Home » Philosophy of Disasters » Disaster Theory

Category Archives: Disaster Theory

July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

The Structure of Science Part II: Gaining Perspective on Disaster Studies Using Overlay Mapping

8-12-2013 11-36-41 PM

The Fishbowl of Science: Loet Leydesdorff et al.’s (2013) journal-level base map of science, using 2011 citing patterns of 10, 675 Web of Science-indexed journals. If you are looking for your favorite disaster-related journal, many of them are in this map…you just have to zoom in a lot more to see them…most are but specks in relation to the entire journal structure of science. Hopefully this fact will not come as too much of a shock to anyone (“I don’t understand….I thought everyone reads Biosecurity and Bioterrorism!!!!”….)
You can play with this in a shared VOS Viewer map yourself:  http://www.vosviewer.com/vosviewer.php?map=http://www.leydesdorff.net/journals11/citing_all.txt.

Here is Leydesdorff et al.'s map of science based on the pattern of being cited. You can also explore this map yourself: http://www.vosviewer.com/vosviewer.php?map=http://www.leydesdorff.net/journals11/cited_all.txt

Here is Leydesdorff et al.’s base map of science this time based on the pattern of journals being cited by other journals in 2011. There is a slight difference between the journals another journal cites, and the journals that cite it.  According to Leydesdorff, the citing pattern shows the most current activity of science.  The cited map shows the established knowledge base of science as contained in the journals.
You can also explore this map yourself:
http://www.vosviewer.com/vosviewer.php?map=http://www.leydesdorff.net/journals11/cited_all.txt

Cited map of science, but this time shown in VOS Viewer as a density map.  This shows which areas of science are most actively cited to.

Cited base map of science, but this time shown in VOS Viewer as a density map. This shows the areas most actively cited by other journals.

If you search for WoS indexed articles with "Disaster" in topic or title, 1980-2011 and then map all of the journals cited in the results (approximately 5000 records), this is what you get...

If you search for WoS indexed articles and conference papers with “disaster” in topic or title fields, 1980-2011, and then overlay all of the journals cited in those articles (approximately 4500 unedited records) over the citing base map, this is what you get.  Even though some of these journals and the source articles they were cited in are likely not related to Disaster Studies and Sciences, it still shows the cross-disciplinary nature of disaster research.

Source journals in WoS-indexed articles on disaster recovery as an overlay on the base citing map.

Source journals in WoS-indexed articles on disaster recovery as an overlay on the base citing map. This shows the journals where disaster recovery articles came from, as well as their position within the overall structure of science. Notice the variety of disciplinary areas involved.

As you may recall in my last post, I have just discovered overlay mapping and its use in mapping knowledge domains.  I am reading and digesting several papers written by several prominent scholars, including Loet Leydesdorff, Ismael Rafols, Chaomei Chen, and Alan Porter. 

To refresh your memory: in overlay mapping, data is superimposed upon an existing base map.  In this case, the base maps are of science, as represented in the journal-to-journal citing and cited by patterns among the journals indexed in Web of Science. The overlay data can consist of the WoS-indexed articles published by specific authors, group of authors, institutions, specialties, fields, disciplines, etc., within a particular time period.  You can also choose to create an overlay based on the source article data, or the cited references within those articles.

The method of overlay mapping, thus allows comparison between the data and the base map, and between different overlay maps (though according to Leydesdorff there are limits to the types of between-map quantitative comparisons that can be made if using VOS Viewer to visualize the data…will not bother you with the exact details but just know that because a journal node in one map is twice as big as the same journal node on a different map (provided the viewing settings are the same for both maps), it does not mean one node is two times more frequent….it only means the node is more frequent).

On this page of his website, Leydesdorff has instructions and programs that will convert WoS data into overlay maps, as well as links to PDF versions of papers on overlay mapping.  The programs are fairly easy to use, and one can create a large number of different maps that can be viewed in VOS Viewer in a relatively short amount of time.  CiteSpace can also be used, according to some of Chen’s most recent documentation on CiteSpace, but I am only beginning to investigate that process.

So let us see a few more examples of the nifty things you can do with the overlays:

Updated thesis data as overlay against citing base map.

Here are the cited journals in my updated thesis data as an overlay on the citing base map…..I believe it would be correct to say many different disciplines are represented.

Density view of the same map, show greatest intensities over what I identify as our field's Hazard Sciences Branch, and our Human Dimensions Branch.

Density view of the same map, show greatest intensities over what I identify as our field’s Hazard Sciences Branch, and our Human Dimensions Branch.

Some of the journals within the Hazard Sciences area.

Some of the journals within the Hazard Sciences area.

View of journals in and near what I believe is the central core of the Human Dimensions area.

View of journals in and near what I believe is the central core of the Human Dimensions area.

JCA750-2

Journal co-citation network of the same data. Notice that the same general organization and relationship of journals cited can be seen that are seen in the overlay maps.

Neat, eh?  Now let’s take a look at using the method to see what is revealed about different journals and different authors in the world of disasters:

Overlay of  journals cited in Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management articles, 2006-2011.

Overlay of WoS-indexed journals cited in Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management articles, 2006-2011.

Cited journal overlay, but this time using Disaster Prevention and Management, 2009-2011.

Cited journal overlay, but this time using Disaster Prevention and Management, 2009-2011. Very similar to JHSEM, but important distinctions are noticeable.

Overlay of selection of WoS-indexed journals containing articles by Waugh, placed on the cited base map.

