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

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Measure both quantifiable as well as non-quantifiable indicators

(Tactical Issue: (Tactical Issue: Integrity through measuring effectiveness)

  • Given the bias of performance indicators towards tangible, measurable and quantifiable elements it is essential to devise alternate ways to maintain and measure performance standards for non-quantifiable measures.

    1. Establish minimum requirements (Tactical Issue: Integrity through quality control)

  • Minimum requirements are needed to make risk reduction effective to ensure that the competency of personnel, effectiveness of procedures, quality of measures does not fall below acceptable standards.

    1. Ensure relevance of indicators (Tactical Issue: Integrity through quality control)

  • Each performance indicator should define the conditions to which it applies since it is not expected that indicators will apply in all situations.

    1. Mainstream actions into normal development (Tactical Issue: Integrity through quality control)

  • Actions taken to implement Community Based Disaster Risk Management need to be integrated into normal development policies, planning, programming, and practice.


    1. Adapt indicators to suit local cultures (Implementation Issue: Respecting human dignity)

  • All performance indicators need to be considered to satisfy local social, cultural, economic and environmental variables.

    1. Be aware of potential negative side effects (Ethical Issue: Integrity)

  • In any project indicators are needed to indicate whether unexpected side effects are taking place, to enable swift evasive action to be taken.


Almost two years after writing the above principles, with the benefit of reflection, four issues emerge:

  • It is much easier to develop principles that apply to the ethical or strategic level than at the tactical or implementation level. This is on account of the more general relevance of issues at ethical or strategic levels and the more specific relevance at tactical and implementation levels.

  • In developing principles it is important to understand their underlying ethical intentions, as stated in italics after each principle. This is a positive process that provides an important emphasis on the underlying core values of disaster risk management.

  • Many of the ‘principles’ proposed for tactical or implementation levels, can be better regarded as ‘issues’ or ‘recommendations’.

  • There are far too many principles for this specific task in managing community risks, since officials who have the task of applying them are unlikely to remember all fifteen and thus risk ignoring all of them.

  • However, the process of systematic thought needed to develop this set of principles, within this hierarchy of categories, was of particular importance for us as the authors of this report, and of even more importance as we debated them with a workshop of experienced officials in Bangkok in January 2005. This is a reminder that a process of enquiry can be more important than a subsequent product.

The second document where principles were included is ‘Learning from Disaster Recovery- Guidance to Decision Makers’ published by the International Recovery Programme (IRP) in 2007 (Davis, 2007). In writing this book, which contains twelve themes each relating to disaster recovery, the initial intention was to apply the full hierarchy of principles to each theme, to conclude each chapter of the book. However, reviewers of the draft chapters commented that there was a ‘bewildering excess of principles’ and suggested that they be replaced by a single principle for each chapter.


Learning from Disaster Recovery- Guidance to Decision Makers’

This report anticipates the later publication of the full book and includes just two of the chapters on the topics of ‘Reducing Risks in Disaster Recovery’ and ‘Organising Recovery’. The principles selected for each chapter are as follows:
Guiding Principle:Reducing Risks in Disaster Recovery’

‘Risk Reduction is a central aim of recovery management. Therefore, it is essential to use the recovery process to reduce future risks to avoid a repetition of the disaster. To achieve such protection it is necessary for officials to secure adequate budget and political support as well as the ‘buy-in’ of the intended beneficiaries of the undertaking. When this support is assured, and only then, devise and implement an integrated risk reduction strategy’

Guiding Principle:Organising Recovery’

‘Effective recovery requires a single point of overall responsibility in government. This may be best achieved by having a dedicated organization at the apex of political power and decision making. The organisation also needs:

  • a clear mandate supported by appropriate legislation

  • adequate financial, human and material resources

  • to be based on the ethical principles of accountability and transparency

  • direct links to all line ministries

  • mechanisms that permit continual two-way consultation with surviving communities

  • an effective Disaster Recovery Management Information System (DRMIS)’

Three Comments on these Principles:

First: It is not an easy process to capture the essence of a complex task and summarise it within a single guiding principle.

Second: The ‘Guiding Principles’ cited above could also be described as recommendations, or critical issues.
Third: These chapters containing the above principles were submitted to a senior technical editor, employed by one of the sponsoring UN agencies who commissioned this publication : ‘The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’ (ISDR) In the final version of the paper, following heavy internal editing, both of the principles stated above were excluded. However, the broad spirit of the sentiments that are implicit within them has been retained, but without the force of the designation ‘principle’. This omission may illustrate a reluctance on the part of an official international body such as the United Nations to set out ‘principles’ lest these be regarded as controversial, attracting criticism or because they may have policy or financial implications.

