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Reflections on 2024 Noto earthquake: do we need to pay more attention to the ‘human’ element of disaster?

By Miwako Kitamura, on 3 May 2024

photograph of debris from a destroyed house. A surviving piece of wooden furniture stands in the foreground
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Noto Peninsula of Japan on New Year’s Day in 2024. Family members had come home to celebrate the New Year when the earthquake hit. Japan has a high level of awareness on disaster preparedness and mitigation. Despite this, more than 240 people lost their lives, 60,000 buildings were damaged and 25,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. It is important to note that the deaths were caused by the earthquake where several buildings, especially the old structures collapsed. The new year’s earthquake also caused a tsunami, which arrived only a few minutes after the earthquake. However, the majority of people died from earthquakes, with only two people killed by the tsunami, which shows high awareness about tsunami preparedness among the general population, compared to the earthquakes. This shows more work needs to be done on earthquake preparedness in Japan, beyond a focus on developing and investing in resilient infrastructure.

In this short blog, we will shed some light on the experiences of people who are managing the evacuation centres, especially those evacuation centres that are led by the community. We will examine the current situation by putting gender and communities at the centre of our analysis.

photograph of a large room with two long tables in the middle of the room. Books stacked up on the left wall. Chairs, blankets, and some kitchen equipment stacked on the right wall. Blankets stacked up against back windows too.
Community Evacuation Centre, in Sunran No Sato Kobushi. Photo taken on 16 April 2024

Although there are many government run evacuation centres, there are also several community-run evacuation centres. In Japan, community-led shelters are commonly referred to as “voluntary shelters.” Leaders of these shelters typically include local community figures and temple and shrine heads, and, as observed during the Great East Japan Earthquake, leaders of traditional performing arts groups have frequently assumed these roles. Importantly, the foremost consideration for these community-oriented shelters is their trustworthiness. What we found was that due to the gender division of labour, which is still strongly present in Japanese society, taking care of the people in the evacuation centres becomes and remains the responsibility of women, including cooking, cleaning, and caretaking roles.

One important thing to note here is that these women, often wives/daughters/daughters-in-law, of the community leaders who automatically become the caretaker of the entire community in the times of crisis, are themselves the survivors of such events. However, they need to sacrifice their own needs and look after others. With harmony being the central key in Japanese social organisation, speaking of their own needs is seen as being selfish. Hence, no one is willing to do that: they would rather suffer than to bear the consequences of social stigma. This creates an environment where these women who are responsible for running the evacuation are often double victims: victims of the disaster and also the victims of post-disaster responsibilities.  

The person responsible for one of the evacuation centres we visited said it is comparatively manageable soon after the disaster as we only need to manage their immediate needs and there are more volunteers. However, as the time passes, people would like their normal life to return, which means a need for proper meals, proper sanitation, healthcare services, better accommodation and so on. The volunteers often go back to everyday life and the support from the government often dries out in about three months but the needs of those who are left behind – still in evacuation centres for various reasons – remain or they need even further support. Hence, taking care of the evacuees becomes a bigger responsibility, which needs to be factored into the discussions around disaster mitigation.

As evidenced during fieldwork and engagement activities in the communities affected by the earthquake in Noto, there are key local contexts and practices which must be appreciated and factored into future preparedness and response activities for disaster risk reduction. Discussions with stakeholders and local leaders for example highlighted the central value of community involvement in shaping and informing responses to disasters.

Photograph of rubble from a destroyed building.
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

While it was reported that affected communities following the earthquake were more reserved in their engagement with the national government, they engaged readily and openly when responses were designed and driven by local communities, as evidenced by the creation of these community evacuation centres. These observations on the need to centre community involvement in disaster risk reduction and response are further substantiated by existing evidence from another disaster case study in Japan— the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which underscored a similar significance regarding the importance of contextually-appropriate and community-supported activities for disaster risk reduction and preparedness and response to events including earthquakes and tsunamis in regionally and geographically diverse countries, like Japan.

Our visit to the Noto Peninsula also revealed important observations and considerations on local understandings of leadership in disaster contexts, and how entrenched and gendered understandings of what constitute leadership can serve as a barrier to further vital involvement and participation of communities during events like earthquakes.  This was made apparent during discussions with female local leaders in Noto who had noted and reflected on how, despite their extensive involvement in disaster response and support activities, they did not consider themselves to be ‘leaders’ in these disaster contexts. Instead, many of their channels of leadership and support, including organising community efforts, food provision and emotional support had been regarded as traditionally ‘female’ associated practices and expectations rather than leadership roles during emergencies like earthquakes.

Again, this underscores the need to integrate local thinking and contexts in working to improve and promote local leadership during disasters in Japan by including gender frameworks to uncover how existing power dynamics and divisions of labour produce inequitable understandings of leadership, and where possible and when contextually-appropriate, to engage and work with these local communities to promote and centre diverse profiles and practices of disaster leadership and engagement of women and gender-diverse communities.

Our observations from these fieldwork activities investigating gender and women’s leadership in the Noto Peninsula also hold broader importance for the fields of disaster risk reduction and global health beyond preparing for and responding to earthquakes. Japan continues to be vulnerable to a broad scope of public health risks including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity, floods, typhoons and the climate change emergency. Despite ongoing disaster and resilience planning, there remains a critical need for the ongoing consideration and integration of gender-focused and community-centred participation and leadership activities as revealed during these fieldwork engagements to ensure that future responses and recovery to these events are both sustainable and equitable. 


Co-authors

Dr Miwako Kitamura is an Assistant Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Dr Anawat Suppasri is an Associate Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Ms Hayley Leggett is a PhD candidate at the School of Engineering at Tohoku University

Dr Anna Matsukawa is an Associate Professor at University of Hyogo

Dr Stephen Roberts is Lecturer in Global Health at the Institute for Global Health at University College London

Dr Punam Yadav is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s).

