Draft. May 30, 2007 The Search for Principles of Disaster Management

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2. The complexity of current principles  
An internet search using the phrase “disaster management” resulted in 168 million hits; “principles of disaster management” resulted in 18 million hits. Clearly, the words are much in use! In order to get a sense for the variance of stated principles, the authors selected 15 sources in a rather arbitrary fashion, including various government and NGO web sites and books. The stated principles varied greatly in number, perspective, and depth. Some were comprised of a few short statements, sometimes embedded in much longer documents (for example, the Republic of South Africa Disaster Management Bill6), while others went into considerable depth and were multi-tiered (The Wingspread Principles: A Community Vision for Sustainability7 and Gujarat State Disaster Management Policy8) Some statements emphasized values and ethics (South Asia: Livelihood Centered Approach to Disaster Management – a Policy Framework9) while others were more management oriented (Erik Auf Der Heide: Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination10). These examples support the notion that the field of disaster management lacks a cohesive approach, in terms of principles.
The three examples below (Table 1) illustrate some of these points. The first, taken from the Government of Canada is managerial in context, reflecting responsibilities at different levels of society. There is nothing in this list that reflects normative values or ethics, or how disasters should be coped with in terms of types of actions. The second, taken from the SPHERE Humanitarian Charter is very different, emphasizing how people should live and act, and the fundamental values that drive organizations. The third example, taken from Auf der Heide (1989) are much more practically oriented, focusing on implementation strategies and error avoidance.

Table 1: Examples of Principles of Disaster Management from Three Sources:

(1) Fact Sheets: Canada's Emergency Management System11

Emergency management in Canada is based on the following principles:

1. It is up to the individual to know what to do in an emergency.

2. If the individual is unable to cope, governments respond progressively, as their capabilities and resources are needed.

3. Most local emergencies are managed by local response organizations, which are normally the first to respond.

4. Every province and territory also has an Emergency Management Organization (EMO), which manages any large scale emergencies (prevention, preparedness, response and recovery) and provides assistance and support to municipal or community response teams as required.

5. Government of Canada departments and agencies support the provincial or territorial EMOs as requested or manage emergencies affecting areas of federal jurisdiction. From policing, nuclear safety, national defence and border security to the protection of our environment and health, many federal departments and agencies also work to prevent emergencies from happening or are involved in some way in a response and recovery effort.

(2) Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response12

We reaffirm our belief in the humanitarian imperative and its primacy. By this we mean the belief that all possible steps should be taken to prevent or alleviate human suffering arising out of conflict or calamity, and that civilians so affected have a right to protection and assistance.
It is on the basis of this belief, reflected in international humanitarian law and based on the principle of humanity, that we offer our services as humanitarian agencies. We will act in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality, and with the other principles set out in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief (1994).
1.1 The right to life with dignity

This right is reflected in the legal measures concerning the right to life, to an adequate standard of living and to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We understand an individual's right to life to entail the right to have steps taken to preserve life where it is threatened, and a corresponding duty on others to take such steps. Implicit in this is the duty not to withhold or frustrate the provision of life-saving assistance. In addition, international humanitarian law makes specific provision for assistance to civilian populations during conflict, obliging states and other parties to agree to the provision of humanitarian and impartial assistance when the civilian population lacks essential supplies.

1.2 The distinction between combatants and non-combatants

This is the distinction which underpins the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977. This fundamental principle has been increasingly eroded, as reflected in the enormously increased proportion of civilian casualties during the second half of the twentieth century. That internal conflict is often referred to as ‘civil war’ must not blind us to the need to distinguish between those actively engaged in hostilities, and civilians and others (including the sick, wounded and prisoners) who play no direct part. Non-combatants are protected under international humanitarian law and are entitled to immunity from attack.

1.3 The principle of non-refoulement

This is the principle that no refugee shall be sent (back) to a country in which his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or where there are substantial grounds for believing that s/he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

(3) Erik Auf Der Heide: Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination13

1. Because of the limited resources available, disaster preparedness proposals need to take cost-effectiveness into consideration.

