Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Setting the Scene: A Few Disaster-Related Definitions

To begin this blog, I would like to start with the first activity in our study guide.  This activity involved defining various terms related to disaster management and I thought it would provide a good introduction to the topic.  Both sets of definitions are meant to represent my own understanding of what those terms signify.  However, the first series of definitions reflects my initial views while the second set was completed after further reading of disaster-related material. 

Disaster: an event that results in high levels of destruction and/or death and disability.

Medical Disaster: an event that results in extensive levels of death and/or disability due to a profound lack of medical resources.

Hazard: a physical, chemical or biological danger to human beings, other living organisms and/or the environment.

Risk: a potential danger or the level of potential danger that is present.

Vulnerability: a specific weakness or level of weakness that could increase the likelihood of a catastrophic problem for an individual or population.

Resilience: the capacity of an individual or population to rebound to their former state after an event that has compromised their normal way of life.

Adaptive Capacity: the ability of an individual or population to adjust to a new way of life and return to their former levels of productivity and enjoyment after an event that has changed their normal way of functioning.  

The following are my reviewed descriptions of the previously defined terms...

Disaster: a situation that constitutes a catastrophic natural or man-made event that severely disrupts the normal course of activities in a population and in which the local resources or day-to-day capacity of systems are insufficient and/or incapable to counteract the effects of the event.  In a disaster, the affected population requires the assistance of an external entity to avoid catastrophic loss of life, disability, impacts on society and/or destruction of the environment (natural or man-made).  Disasters can occur quickly or develop slowly over time and include earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, droughts, tsunamis, storms and violent conflicts (Dunham 2014).

Medical Disaster: a catastrophic event that overwhelms the capacity of the local health system by leading to more casualties than it can actually manage.

Hazard: a phenomenon that is natural, man-made or a combination of the two that presents a potential danger to the health, property and activities of humans as well as the environment.  Disasters occur as a result of specific hazards and should the hazard not materialise into an occurrence, the disaster will not take place.  A phenomenon that has not yet resulted in a disaster will typically not be recognised as a potential hazard (Dunham 2014).

Risk: the probability that a detrimental occurrence will take place, whether subjective (inferred) or objective (mathematical).  The concept has three aspects: (1) hazardous scenarios, (2) the probability distribution that the scenarios will occur and (3) the negative consequences of those scenarios (Dunham 2014).

Risk = Hazard x Vulnerability / Capacity (or level or preparedness)

(Dunham 2014)

Vulnerability: the weakness, or sensitivity of a human being or population to illness, injury or damage (Dunham 2014).  It could also apply to the weaknesses of the environment.

Resilience: the ability of an individual, population or system to be flexible or adaptable and to absorb the impacts of a negative event.  It may also refer to the ability to rebound from the effects of a negative event.  It could be a natural or man-made capacity (for example, storm preparedness engineering in a city).  The more resilient an individual or population, the less vulnerable it is (Dunham 2014).

Adaptive Capacity: the ability of a population and/or system to rebound or adapt successfully to a state that was better than before when faced with the occurrence of a negative event.  The capability to change characteristics to cope better with real or anticipated adverse impacts (Dunham 2014).

My initial definitions were fairly rudimentary and upon further examination, I believe that I have a significant amount of work to do to understand the intricacies of disaster management.  For example, I had never given much thought to the fact that a disaster is different to an emergency in that a disaster necessitates outside help.  However, I had come across the calculation for risk before in other classes, so I was familiar with that.  Hopefully I am up to the challenge that this course and the subject matter present.


Dunham J 2014, Health Aspects of Disaster, Course study guide, University of Queensland, Brisbane.


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