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Hurricane Otis must not be forgotten

By Monica Ledezma, on 1 February 2024

photo of debris and damage to cars and buildings in Acapulco.
The aftermath of Hurricane Otis. Photo by Monica Ledezma.

The weekend started as any other in Acapulco, the sun shining was over the bay. I was with my family staying at a well-known hotel on the coast. A diving session was booked for the coming Wednesday. There was no hint or warning of any worrying weather.

The Disaster


The spots of rain during the day didn’t worry us, but that soon changed when a news broadcast alerted us to an approaching tropical storm. We did not receive any specific preparation instructions during the day.

The hurricane was expected to reach the shore by 5-6 am the next day. Airplanes continued to land in Acapulco throughout the day. Acapulco was crowding with more than 50% of the city occupied: it was hosting the 35th International Mining Convention that week with the opening ceremony scheduled at 6pm on that day, with no restrictions.

When my family and I came back from dinner, we noticed that the room windows were covered with packaging tape and our personal belongings kept near the balcony were safely stored inside the room. We received a letter from the hotel saying that we should stay in the room announcing that the next day the hotel services would remain open. We started preparing for the hurricane by going to the convenience store and buying water and food.

At 11pm we heard the heavy rains and ferocious winds at 270 km/hr ravaging everything on its way. Furniture was flying through the air and falling into swimming pools and the sea. We could hear the winds peeling off the glass of almost every hotel.

The building moved as if it was an earthquake, the ceiling and walls which were not made of concrete fell to the floor. We had been told to stay in the room, but it was falling apart around us, so we moved to the corridor instead. Suddenly we heard some voices of a couple of men directing us to the basement where the rest of the hotel guests were heading.

We went down 12 floors to the basement and stayed there for more than 7 hours with the rest of the guests under emergency lighting with no water or electricity. It was warm and all guests and hotel staff were focused on helping and surviving.

photo of destroyed hotel room. Debris and furniture spread across the floor.
Hurricane Otis destroyed hotel rooms. Photo by Monica Ledezma.

The Aftermath


The worst of it had passed by 6 am, but the picture outside was exactly like what I had seen in the movies. There was destruction everywhere. Luckily for us, our cars were safely parked far away from the shore, but the roads were blocked by all the debris. Through shattered glass, fallen palm trees, and even bits of steel structures, it took us 6 hours to find a way to go out from Acapulco and back to Mexico City. There was no sign of any authorities, nor any support from the army or navy, nobody to help in the streets. No power supply, no gas. We were making decisions ourselves to the best of our capacity. Stores soon started to be vandalized.

For the next 6 hours, we were stuck on the highway which was partially damaged. Only then we saw the Army trucks on their way to Acapulco—now sharing the only available highway with civilians trying to get out—15 hours after the disaster happened.  

A sequence of neglected communication


At 16:18 on Sunday, October 22nd, official information by Proteccion Civil warned that a “tropical storm” was located in the southeast of Acapulco, far away from our wildest imagination. Early on Tuesday, the state governor stated that the tropical storm had turned into hurricane category 1. She insisted that adequate attention was taking place to safeguard the population’s well-being for its arrival early on Wednesday. 631 refugee centers were habilitated to support 137,000 people.

At least 10 hours before the hurricane, the National Center for Hurricanes in the US warned about the risk and potential catastrophic events. Only at 8 pm, the president finally acknowledged what US authorities have been repeatedly highlighting as a Category 4 hurricane, but it was too late now to take any protective measures.

Otis is, to date, the highest category hurricane recorded at any station of the National Tidal Service. The possibility that climate change encouraged Otis to transform from a tropical storm into a hurricane highlights the importance of adapting our infrastructure to this change.

The disaster happened in hours, the wind and rain swept everything away, and we suddenly felt the vulnerability and lack of support and guidance. We were fortunate enough to get to the shelter but we will always remember the images of the windows shattering, the ceiling crumbling, and how close we were to falling from the 10th floor balcony. We were just not prepared for it. The government authorities decided to neglect the fact that it was happening, underestimating its strength.

I still have these questions in my mind: what would it take if the authorities had told us what to do, where to go, and warned us how strong this would be? What would have happened if the Army and Navy forces had been there since the first alert came in? Why did the government ignore and underestimate the warnings? I hope to get an answer someday.


Monica Ledezma completed the MSc in Global Health and Development at UCL in 2020/21. Monica has worked at Roche since 2016  in the Diabetes Care Division.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.

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Do we need more ‘pre-emptive retrospection’?

By Chris Needham-Bennett, on 12 October 2023

If something went wrong and in two years’ time the investigative documentary, ‘Panorama’ or the like, made a programme about the sequence of events, hosted by the most antagonistic of interviewers, would my organisation and/or me, look prudent or reckless?

Risk and its popular acceptance are determined by whomsoever one might define as ‘society’. The intensely complex relationship of risk and society has been debated in detail by the likes of Ulrich Beck, and shaped by Anthony Giddens. The sociological perspectives and arguments available are lengthy and intricate but are basically about how a society responds to risk.

Titan

A recent tragic example was the Titan submersible in its final decent to the Titanic. A great deal of commentary has revolved around the ‘I told you so.’ retrospective, the lack of regulation, ‘certification’ and the alleged irresponsibility of the designer who also died in his own craft. The risks were, at least when measured in media column inches, unacceptable. Yet the development of flight, which we now almost take for granted and accept as being ‘safe,’ demanded a far higher death toll of its pioneers. Lilienthal, now regarded by many as the father of flight, (he invented the concept of the first modern wing) died of injuries suffered in a stall from 50 feet. The ‘Comet’, the first commercial pressurised jet passenger aircraft lost three aircraft in twelve months from catastrophic in-flight break ups. There appears to be a ‘balance sheet of fatalities’ required to achieve progress, and the terms used by society, ‘reckless’ or ‘pioneering’ are generally a product of the time in which the events occurred, and the relatively recent loss of two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was not generally viewed with the same phlegmatic, post war acceptance of the Comet losses.