2. Planning should be for disasters of moderate size (about 120 casualties); disasters of this size will present the typical inter-organizational coordination problems also applicable to larger events.

3. Interest in disaster preparedness is proportional to the recency and magnitude of the last disaster.

4. The best time to submit disaster preparedness programs for funding is, right after a disaster (even if it has occurred elsewhere).

5. Disaster planning is an illusion unless: it is based on valid assumptions about human behavior, incorporates an inter-organizational perspective, is tied to resources, and is known and accepted by the participants.

6. Base disaster plans on what people are "likely" to do, rather than what they "should" do

7. For disaster planning to be effective, it must be inter-organizational.

8. The process of planning is more important than the written document that results.

9. Good disaster management is not merely an extension of good everyday emergency procedures. It is more than just the mobilization of additional personnel, facilities, and supplies. Disasters often pose unique problems rarely faced in daily emergencies.

10. In contrast to most routine emergencies, disasters introduce the need for multi-organizational and multi-disciplinary coordination.

11. In disasters, what are thought to be "communications problems" are often coordination problems in disguise.

12. Those who work together well on a daily basis tend to work together well in disasters.

13. Disasters create the need for coordination among fire departments, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, ambulances, military units, utility crews, and other organizations. This requires inter-agency communication networks utilizing compatible radio frequencies.

14. Procedures for ongoing needs assessment are a prerequisite to efficient resource management in disasters.

15. A basic concept of triage is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of casualties.

16. Triage implies making the most efficient use of available resources.

17. Good casualty distribution is particularly difficult to achieve in "diffuse" disasters, such as earthquakes and tornadoes, that cover large geographic areas.

18. Effective triage requires coordination among medical and non-medical organizations at the disaster site and between the site and local hospitals

19. Panic is not a common problem in disasters; getting people to evacuate is

20. Inquires about loved ones thought to be in the impact zone are not likely to be discouraged, but can be reduced or channeled in less disruptive ways, if the needed information is provided at a location away from the disaster area.

21. Many of the questions that will be asked by reporters are predictable, and procedures can be established in advance for collecting the desired information.

22. Newsworthy information will rapidly spread among news organizations and from one type of media to another.

23. The media will often withhold newsworthy disaster stories it feels would be detrimental to the public.

24. Local officials will have to deal with different news media in times of disaster than those with which they interface on a routine basis.

25. Adequate disaster preparedness requires planning with the rather than for the media.

26. The propensity for the media to share information and to assume "command post" perspective facilitates the establishment of a central source of disaster information.


3. Introducing models                                                

In view of the somewhat chaotic state of existing principles, as noted above, the authors propose that the field of disaster/disaster risk management needs to engage in a discourse of its principles. In order to provide some structure to the discussion, we present a model that we hope will clarify the discussion, and a process that could be used for a person or organization to develop an appropriate set of principles.

3.1 Principles Pyramid

We propose a four level hierarchy of principles (Figure 1) that can be used to provide structure to this issue. Level 1, the broadest, reflects the fundamental values and ethics that motivate our behaviors. Level 2 is strategic and level 3 tactical. Level 4 deals with implementation. Levels 1 and 2 are broad enough so that they should be generally applicable over a large range of possibilities. However, levels 3 and 4 become increasingly sensitive to local culture and legislation and are very difficult or impossible to generalize.

Level 1. Ethical, Core Value Principles, which relate to the underlying shared beliefs and concerns of organizations and of their mandate as it seeks to undertake community based disaster risk management (CBDRM). Using a food metaphor, Level 1 would relate the ethics of food production (such as a human rights based approach). An example would be the SPHERE principle in Table 1 - “A right to a life with dignity”.

Level 2. Strategic Principles that concern the policy direction of CBDRM will be informed and be based upon the ethical principles articulated in Level 1 (such as what actions to consider taking-why, where and with what expected consequences?). Using a food metaphor, Level 2 would be a nutrition guide. An example of this level of principle would be the Canadian principle in Table 1 – “If the individual is unable to cope, governments respond progressively, as their capabilities and resources are needed.”

