Featured Article: Pre-disaster management: A quick view

Tatiana Gherman

Natural disasters can have a geophysical origin (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and landslides) or a climatic origin (such as hurricanes, cyclones, drought, and floods). Independent of their origin, however, today they tend to lead to increasingly higher human and material losses due to a multitude of factors, such as unplanned urbanization and increase in population and poverty (Hong, Lejeune, & Noyan, 2015). Because of this, natural disasters have consistently been major concerns for policy makers at national and local levels, especially in disaster-prone regions. Moreover, the recent occurrence of severe natural disasters has called attention not only upon their devastating effects but also upon their increasing frequency and has highlighted once more the need to enhance the effectiveness of our response to them. While we can never be fully prepared, adequate preparedness can significantly improve disaster response activities.

Disaster management can be defined as “the body of policy and administrative decisions, the operational activities, the actors and technologies that pertain to the various stages of a disaster at all levels” (Lettieri, Masella, & Radaelli, 2009, p. 117). Disaster management can be divided into two main sequential phases, namely, pre-disaster management and post-disaster management. Pre-disaster activities include prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and planning and are focused on avoiding or reducing the severity of any human and/or material losses caused by a disaster both in the short and long term. Post-disaster activities include response, recovery, reconstruction, and the commencement of a new cycle of assessment, while also incorporating the lessons learned. Although conceptually distinct, in practice, all these activities are intertwined.

Let us return to pre-disaster management activities. On the one hand, prevention and mitigation refer to political, legal, and infrastructural measures that can be taken up before a disaster; on the other hand, they refer to educating the general public about the potential effects of a disaster. Preparedness and planning are meant to improve emergency response and generally involve the assistance of fire brigades, hospitals, police, and any other authority or civic body that can assist the public in case of a disaster; also, the mobilization of resources in such locations so that they can be deployed easily to the affected areas in case of a disaster.

In the available literature on disaster management, attention has been generally given to post-disaster management, but as it can be easily inferred, work done in advance of a disaster is just as important (Salmeron & Apte, 2010). Balcık and Beamon (2008), for example, stated that “the facility location and stock pre-positioning decisions in the relief chain are critical components of disaster preparedness and hence, require long-term planning to achieve a high-performance disaster response” (p. 106). As a matter of fact, an important development in disaster management approaches over the past decade has been the recognition of their cyclical nature, which in turn, supported the need for efforts to be made prior to the occurrence of a disaster.

It is considered that the most important part of the pre-disaster phase is the early prediction of disaster so that pre-emptive action (such as the evacuation of people) can be taken to reduce human, material, and economic casualties (Mandal, Saha, & Banerjee, 2005). This is nonetheless, a quite sensitive topic, as it must be considered that a false alarm can also trigger devastating effects, creating unnecessary panic and wastage of resources. Studies dedicated to this area are rather scarce.

Among the research works dedicated to pre-disaster management, most of the studies are actually conducted for estimating disaster waste. This is because disasters often create large volumes of debris and waste. In this sense, for example, Chen, Tsai, Hsu, and Shen (2007) created an estimation model for flood damage and Xiao, Xie, and Zhang (2012) for earthquakes damage. More recently, Brown and Milke (2016) surveyed feasibility, the choice of methods, and the effectiveness of post-disaster recycling using information gained from previous major natural disasters around the world. These works have been supported by Tabata, Wakabayashi, Tsai, and Saeki (2017), who stated that “no one can predict when natural disasters will occur, and no one can prevent occurrence of natural disasters. Therefore, we should plan the pre-disaster waste management based on the precautionary principle. Methods and inventory data that we created should not only be basic tools but also significant for national government and local municipalities” (p. 396). For explanatory purposes, the precautionary principle referred to here, advances that “where there is reason to regard a substance or a process as environmentally damaging, preventative action or regulation should be undertaken despite the absence of scientific certainty” (Attfield, 2015, p. 156).

It is without much doubt that many gaps remain in the understanding of disaster management, in general. Probably one of the most peculiar ones has to do with the very definition of ‘disaster management’: a quick view at the literature on the topic reveals that there is no unique definition of the concept. Nevertheless, conceptual debates should not stand in the way of making efforts to tackle the challenges brought about by natural disasters. Today, we need more studies that can support relevant stakeholders in making both strategic and tactical decisions, while also considering the interaction of short-term and long-term planning approaches.

[1]      Attfield, R. (2014). Environmental ethics: an overview for the 21st century (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
[2]      Balcık, B. & Beamon, B. M. (2008). Facility location in humanitarian relief. International Journal of Logistics: Research and Applications, 11(2), 101-121.
[3]      Brown, C. & Milke, M. (2016). Recycling disaster waste: feasibility, method and effectiveness. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 106, 21-32.
[4]      Chen, J., Tsai, H., Hsu, P., & Shen, C. (2007). Estimation of waste generation from floods. Waste Management, 27, 1717-1724.
[5]      Hong, X. H., Lejeune, M. A., & Noyan, N. (2015). Stochastic network design for disaster preparedness. IIE Transactions, 47, 329-357.
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[7]      Mandal, S., Saha, D., & Banerjee, T. (2005). A neural network based prediction model for flood in a disaster management system with sensor networks. Proceedings of ICISIP.
[8]      Salmeron, J. & Apte, A. (2010) Stochastic optimization for natural disaster asset prepositioning. Production and Operations Management, 19(5), 561-574.
[9]      Tabata, T., Wakabayashi, Y., Tsai, P., & Saeki, T. (2017). Environmental and economic evaluation of pre-disaster plans for disaster waste management: Case study of Minami-Ise, Japan. Waste Management, 61, 386-396.
[10]     Xiao, J., Xie, H., & Zhang, C. (2012). Investigation on building waste and reclaim in Wenchuan earthquake disaster area. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 61, 109-117.