Making Progress

Based on the assumption that progress in any discipline, despite ethics committees, will involve some risk to someone at some time, the critical question is what degree of risk and consequent loss is acceptable to maintain progress in such a discipline. Remember that we are in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (not its Eradication). Most disciplines have developed their own particular measures in line with their industry’s ethical milieu. The more familiar are medical trials and processes of drug licencing which are rigorous, expensive and time consuming for all the right reasons. Additionally, one can plainly see the evolution of such risk management measures from 1796 and Jenner’s retrospectively unethical but brilliant action of the vaccination of a single 8-year old.

Many other industries, food, cosmetics, and furniture all have some form of standards. The EU even has rules for makers of hot air balloons who rejoice in a publication Easy access rules for balloonswhich is a mere 345 pages long. But, where we are confronted by a plexiglass and carbon fibre submarine, metaphorically made in an inventor’s shed, the position is less clear. There is no real licencing authority for voluntary and informed consent pleasure trips into the Abyss; and if we are seeking to define the acceptable level of risk proportionate to progress in any field then it is equally apparent that it lies neither with the increasing imposition of banal risk/Health & Safety regulatory bureaucracy, nor a laissez faire arrogance as to genuine risks.

Reasonableness

How do we strike the right note on the spectrum between impotent over-precaution and wilful recklessness? First, as (Professor) James Reason humanely advocated, we need to guard against hindsight bias:

Before judging too harshly the human failings that concatenate to cause a disaster, we need to make a clear distinction between the way the precursors appear now, given the knowledge of the unhappy outcome, and the way they seemed at the time.

James Reason in Human Error, 1990. Cambridge University Press.

But as Reason implied some degree of judgement is required and the question remains what level of judgement should be applied. In English civil law cases the test of ‘reasonableness’ is long established as a principle of judgement. It was exemplified by the term, the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’. This was updated by Lord Steyn’s analogy of the “commuter on the underground”. The principle in this test is that what is deemed ‘reasonable’ in a legal context in a civil case, would be that which the normal person on public transport felt was reasonable. In other words, “What would a reasonable person of ordinary prudence have done in the defendant’s situation?”

However, the problem of reasonableness is that it seems remarkably easy to convince oneself as to one’s own reasonableness, how indeed could it be otherwise? Naturally, the test of reasonableness is almost always applied retrospectively and, as Reason notes above, the person taking the risk at the time of the event might have had little cause to appreciate the risk. Like Lilienthal, if you are the first person to successfully fly a glider there is no reason, a priori, to understand the aerodynamics of a stall. Therefore, one is left with a further question of how one might fail to appreciate a risk but nonetheless demonstrate sufficient reasonableness to still convince the reasonable commuter of your prudence, especially a commuter who has, by the time of the inquiry or trial, read all of the initial news reports.

Pre-emptive retrospection

At this point we introduce the new notion of ‘pre-emptive retrospection’ (PER). Mentally one goes forward in time from now to a point say two years in the future and one asks the question as follows. If something went wrong and in two years’ time the investigative documentary, ‘Panorama’ or the like, made a programme about the sequence of events, hosted by the most antagonistic of interviewers, would my organisation and/or me, look prudent or reckless? This notion introduces an introspection of the activity that goes beyond the test of reasonableness (of which it is easy to convince oneself). This technique, forces an emphasis on foresight as to how one’s action could be perceived in the future with the dubious benefit of hindsight, it is not merely the question, ‘does it seem reasonable to me/us right now?’ It can also be applied from a variety of perspectives, consumer opinion, victim perception, stakeholder interest, shareholder confidence, and the media influenced reasonable person; this goes beyond one’s contemplation of one’s own potential reasonableness.

Pre-emptive retrospection is not a legal test like reasonableness, nor does it inhibit risk taking, rather it simply demands a pause for objective thought as to how ones current actions could be perceived in the future.


Dr Chris Needham-Bennett is Managing Director at Needhams1834 Ltd and Visiting Professor at University College London.


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What is needed for national resilience?

By Robert Hall, on 14 September 2023

Whether a community struggling to keep its members buoyant, a business trying to stay solvent or a nation fighting to protect its citizens, adversity and crises impact us all. The resilient can pick themselves up, dust off, and not only bounce back but also bounce forward. Yet, this ability is not an obvious and natural one that is easy to acquire and retain. Rather, it needs careful nurturing and maturing. It is a mindset that can be honed and deployed to help manage shocks or stresses and those in-between challenges. There is no one model of resilience but there are pointers and lessons that can help apply resilience in its many variations to overcome adversity whenever it strikes.

Building Resilient Futures is a new book that takes a fresh look at what resilience means. It examines resilience under six ‘capital’ traits – personal, emotional, organisational, urban, communal, and national. It offers insights on how to manage the consequences of upheaval and trauma in those domains. Each trait is introduced by a profile that puts the subject into context with practical and human experiences. As leadership and stewardship underpin all these capital traits, a discrete chapter is devoted to these important issues along with diversity, trust, education and training. Similarly, a separate chapter is allocated to standards, indicators and benchmarking as they cut across all aspects of resilience but are critical in assessing impact. Through a mix of theory, case-studies and anecdotes, the book reveals the nuances of resilience in a digestible and thought-provoking way. Early reviewers say the book is a valuable read!

For the purpose of this blog, which will not attempt to condense the text into a superficial summary, focus is given to that chapter which examines national resilience. This subject is very much in the news, elevated by the inspiring levels of national resistance and resilience exhibited by the Ukrainian nation in its contest with the Russians. The consequences of that war have seen millions migrating far and wide, food and fertilizer stocks severely reduced worldwide, energy prices spiking, and geopolitical tensions escalating well beyond Ukraine’s borders. The interconnectedness of dependency means that any major disruption can readily cascade into corners that were hitherto immune. Hence, we all need to know about national resilience.