5. Conclusions and where next?                                 
At the outset we stated that principles are essential to ‘guide actions’, ‘achieve something’, or define the ‘way to act’. We hope that the discussion in this paper adds substance to this conviction. The following concerns need to be noted and responded to.
Varied Perspectives

Devising a set of universal principles is not an easy task; in fact it may not even be possible, due to cultural relativism and varying frames of reference. A set of principles for an identical disaster recovery operation would tend to differ for survivors, the national government, the private sector and international relief agencies. Disasters occur within diverse cultural settings, so it is highly unlikely that specific ‘tactical’ or ‘implementation’ principles of disaster management that could relate to Canada would be relevant to Cambodia.

Nevertheless, the diversity of standpoints can present a useful challenge in searching for a common approach, a shared understanding and common principles that effectively merges different interests. To do this will require (1) a disciplined thought process and (2) a dialogue to establish an ethical consensus from all standpoints. It is suggested that any principle for disaster recovery should start from the primary object of concern -namely the needs of the surviving population.
There is an important distinction to be made between process and content. There will be many difficulties, (if not impossibilities) in creating uniform sets of principles that are applicable to different cultures or organizations. But, the process of searching for principles are, in the authors opinion, essential.
The four stage hierarchy of principles introduced in this paper provides a useful template for programme and project managers. The process encourages an ethical basis for planning and decision making. However, we recognize the concern of officials, as noted in a cited example, to reduce principles to a manageable total.
We believe that the process of creating principles seems likely to yield many significant benefits, by helping people and organizations to create policies that are consistent with their values, to explicitly consider how actions and values relate to each other, and by helping to create a shared understanding, not only within individual organizations but between them. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "The plan is useless; it's the planning that's important"; this same notion has applicability to the issue of disaster management and in the development of principles.
Maintaining Principles

While principles of disaster management exist, and in the case of the Red Cross ‘Code of Conduct ‘ have been widely endorsed, it is nevertheless clear that this is insufficient to ensure their compliance in the long term. Given the rapid turnover of agency staff and minimal induction training for new staff in most agencies, it would appear to be necessary for organizations to regularly re-launch ethics training.

International Dialogue

The time seems to be ripe for an international conference under UN auspices, (or Red Cross auspices) to specifically address this issue: “The quest for working Principles of Disaster Management” This could usefully include a discussion concerning the way principles are being followed in the Sphere Guidelines as well as in the Red Cross Code of Conduct The conference and subsequent book could usefully cover both Disaster Management (post-event) and Disaster Risk Management (pre-event).

7. References (to be completed)
ADB, OECD and Transparency International (2005). Curbing Corruption in Tsunami

Relief Operations Manila: Asian Development Bank (ADP) , Organisation for

Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Transparency International
Alexander (1999). in What is a Disaster? New Answers to Old Questions
Alexander, D. (2002). Principles of Emergency Planning and Management Harpenden: Terra
Auf der Heide, Erik. (1989). Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination. http://orgmail2.coe-dmha.org/dr/Images/Main.swf.
Alexander de Waal (1998). Famine Crimes; Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa (African Issues), Indiana University Press.
Boss, J.A. (2005). Analyzing Moral Issues: Third Edition, New York, McGraw-Hill
Clinton, B. (2006). Lessons for a Safer Future: Drawing on the experience of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster . Eleven key actions for building nations’ and communities’ resilience to disasters. New York and Geneva: ISDR
CRHNet (2005). The Principles for Disaster Management as a Key for Successful Management. In: Reducing Risk Through Partnerships. Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet) Symposium. Toronto, Canada, November 17-19, 2005.
Davis, I (2007). ‘Learning from Disaster Recovery- Guidance to Decision Makers’ Geneva: International Recovery Programme (IRP)
Davis. I. and Murshed, Z (2006). Community- Based Disaster Risk Management Bangkok: Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC)