Level 3. Tactical Principles that concern the practical outworking of the strategic principles. Using a food metaphor, Level 3 would be a cookbook (such as how to adopt the agreed strategy, considering staffing / financial implications etc). An example of this might be a specific mutual aid agreement between two organizations or the post audit of the response of an organization to a disaster, such as occurred with FEMA after Hurricane Katrina.

Level 4. Implementation Principles that are related to all the preceding levels: core values, strategies and tactics (such as actions taken as well as their monitoring and evaluation). Using a food metaphor, Level 4 would be eating the meal as well as congratulating the cook or writing a letter of complaint to the restaurant. An example might the exchange of vulnerability and victim information between NGOs.

It is important to note that the authors do not consider this to be a linear unidirectional process, but rather one that necessitates continual feedback between ethical principles and how they are implemented. It is not just that theory informs practice - it is also the reverse. As a person or organization develops its strategies, it would have to revisit the more fundamental principles on an ongoing basis, and also consider how changes to values might affect higher levels of the pyramid. It is not just about creating a “state function” but more about developing a “process” that incorporates ethics and values in an ongoing way.

Figure 1


3.2 Principles Matrix

The practice and theory of disaster management depends upon various factors, such as which pillar of disaster management is being considered (mitigation, preparedness, response or recovery), disaster type, capacity, scale and complexity. Though underlying values are likely to be fairly robust, strategies, tactics and implementation increasingly depend upon these factors. For example, the mitigation of drought might include multi levels of government working together to develop strategies to conserve water, develop crop insurance plans and incentives to switch to drought resistant crops, while responding to terrorism might emphasize a command and control first responders approach. At larger scales of mitigation (for natural hazards in particular), environmental stewardship and sustainable development would be important to include, though not for the case of response to smaller scale technological emergencies. The authors therefore suggest a matrix methodology, to help distinguish between these factors (Figure 2).

Figure 2


Figure 2 shows an example of how the pyramid discussed above might be slotted into the matrix model, in order to help focus the development of principles. Similar figures could be constructed using different variables; disaster type is the most obvious one. For example, disasters that are rapid onset, well defined and understood, of natural origin and of short time frame would require a very different set of coping strategies than one that was slow onset, diffuse, ill defined, poorly understood and of technological/human origin.

3.3 Constructing Principles

Constructing principles of disaster/disaster risk management is a complex task that should, if it is to be effective, involve an entire organization. A useful process must allow for a discussion should begin at a very fundamental level, one that defines worldview and then moves increasingly towards a more detailed perspective. The authors suggest that a three step process be used as follows:

1. Step one begins with defining a Frame of Reference. This refers to a person’s role as it relates to disaster management, their values, moral code and worldview. Examples of roles could be: managing a government agency that provides disaster assistance, a business continuity manager for IBM, a victim without access to resources who cannot recover without help, or a Red Cross volunteer who responds to disasters. Of course, people in different frames of reference might share the same values, but it is not uncommon for them to approach disasters from a very different set of needs and perspectives; hence, the sort of post disaster conflict that can arise between recovering victims and insurance companies14. In cases such as this, the values associated with disaster relief can conflict with other important institutional values, such as profitability.
2. The second step in the process is to define a Purpose of Disaster Management. Depending upon philosophy, ethic and job, different purposes seem possible. Three possible ones are listed below – more can certainly be constructed.

    1. Minimize the loss, pain and damage caused by disasters, within the larger social context.

    2. Minimize the damage caused by disasters, while maintaining the structures of rights, power and wealth within society, as well as the institutions that support them.

    3. Provide jobs, careers and pensions to people who work in organizations related to disaster management, and ensure that these organizations are well funded15.

This discussion should begin with explicit statements of the nature of the social contract and moral theories that are chosen. Clear distinctions need to be drawn between descriptive ethics (what is) and normative ethics (what ought to be). In cases where rights and duties conflict with each other, it is suggested that they be ranked where possible.