One aspect that has emerged recently is how to engage large sections of a population to prepare for and deal with major, nation-wide crisis. The UK Government has released an Integrated Review (2021, refreshed in 2023) and a Resilience Framework (2022), both of which talk about a ‘whole-of-nation approach’ to resilience. This term implies drawing on the services of more than a few specialists and officials but turning to the public and private sectors on mass, the full resources of the voluntary and charity sectors, as well as the trade unions, NGOs, religious groups, schools and colleges, communities, etc. To be commensurate with the level of a national threat, wide-spread societal engagement should be measured in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. This scale was evident in Covid-19, when 750,000 people initially responded to a national call. It could well be required again either in another pandemic or as the ravages of climate change bite, or even with the spread of a European war.

The preparation of a population cannot wait until the event when it will be too late. Work on identifying and organising people who are qualified to help, training others who are willing, educating others on the sidelines, and co-ordinating resources that may be necessary, are worthwhile activities in ‘peacetime’. All this comes at a price but one that is less than the cost of a delayed recovery and heavy loss of life. It should be a government priority: the conclusions of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry may reinforce this message, as other official committees have already done so. Perhaps the formation by 2025 of a UK Resilience Academy, built out from the existing Emergency Planning College, will be an opportunity to bring a wide range of people together and work up resilience plans across all four nations of the UK.

So far, Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) are seen as the main delivery platforms for resilience across the UK at the ground level. In the government’s Resilience Framework, it is proposed that the 38 LRFs in England are strengthened through three ‘pillars’: leadership, accountability and integration. The creation of a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for each LRF, accountable to executive local democratic leaders, may help with wider local delivery and levelling up. Consideration will also be given to putting existing Resilience Standards onto a statutory footing for LRFs and all responder organisations.

We can certainly learn lessons from some of the Baltic and Nordic which are way ahead of the UK in preparing their populations to deal with disasters. Admittedly, these countries face the pressures of the Russian ‘bear’ to the east but having a generic plan for all eventualities is sound. In Sweden, for example, a government-appointed Commission (2017) recommended that a ‘Total Defence’ concept engaged all functions of society in the defence effort, both military and civilian. Accordingly, the parliament, the government, authorities, municipalities, private enterprises, voluntary defence organisations as well as individuals are all part of the Swedish concept. On 1 October 2022, a new structure for Swedish civil defence and crisis preparedness was announced with spending planned to increase to approximately €420 million by 2025. A publication titled ‘If crisis or war comes’ has been sent to every household and tells of practical measures to take in an emergency.

When such an idea has been proposed in the UK, it has not gained traction: it is seen by some as alarmist. Nonetheless, the government has introduced an Emergency Alerts service which was trialled for the first time this year. This may be expanded over time to include practical advice. The UK has certainly made some significant strides in national resilience planning in the past few years. But with the threat clouds darkening, we need to be much better prepared and time may not be on our side.


Robert Hall is the former Executive Director of Resilience First Ltd. He is currently writing a sequel to Building Resilient Futures looking at Natural Resilience: How the natural world can help us understand the key elements of resilience.


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Building Resilience with Decision Analysis

By Jeffrey Keisler, on 25 May 2023

I have the wonderful honour of being a MAPS Fellow at UCL. This came about through conversations with my friend and colleague (and now host), Prof. Gianluca Pescaroli. Although we bonded through discussions about used vinyl records, I will instead talk about our work.

My background is in decision analysis, a field that takes quantitative approaches involving probability, utility, and decision trees to identify the overall risks and benefits associated with actions under uncertainty. In the context of resilience, there is much uncertainty but most of the focus is on trying to improve systems.

Thinking of information as a separate dimension of protection–because information helps people make the decisions that lead to optimal recovery–can lead to lower cost ways to bring about greater resilience. But improving information itself is costly. It can be tricky to figure out which information-related efforts are worthwhile. There are different ways to bring information into a decision process.

By taking a concept from decision analysis, value of information (VOI), we can take a more strategic approach. We can actually quantify the benefit of different possible efforts. Basically, we characterise the mix of potential consequences of making the best possible choice given a limited amount of information and compare this with what would happen if the same decisions were made with the benefit of more information. With this analysis, we can improve resilience by making investments to ensure that relevant information will be available after disruptions. These can be just as beneficial as investments in physical assets which can also minimise the damage of disruptions.

In managing resilience, we anticipate possible disruptions, and consider what can happen before, during, and after them. With a VOI approach, we also consider what information will be available for which decisions before, during, and after disruptions, and then can take steps to make that information available during those periods. Examples include purchasing information, building better information systems and communication systems, performing experiments, or potentially buying time for information to arrive by speeding decisions implementation and freezing damage during the time we’re waiting for information.

During my time at UCL I am meeting with a number of researchers in IRDR to apply this idea efficiently to problems in several important areas where we are studying resilience. These include healthcare, natural hazards, and technological or business crises. With these results, we can look toward building more sophisticated analyses or refining the planning process to flesh out the informational dimension. The researchers here have backgrounds in quantitative areas such as risk analysis and systems analysis as well as in the social sciences and in the physical sciences. There are many different types of data and phenomena to consider as we pull together these models. My hope is this will lay the groundwork for future valuable projects and continued collaboration.


MAPS Fellow Jeffrey Keisler is a Professor in the College of Management at University of Massachusetts Boston, where he specialises in Decision and Risk Analysis. He thanks the welcoming and wonderful group at IRDR for their making this visit such a special experience. 

Learning from Fire and Rescue services in London and Bergen

By Joshua Anthony, on 17 February 2023

Author: Jarle Eid


Researchers from University College London, Haukeland University Hospital, National Defense University in Sweden and the University of Bergen met in January for a working meeting on a joint research project focusing on how operational psychology can inform municipality responses and resilience to disruptive events.


