites: Cepredenac website (www.cepredenac.org) and Comision Nacional de
Emergencias de El Salvador at www.coensv.50megs.com/mapas
I hope all of that will be useful for you!
Have a good day,
Cristina Rosales Climent
Coordinacion Proyecto DesInventar
Observatorio Sismologico del SurOccidente ? OSSO
Telefono: 572 3301661
Fax: 572 3313418
Cali - Colombia
Invitations from Ben Wisner to help or extend the project:
Translation: Please be in touch with
me if you can translate some or all of my review essay or other material (or the web site)
into Spanish or another language.
Landslide hazard identification: be
in touch if you have information or want to help.
Human rights: be in touch if you want
to help promote a follow up to the IDNDR that would emphasize the human right to
prevention or mitigation of natural hazard impacts.
Op-ed: can you write an op-ed or get
information about the content of this web page into your local media? You could translate
or use my op-ed (consulting with me first, please); you could write your own.
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