A disaster happens (flooding, earthquake, hurricane, large-scale fire, severe traffic accidents) and when the authorities start their response, thats the moment when the crisis starts. The disaster is never a crisis in itself. The crisis is always related to the disastrous organizing of the human response.
We should never mistake a disaster with a crisis. A disaster is related to the physical scale and impact of an event. The scale and impact could vary but still be understood as a disaster. A crisis is always socially constructed and often related to a perceived asymmetry between the immediate needs and the availability of resources. Resources is here seen as both physical, cognitive and informational.
The lack of separation of the two concepts has significant consequences for the continuous efforts in improving local, national and global response work. Two examples: The response efforts in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake is a crisis for the international aid organizations. The initial disastrous communication process concerning the response efforts at the Japanese nuclear power-plants is a crisis for the Japanese government authorities.
Were the two above crises caused by the disasters or did these two crises form due to poor management? The answer is from my point of view fairly simple. However, when I refer to it as poor management, I do not say that things could have been better managed. It is always difficult to say what an ideal response operations should look like. The ideal response operation is a moving target and will probably never become manifested in any real world situation. This means according to my thinking, that we will continue to experience poorly managed response operations. We will continue to hear criticism of how these complex operations are organized.
My point is, that it is time to start discuss if there ever will be a perfect response operation. Perfect from who´s perspective? There is a need to move behind the facade of professional response authorities and start to discuss failures, break-downs, conflicts and explicit poor management. Only when we have openness and transparency, we will have a slightest chance to actually improve the way response operations are organized.
But why is it so difficult to discuss why things go wrong? We all know that most of the time, things will actually go wrong. Without any failures, we will not learn in order to reach successes.
I would like to know more about this perhaps sensitive issue and if anyone have experiences or know about published reports/articles, please inform me where these could be found. The concept of transparency and the need to discuss this topic is not only a concern for international humanitarian operations but perhaps even more important in the light of how western authorities are managing response work in underdeveloped urban areas.
What do you think?
3 thoughts on “A disaster is not a crisis : some thoughts and questions”
i remember that there are some arguments about the difference between crisis and disaster in Perry, R. W. and E. L. Quarantelli (2005). What Is A Disaster? New Answers to Old Questions Xlibris Corporation.ch 11 and several discussion chapters following..
@ XiaoLi LU : The Perry and Quarantelli paper is great and they have an excellent typology of how disasters could be categorized. That paper is a really good one. Thanks!
Yes, I d agree with you that a disaster is not a crisis. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful explanation on disaster and crisis and what are the responses should take on it. Really appreciated your blog..