Research meeting at the Bergen fire station. Anne Bjørke (Bergen Fire and Rescue Services), Roar Espevik (National Defense University in Sweden), Guttorm Brattebø (Haukeland University Hospital), Jarle Eid (University of Bergen) and Gianluca Pescaroli (University College London). (Photo by Ilan Kelman).

What kind of operational situations are seen as most challenging and difficult to handle for fire and rescue workers? How did the COVID-19 pandemic influence operational capacity and resilience in the Fire and Rescue Services? What future training and educational needs are seen as most important to develop resilient fire and rescue services? What can we learn from cross national comparisons of fire and rescue services in London and in Bergen?

These and other questions are being explored based on in depth interviews with first responders in a cross-country comparison of Fire and Rescue services in Bergen and in London. The study is supported by a grant from the Regional Research Fund in Western Norway, the Fire and Rescue services in Bergen, and the Greater London Authorities.

Gianluca Pescaroli (University College London) and Anne Bjørke (Bergen Fire Services) discussing operational issues by the incident command vehicle. (Photo by Ilan Kelman).

We are very pleased to have this opportunity to collaborate with Professor Ilan Kelman and Associate Professor Gianluca Pescaroli on this new project. Here we are exploring three main issues. One is how the fire end rescue services were affected by the protracted covid situation, secondly we explore and collect examples of difficult operational situation, and thirdly, we explore training and development areas.

A particularly exciting issue is that in this project we have been collecting data both from Norway and from the U.K. and a cross national comparisons will be a true advantage to this project. In January we had the first joint working group meeting in Bergen, Norway and in April we will have the second working group meeting in London with our UCL colleagues.

 


Jarle Eid is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology in the Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen. 

Is Legislation Useful for Disaster Risk Reduction?

By Jesús Garrido Manrique, on 28 November 2022

From when we are born until we die most of our daily activities are controlled by different norms, such as civil registration, house buying/letting, mortgages, work contracts, inheritances. We know that if we do not respect the law we will be faced with criminal or civil penalties. Hence, we act accordingly. Could you imagine a real, rather than an ideal, society without laws? Despite the importance of laws and regulations, experts and organisations without a legal background do not usually think about them in the context of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). In my experience, they usually tend to hide from laws and regulations. They simply pay attention to technical standards and guidelines.

Environmental legislation usually involves the legal framework for mitigating natural hazards through sectoral legislation in areas such as land, water and coastal management, civil protection or public works and the provision of housing. Legislation could regulate the uncontrolled growth of cities through a land act, which it is usually something that governs the different tools for land use planning. In hazard-prone areas, prohibitions, restrictions, or recommendations could be used. Environmental legislation deals with strategic environmental assessments, which evaluate the plans (for instance, a flood risk management plan or local hazard regulation plans). Meanwhile, a civil protection act regulates different disaster risk reduction actions to be taken before, during and after a potential or actual harmful event. Compulsory building codes or antiseismic norms also contribute to the mitigation of disasters. Legislation establishes a network of procedures and mechanisms for cooperation and collaboration among different institutions so that disaster risk management is gradually adopted through laws and regulations, as is the case in some countries.[1]

Non-structural measures such as legislation and land use planning are some of the most cost-effective DRR tools. They can mitigate or minimise, or even avoid, socio-economic losses related to natural hazards before destructive events happen. Unfortunately, civil protection is usually focused on short-term horizons during and after disaster instead of becoming a cornerstone of long-term actions before the disaster in the fields of prevention and prediction. “It is better to be safe than sorry”, but politicians or planners engaged in disaster risk management (DRM) probably prefer a “safe bet” by spending money in the short term in early warning, response and recovery of a real disaster instead of “wasting money” in prevention and mitigation of future adverse events. Local governments are usually more concerned about making money through construction permissions than in ensuring safety. DRM fails if risk reduction legislation is not enacted and enforced.

Does smart legislation ensure better DRR?

Not necessarily: compliance with laws and regulations is usually low. Although DRR mechanisms may be treated as compulsory in some national or local systems, institutions tend not to enforce them. For instance, flood hazard and risk maps have been established by EU countries after the enactment of Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks. Such maps should be considered in local planning, but local authorities do not usually use them to establish land use in relation to the level of hazard, even when flood hazard and risk maps are freely available.

In Spain, according to civil protection legislation, local emergency plans that focus on earthquake, flood and volcanic hazards have been compulsory since the 1990s. However, most municipalities still have no civil protection plans. The Lorca earthquake of 2011 killed nine people, but the earthquake hazard map was blamed instead of the lack of compliance with the seismic building code. The La Palma eruption of 2021 affected more than 1500 houses, but the volcano was treated as the only guilty party, even though some houses were built too close to the ravines in which the lava flowed. For public administrations it is easier to blame scientists or practitioners than recognise their own faults.

In the last century, some natural disasters were considered to be “acts of God”. Currently, climate change is blamed. The authorities are not assuming their own responsibilities and thus, when disaster strikes, all citizens pay for their lack of responsibility.

Barriers to DRR legislation

When dealing with DRR, it is not easy to find the right mix of legislation. Scattered sectoral legislation tends to become lost in this complex legal labyrinth. Conflicts of competency and jurisdiction are particularly common in countries with decentralised administrations. In many cases, methodologies and return periods for hazard and risk maps have not usually been established using appropriate technical standards and guidelines. Unfortunately, cooperation and coordination among different stakeholders do not have a history of effective achievements.

While the legislation is the means, planning is the outcome. Even the presence of compulsory laws and regulations does not guarantee that land use and hazard maps will be effective. Lack of instruments to systematically monitor compliance with legislation, for instance in urban planning, means that it is difficult to assess the proportion of local plans that fail to respect the law. Hazard-prone areas should be classified as rural land instead of developable land, or at least some land uses should be avoided, or some restrictions or recommendations should be considered according to the level of hazard. However, it is difficult to tell whether planning institutions really proceed according to the law. On the other hand, hazard maps to be expressly used for zoning should be created by means of the economic resources of governmental institutions (and probably at a small scale). However, they tend to be created using private resources and at larger scales. In the first instance, DRR legislation is mainly designed to be enforced by public administrations, but prevention is usually transferred to individual stakeholders.