(this document can be ordered from ADPC by contacting Vicky Puzon-Diopenes at Vicky@adpc.net or it may be downloaded from www.adpc.net)

de Waal A.(1998). Famine Crimes; Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa (African Issues), PLACE?: Indiana University Press.
Drabek, T.E. (2005). Theories relevant to emergency management versus a theory of emergency management. Journal of Emergency Management, Vol 3(4), 49-4.
Dunfee, T.W. and Strudler, A. (2000). Moral Dimensions of Risk Transfer and Reduction Strategies. In Disaster Risk Management Series no. 2: Managing Disaster Risk in Emerging Economies, Washington D.C: World Bank, Kreimer A. and Arnold M. editors, pp. 109-120.
Erik Auf der Heide, Disaster Response: Principles of Preparation and Coordination [book on-line]; available from http://orgmail2.coe-dmha.org/dr/static.htm.
Etkin, D. and Ho, E. (2007). Climate Change: Perceptions and Discourses of Risk. Journal of Risk Research (in press).
Good Humanitarian Donorship (2003). ‘Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian

Donorship’ 17 June http://www.reliefweb.int/ ghd/a%2023%20Principles %20EN- GHD19.10.04%20 RED.doc

Jigyasu, R. (2005). “Disaster: A Reality or Construct? Perspective From the East”, in What is a Disaster?
Scheper, E et al ( 2006). Impact of the tsunami response on local and national capacities.
Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, (cited p.21) of Telford,J and Cosgrave, J (2007) The

international humanitarian system and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis

Disasters Vol. 31 No.1 March 2007

Telford,J and Cosgrave, J (2007). The international humanitarian system and the 2004

Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis Disasters Vol. 31 No.1 March 2007 pp 1-28
Zack, N. (2006). Philosophy and Disasters. Homeland Security Affairs, Vol. 2(1)
Figure 1

Figure 2

1 In recent years these terms have been widely accepted. ‘Disaster Management’ refers to the post-disaster management of emergencies while ‘Disaster Risk Management’ describes the pro-active processes of risk assessment and risk reduction. Another term, ‘Disaster Recovery Management’ referring to longer-term disaster recovery, is gradually being added to these descriptions as recovery secures belated recognition amongst policy makers and funding institutions.

2 Ian Davis was on the management board of an international relief agency during the 1970’s and witnessed the forces of self-interest in action. He recalls some alarming boardroom discussions where the agency financial director would express the ‘need’ for a major disaster to occur within a given financial year to produce the consequent influx of funds from agency supporters to ensure that staff redundancies would not occur. This was on account of a 14 -20% allocation of administrative and handling charges that the agency deducted from every contribution and disasters provided the major ‘financial surges’ needed to fill the agencies administrative budget. Therefore, we were faced as board members with the blunt reality that if there were few disasters in a given year the agency had to loose staff and cut back on essential administrative requirements. However, some ‘creative accounting’ mechanisms were introduced by certain agencies to offset this risk by dubiously charging the salaries of home or overseas based aid administration staff as a project or donation item, as a way to boost the administration ‘top-slice’. Needless to say, loyal constituency supporters of agencies were never informed about such subtleties as the agency ‘adjusted’, (or manipulated) their supporters contributions to meet the agency’s internal requirements

3 For example, law 229 of the Code of Hammurabi from 1760 B.C. states that “If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

4 The importance of care and sentiment has been given greater focus as a result of the incorporation of feminism into moral theory.

5 An example of this is whether or not providing disaster assistance to people is linked to their taking reasonable precautions to mitigate their risk. For example, if somebody knowingly builds in a flood zone when they have alternative options, do they have a right to compensation in the event of a disastrous flood.

6 http://www.info.gov.za/gazette/bills/2001/b58-01.pdf

7 http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/wingspread2/wingprin.shtml

8 http://www.gujaratindia.com/Policies/Policy2.pdf

9 http://www.itdg.org/?id=disasters_livelihood_approach

10 http://orgmail2.coe-dmha.org/dr/disasterresponse.nsf/section?openview

11 http://www.ocipep.gc.ca/info_pro/fact_sheets/general/EM_can_emerg_man_sys_e.asp

12 http://www.sphereproject.org/handbook/index.htm

13 http://orgmail2.coe-dmha.org/dr/disasterresponse.nsf/section?openview

14 For example, after the Hurricane Katrina disaster victims launched a class action suit against State Farm Insurance and American International Group regarding denial of claims or lack of response.

15 Our thanks to Dennis Mileti for this suggestion.

16 This perspective was put forth by Dwight D. Eisenhower who said, "The plan is useless; it's the planning that's important."

17 The issues stated after each principle, (as set in italics), have been added to the original text

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