3. The third step is to construct a Set of Principles, linked to the above, using the hierarchical structure and matrix models discussed above.

It is clear that different organizations will arrive at different results using the above process. There is no “correct” answer – in fact engaging in the process16 may well be more important than any specific set of results.

4. Applications 
The multi-layered hierarchy of principles described above in Model 1 was tested by Ian Davis by applying the concept within two projects that he has authored or co-authored. The first, undertaken in 2005/06 for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) was entitled: ‘Community- Based Disaster Risk Management.’ (Davis and Murshed, 2006). The second was ‘Learning from Disaster Recovery- Guidance to Decision Makers’ published by the International Recovery Programme (IRP) in 2007 (Davis, 2007).

Critical Guidelines - Community-Based Disaster Risk Management’

This document attempted to develop a set of principles and indicators relating to performance and outcomes to enable various groups involved in disaster risk reduction to measure progress. In this document the four levels described in Figure 1 were adopted; the results were as follows:

    1. Observe basic rights of beneficiaries (Ethical Issue: Respecting human dignity)17

  • People possess basic rights that are to be observed, respected and followed when undertaking Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) These include rights to:

    • safety,

    • be listened to,

    • be consulted over any issue that may affect their well-being or future,

    • receive appropriate assistance following disaster impact.

    1. Share risk information (Ethical Issue: Protecting lives)

  • Any person or organization undertaking local risk assessment and discovering that a given community is ‘at-risk’, has an ethical responsibility to share this potentially life preserving information with the individuals, families and communities in question.

    1. Share assessment data (Ethical Issue: Respecting human dignity)

  • Groups collecting post-disaster damage, needs and capacity assessments will share such information with other NGO’s or governments to avoid multiple questioning of affected communities and duplication in responding to needs. This principle grows from a concern to respect the dignity of beneficiaries of assistance.

    1. Collaborate rather than compete (Ethical Issue: Integrity)

  • Given a common overriding desire to serve the needs of the poor and vulnerable, there is an ethical demand for NGO’s undertaking CBDRM to agree to collaborate with other NGO’s and local governments, rather than compete with them. This concern is expressed by:

    • avoiding competition to secure funds or projects,

    • avoiding poaching staff from the local government or adjacent agencies

    • using accurate images and data in publicity for fund-raising

    • sharing information-(as noted above under 1.2 and 1.3)

    • accepting government coordination of their work

    • providing mutual support to assisting bodies


2.1 Recognise strategic considerations (Strategic Issue: Integrity through Planning/Design)

  • Before embarking on CBDRM a given NGO or government will build the following into project design:

    • indicators to measure progress,

    • a clear aim and the objectives to reach it,

    • baseline data,

    • ways to ensure transparency and accountability to beneficiaries,

    • monitoring and evaluation procedures,

    • an exit strategy.

2.2 Balance of trust vs. control (Strategic Issue: Expert judgment)

  • In measuring the effectiveness of CBDRM it is vital to secure a fine balance between trust and control, since the greater the level of trust the smaller the need for controls. Excessive controls in the form of performance and outcome indicators and a lack of involvement of key stakeholders in the formulation of indicators will significantly erode trust.

2.3 Ensure staff commitment and competence (Strategic Issue: Integrity through quality control)

  • Agency and government officials who implement CBDRM projects and programmes need to be fully convinced that performance and outcome indicators are necessary and that they can significantly improve the efficiency and quality of risk reduction measures. Training will be required to support this process.


    1. Recognise tactical considerations (Tactical Issue: Integrity though measuring effectiveness)

  • To be effective, performance and outcome indicators need to satisfy a range of demands. Effective indicators are:

    • transparent,

    • robust,

    • representative,

    • relevant,

    • replicable,

    • nationally comparable,

    • sustainable,

    • measurable,

    • achievable,

    • time-framed,

    • easily understood.

    1. Establish baseline positions (Tactical Issue: Integrity through measuring effectiveness)

  • For each performance indictor a baseline indicator is necessary.

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