Natural hazards maps are not cheap to make or easy to create. Hence, shortage of economic funds and a deficit of well-prepared human resources constitute more barriers to DRR. However, in my opinion, the lack of accountability of decision makers is the most important barrier. In their own businesses they probably employ a precautionary approach (much as environmental legislation does), but they avoid it in public affairs.

Incompatibility of different land-use planning systems and tools is something that adds difficulties to disaster risk management.

Legislation and the Sendai Framework for DRR

The importance of legislation was underlined in the Hyogo Framework for Action, which focused on the enactment of dedicated DRM laws. The Sendai Framework goes further by promoting the coherence of the entire national legal and policy framework.[2]

All priorities for action (PFAs) of the Sendai Framework for DRR need to be rooted in legislation. In particular, to achieve PFA 2 at the national and local levels, it is important to integrate DRR into national and local frameworks of laws, regulations and public policies by developing new laws or amending existing legislation. There is a need to allocate necessary resources and establish mechanisms to ensure compliance. On the other hand, land-use planning has been considered as a vital means to achieve PFA 2 (from local to global levels) and PFA 3 (at national and local levels).

References to different relationships among policies, strategies and plans can be found throughout the Sendai Framework for DRR. They should lead to normative tools.


References

  1. Garrido, J. and Saunders, W.S.A. (2019). Disaster Risk Reduction and Land Use Planning: Opportunities to Improve Practice. In: Shakoor, A., Cato, K. (eds) IAEG/AEG Annual Meeting Proceedings, San Francisco, California, 2018 – Volume 5. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93136-4_20.
  2. IFRC and UNDP (2015). Handbook on Law and Disaster Risk Reduction. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and United Nations Development Programme: Geneva, Switzerland. p 76.

Acknowledgments

I gratefully acknowledge discussions with Prof. David Alexander. Thanks for his kind and helpful revision.


Jesús Garrido Manrique is a visiting researcher at IRDR, analysing the application of legislation in urban planning for disaster risk reduction. He is a Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Granada, Spain, and is the Head of World Geologist NGO (Andalusia Branch), working in DRR and water supply projects in Central America.

Vulnerability is the root cause of Pakistan’s susceptibility to disasters

By Joshua Anthony, on 21 November 2022

Author: Dr. Laila Shahzad*


According to the IPCC AR5, the human influence on the planetary climate system is undeniable and emissions from greenhouse gases (GHGs) are at the highest levels ever seen in the history of mankind. These climatic changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The most visible effects of changing climate are variation in rainfall pattern, increasing average temperature, glacier melting, rising sea levels, crop diseases, species invasions, weather related disasters and many more. Human activities involved in bringing these changes are industrial processes, fossil fuel burning, vehicular emission, and agriculture. The unpredictable rainfall patterns and variable seasonal precipitation badly influence the soil water availability for crop, loss from floods or drought, and become a serious issue for the farmers of South Asia and policy makers as a greater threat to food security.

South Asia, a region chiefly described as having agricultural-based economies, is considered as the most vulnerable region in the world. As the change in food growth and production will directly affect the food needs of burgeoning population due to disturbance in financial, ecological, and social systems on this part of planet earth. The situation in the region is worsened by locality, topography, socio-political influences, literacy rate, unskilled labourers, economic instability, poverty, and livelihood dependency on natural resources.

Pakistan, a country with 225 million (approx.) inhabitants suffered by the unprecedented floods in June 2022 which lasted for months. Torrential monsoon rains triggered the severe flooding which washed away thousands of houses and crop land leaving people homeless and food insecure.

A little background

Pakistan is the second largest country by its area in South Asia after India, and is highly vulnerable to climatic changes, ranked among the top ten countries by the Global climate risk index of the world in past many years. The country is recurrently affected by the disasters in both the long term index and in the index of a respective year, alluding to the persistent nature of underlying vulnerabilities. The climate of the country ranges from subtropical arid to semi-arid and temperate to alpine. Precipitation varies from 100 to 2000 mm mainly from June to September across the countryside. It is broadly an agrarian country with a contribution of 21% to GDP from agriculture which provides employment to 62% of the population. The main crops are wheat, cotton, and rice grown at different agro-ecological zones of the country with diversified hydrological, soil, and climatic conditions. Temperature and rainfall show constantly increasing and decreasing trends, respectively. Since the start of the 20th century, the rising temperature has caused an increase in demand of evapotranspiration for crops by up to 10-30%. The agricultural system in Pakistan is already worsened by the urbanisation as it has decreased the production due to conversion of fertile land into housing societies. On the other side, recurring floods end up losing the soil fertility and disturbing the crop cycle.

Floods of 2022: a compound disaster

The 2022 Pakistan floods caused unprecedented damage to agriculture crops, livestock, and infrastructure, including damages to storage facilities with tons of grain, posing unmeasurable risk. Badly affected crops include—but are not limited to—rice, sugarcane, cotton, wheat, and small-scale farmers totally lost their livelihood. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cotton and produces about 5% of world’s demand which will affect the supply due to flood damages.

According to the World Bank, the worst hit sectors are housing, agriculture, livestock, and, lately, transport and communications with significant damages of USD 5.6 billion, USD 3.7 billion, and USD 3.3 billion, respectively (Pakistan Floods 2022 Post-Disaster Needs Assessment). This actually calls for cascading effects as such massive disasters have tangible and intangible losses; in terms of water borne diseases, shortage of food, price hike, loss of machinery, post disaster trauma, losing mental health and wellbeing, and disturbing the crop cycle due to water logging.

So now the question arises: could this event be controlled or at least better managed? What Strategies did Pakistan have to minimise flood losses? The government of Pakistan is currently in the phase of recovery, where bringing people back to normal life is not easy. Though time has proved that this tragic event has to be a turning point when it comes to making disaster risk reduction policy for the vulnerable. The policy should have focused on the most vulnerable in enhancing climate resilience and adaptations by developing community-based disaster management at district and tehsil levels. Focus should be on nonstructural risk reduction measures by giving disaster education to the masses. In the shortest way, the emergency health system, training local farmers, introducing livelihood diversification, and emergency cash transfer system can be prioritized. This calls for interactive and integrated polices where communities need to be prepared for future disasters and be a part of policy making. The government tiers have to be more connected than working in isolation as managing the compound impacts will not be an easy job.

With the theme of building back better, Pakistan should not only manage the losses and provide immediate support to families; rather, a long way to go is “to plan” as climatic emergencies will keep coming with more magnitude and frequency, and to the more vulnerable.


*Dr. Laila Shahzad is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, UCL London and Assistant professor at Sustainable Development Study Centre, GC University, Lahore, Pakistan. | lailashahzad@gcu.edu.pk

Building Resilience of Women for Food Security  

By Joshua Anthony, on 26 October 2022

Written by Bhawana Upadhyay


A growing body of literature suggests that climate disasters such as heatwaves and flash floods disproportionately affect the most vulnerable inhabitants of rural communities.  An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies published in Nature Communications suggests that women and children often face disproportionately higher health risks posed by climate change impacts than others.  For example, pregnant women often experience more risks and limited access to reproductive and maternal care services during and post disasters.

UNICEF reported that due to the recent flooding in Pakistan, about 3.4 million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance and faced an increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition and more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 were out of school nationwide. The hardest-hit province, Sindh, has had nearly 16,000 schools destroyed alone. Thousands of schools were used to house displaced families. More than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more got injured.

Likewise, the flash floods of June 2022 in Bangladesh affected 3.7 million people in 11 districts in the northern region, of which 1.9 million were women and girls.  A key finding of a rapid gender analysis undertaken by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group states that 60 percent of women surviving on daily wage and rearing livestock lost their incomes.  Most affected households had no food stock and had to survive on food relief. The dry food supplied as relief was not sufficient to cover all affected households’ needs. The flooding caused a serious reduction in the food intake of those families. It was estimated that 60,000 women were pregnant in the affected area, and more than 20,000 births were expected to occur in September 2022.

In the risk framework of the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, vulnerability to climate change impacts is inseparably linked to adaptive capacity. The relationships between gender inequality and adaptation capacity span from unequal access to resources and opportunities to stereotypical socio-cultural norms. It is clear from numerous empirical research that social and gender inequalities are present in all spheres of human development, which is essentially why women and girls are disproportionally impacted.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has identified South Asia as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the coming years, with critical implications for marginalized and disadvantaged communities including women and children. Unfortunately, climate disasters further reinforce the existing gender inequalities, thereby pushing rural communities into the peril of food insecurity. As a result, they become more vulnerable and incapable of bracing for future hazards and risks.

So, what could be the long-term strategy to empower women to build climate resilience for food security?

In South Asia, food security and nutrition have not improved significantly despite the region’s satisfactory economic growth. We are now barely seven years away from 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target year.

The irony is that the leap toward the SDG is growing wider each year, while the clock is ticking. Working for SDG 2, 5 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Climate Action) requires a holistic approach towards empowering rural women in climate-smart agriculture by supporting them through inclusive policies and practices.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022  explains a growing gender gap in food insecurity reflecting that world hunger rose further in 2021 (worsening inequalities across and within countries.

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) through its Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE for SA) project recently completed mapping and assessing of gender landscape in climate-resilient agricultural policies and practices in three South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Key findings highlight untapped opportunities for governments and other relevant stakeholders to take forward toward not just achieving SDG 5, but also building resilience in the face of food insecurity.

Immediate attention is required towards building and strengthening rural women’s and youth networks and enhancing their linkages with extension services; Engaging private sectors in investing in climate-smart tools and machines that are sustainable and women-friendly; These tools need to be marketed with government subsidies and/or insurance coverage; Harmonizing and strengthening capacity at provincial and local levels on the concept and process of empowerment of women and youth engaged in climate-smart agriculture; Enhancing close coordination among respective National Disaster Management Authorities, concerned sectoral ministries, and province and district level Women Development Departments in the three countries.


Bhawana Upadhyay is Senior Specialist (Gender and Inclusion) at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC).

Resilience, semantic satiation, conflation, and Maslow’s hierarchy: I can only take so much!

By Joshua Anthony, on 24 August 2022

Author: Dr Chris Needham-Bennett


I am getting worried with hearing ‘resilience’ used incautiously. The word (a general noun) which, once a welcome umbrella term to describe the results of the contributory disciplines of business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, emergency response, etc., has become a hackneyed media mantra. The England middle order cricket team batsmen, the Lioness’s England football team are ‘resilient’, a company or local council has ‘built in resiliency’ (whatever that is). The Ukrainians are resilient. My local community needs to achieve resilience. I need to achieve personal resilience for my mental well-being; I am not sure to what?

This blog makes two fundamental points, the first is a conflation of resilience with mental well-being, stress management and associated issues, the second is the overuse of the term and a consequent diminution of its genuine meaning.

Alexander (2013)[1] (noting several other authorities), cautioned that resilience might not have the ‘power’ to be a paradigm, yet almost a decade later—whilst it arguably is far from a paradigm—there is little doubt of a fascination with the phrase and burgeoning academic research[2] (some of which is attributable to climate change research). Moser et al. (2019)[3] note in their abstract that, ‘Resilience has experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice over the past several decades.…it is an increasingly contested concept.’

The question to my mind is why is there such a fascination with the word? First let us discount hitherto traditional uses of the word which could include its proper application to botany, pharmacology, risk in some instances, material sciences, and metallurgy.

My increasing suspicion is that it is to do with a burgeoning societal self-obsession and narcissism combined with a notion of zero risk. Society appears to have latched onto a phrase which has been hijacked by a quasi-utopian vision which is manifested as follows.

The conflation with ‘well-being’

At the macro level, the OECD measures resilient cities using the criteria outlined below[4]. Some of these seem an expression of good economic common sense. Others such as ‘% of citizens near open space’ seem a little tentative and debatable as to their links to resilience.

 

Four areas that drive resilience. Source: OECD Regional Development[4].

Perhaps as importantly, their definition as to what is resilience is, is tinged with slightly trendy overtones of a ‘brave new world’.

‘Resilient cities are cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social & institutional). Resilient cities promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth.’

Sadly, the definition does not really define precisely what the city will be resilient to, rather it is left in vague terms of ‘shock’. It does not mention some of the more critical resilience issues lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy (1943 version; cited by McLeod 2022)[5] such as power, housing, water, sewage, defence, health, and food, without which the ability to live ‘500 metres from services or near an open space or well-being and inclusive growth’ might appear somewhat academic.

At the opposite end of the resilience spectrum, at the individual level, a simple google search of ‘personal resilience course’, offers a spectacular array of over 82 million results. A brief survey of the top five of them indicates that their duration is one day or in some cases half a day. The general view is that personal resilience is a skill or attribute that can be acquired in about 8 hours (the extreme min/max range for the duration of such courses appears to be 90 minutes to a 12-week period).

Robertson et al. (2015) expressed some reservations as to the evidence of the efficacy of such courses. Naturally since 2015 more evidence might be apparent but truly longitudinal studies of the ongoing effect of course completed a decade ago are yet to be available. Their practitioner notes state that,

‘Despite conceptual and theoretical support for resilience training, the empirical evidence is tentative, with the exception of a large effect for mental health and subjective well-being outcomes.’[6]

One BBC report cites Dr Michael Pluess from Queen Mary University of London who is testing for the resilience gene, in which case if discovered it would potentially invalidate the courses cited above.

There is a real danger that resilience, which is a fundamentally practical issue at both the macro and micro level is suborned by the burgeoning but evidentially limited literature on resilience’s relationship to well-being, inclusivity, and mental health. Such links also veneer the unpalatable hard choices that real resilience demands. Put as simply as possible we all might live near open spaces and be very inclusive, but if London’s water supply remains dependent solely on abstraction from the rivers Thames and Lee[7] then it does not matter how ‘positive’ you might feel about the City in about 20 years you will not have enough to drink (perhaps counterintuitively based on a multi-year average, London has only 100mm more rainfall than Jerusalem)[8].

Semantic Satiation

But is there any evidence that the overuse of a word diminishes somehow its value. Broadly speaking yes there is, and it is technically called ‘semantic satiation’. Smith and Klein (1990) noted that ‘Prolonged repetition of a word results in the subjective experience of loss of meaning, or semantic satiation’[9]. At risk of oversimplifying their diligent study, it works something like this; on a relatively infrequent basis I inform my partner that I love her. It seems to cheer her up. If I informed her of my love on a daily basis she would be delighted for a while, then she would suspect that I am having an affair, then she would get bored with it and then perhaps later even angry. The phrase would become increasingly less meaningful and impactful.

At a more serious level it does seem to me to do some harm. In reality a lot of ‘building resilience’ is really risk mitigation or some type or diversification in the case of supply chains. If for instance, we take Markovic’s 1952 diversification theory[10] (disputed by later critics) it does supposedly make an investment portfolio more resilient to market volatility, but the critical issue or activity is diversification which is a ‘thing’ in its own right with a word all of its own to describe it. Now one can make the argument that the end result is a more resilient portfolio, but one should not be tempted to change resilience to an activity which requires it to be a verb. Diversify is the verb or ‘doing word’; resilience is the result. Similarly, if we claim that all activities are resilience measures it somehow diminishes the utility or worth of risk assessments, risk mitigation, plans and responses all of which combine to achieve resilience.

Conclusion

It might be easy to dismiss these concerns as semantic academic posturing yet the power of words, their definitions, associations, and nuances are what will shape the future of resilience. I would wish resilience to remain practical, efficacious, and most importantly simple. Let us leave resilience as an ambition or end state that is achieved through an array of distinct professional activities. Let us also ensure that the fundamental hard and often costly problems associated with resilience are not whitewashed with an ephemera of pleasantries normally found at the higher altitudes of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There may well be benefits to stress or coping management courses but let us call them just that, not personal resilience.


Dr Chris Needham-Bennett is Managing Director at Needhams1834 Ltd and Visiting Professor at University College London.

Email Chris at: chris@needhams1834.com


References

[1] Alexander, D. E.: Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2707–2716, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-2707-2013, 2013.

[2] https://ensia.com/articles/what-is-resilience/

[3] Moser, S., Meerow, S., Arnott, J. et al. The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue. Climatic Change 153, 21–40 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2358-0

[4] https://www.oecd.org/cfe/regionaldevelopment/resilient-cities.htm

[5] McLeod, S. A. (2022, April 04). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[6] Robertson, I.T., Cooper, C.L., Sarkar, M. and Curran, T. (2015), Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. J Occup Organ Psychol, 88: 533-562. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12120

[7] https://web.archive.org/web/20150325074128/http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/water-strategy-oct11.pdf

[8] https://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/11/20/rain-in-jerusalem-almost-as-much-as-london/

[9] Smith, Lee, Klein, Raymond Evidence for semantic satiation: Repeating a category slows subsequent semantic processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 16(5), Sep 1990, 852-861

[10]  Portfolio Selection, Harry Markowitz – The Journal of Finance, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Mar., 1952), pp. 77-91