Overlay of WoS-indexed journals containing articles by Waugh (author or co-author), placed on the cited base map.

Same map as above, but this time showing WoS-indexed journals that have published articles by Cutter.  Whose work appears to cross more disciplinary lines-Waugh or Cutter? Both the map and a statistical measure of interdisciplinarity (Spirling-Rao) say hands-down it is Cutter.

Same map as above, but this time showing WoS-indexed journals that have published articles by Cutter. Whose work appears to cross more disciplinary lines-Waugh or Cutter? Both maps and measure of interdisciplinarity (Rao-Stirling diversity) say hands-down it is Cutter.

There are limitations to these overlays, of which the main one is that these maps will only show journals that are indexed in WoS.  So for example, articles published in the Australian Journal of EM or the International Journal of EM, or citations to these journals in WoS-indexed articles, do not appear on the base map or overlays. Despite this fact, the technique appears to offer another way to view the field, one that is complimentary to the results produced by co-citation  analysis.

The Structure of Science Part I: A Most Curious Resemblance

A map of science based on the 2011 revised Web of Science categories in Leydesdorff, Carley, and Rafols (2013 in press) paper.....

Map of science based on the 2011 revised Web of Science categories in Leydesdorff, Carley, and Rafols (2013 in press) paper…..

8-12-2013 10-48-49 PM

Here is Leydesdorff,  Rafols, and Chen’s updated 2013 journal-level map of science based on citing patterns among 10,675 journals indexed in Web of Science, as visualized in VOS Viewer.  This map can be accessed at http://www.leydesdorff.net/journals11/. Does the structure of these networks look familiar to anyone?

I was originally planning to write about some interesting work being done by several information science researchers, including Loet Leydesdorff, Ismael Rafols, Chaomei Chen, and Alan Porter. 

Their work improves on earlier work by Vargas-Quesada, De-Moya-Anegón, Chinchilla-Rodríguez, and González-Molina (2006), as well as others, to map the entire intellectual domain of science.   The recent work involves creating overlays that can be combined with base structural maps of science derived from citation patterns within Web of Science-indexed journals.  The overlays allow the output of a particular author, journal, institution, or field, to be visualized within the entire domain of science.   These base maps, one of which is shown above, might help provide secondary confirmation of the structures I have found in my co-citation networks.

So, I was preparing images of the base maps and marking where different disaster-related journals referenced in my networks were located within.  Then I noticed something.  I had seen the structure of the base map before.

With my original background in neuropsychology, I have spent a lot of time looking at images of the human brain (and in one undergraduate course was tested on neuroanatomy using actual human brain sections the instructor kept in a large glass jar of formaldehyde in his office…..).  The structure of science looks remarkably similar to a cerebral hemisphere seen from the side (lateral view).  Even the way the major disciplines cluster along the outside of the network, with the curve creating an interior space, is similar to the curve of the temporal lobe and the relationship between gray and white matter:

8-13-2013 6-10-28 PM

Right cerebral hemisphere of the human brain. See a similarity between this and the network of science?

8-13-2013 6-12-48 PM

Sagittal section through the right cerebral hemisphere showing the brains thin outer neocortex (gray matter) and the immense number of axon bundles below the neocortex (white matter) that connect these neurons to others throughout the brain and nervous system.

The resemblance was so peculiar that I emailed Dr.  Leydesdorff, who is in Amsterdam, to ask if anyone had noticed the similarity before.  He actually replied back rather quickly that he had not noticed it before but that yes, the similarity was striking. Whether there is any significance to the similarity, he could not say one way or another.  I can only speculate that if the structural similarity can not be shown to be coincidental or arbitrary, then it suggests there is something necessary about that structure that makes it desirable to have, for both brains and scientific knowledge domains.  But the idea that the structure of knowledge somehow echoes the structure of our own brain is a very odd idea indeed!

Here are some additional images of neural pathways and networks that have been produced by the Human Connectome Project, which seeks to completely map all of the brain’s neural pathways and connections–a definitive wiring diagram for the human brain.

Perhaps someone else sees the similarity I do between these images and the network of science…..

8-13-2013 6-39-54 PM

Connectome (1)

Looking again at the right cerebral hemisphere. This Human Connectome Project image shows major neural pathways that connect the brainstem and midbrain (long bluish and purplish vertical fibers) to the pontine & cerebellar areas (yellow and orangish fibers that wrap around the base to the lower left), and cerebral cortex and neocortex (multicolored fibers that fan out from both the upper brainstem pathway and from around the red-ringed elliptical space, which marks the location of the thalamus and hypothalamus). Frontal lobe would be to the right, and occipital lobe to the left.

In Part II,  I will return to my original intention of discussing the base maps of science in relation to my own attempts to map the structure of Disaster Studies and Sciences.

The Myth of the “Myth” of Natural Disasters and the Unspoken Disaster Taboo

mystery-person-graphic

The mysterious Dr. Ilan Kelman. Should we ever meet at a conference I think he will likely shake my hand…so long as he can’t quite put a finger on why my name sounds so familiar…. 

The great English philosopher George Berkeley once asked: if a hurricane causes a tree to fall in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?  Many recent disaster researchers would reply that they have no idea if the tree made a sound, but they do know that the hurricane wasn’t a natural disaster if no one is around.  

Ok, so maybe Berkeley never asked that exact question.  Had he asked the question, and had there been any disaster researchers around at the time, I am certain he would have received such an answer.  In my view, it has almost become cliche now to state, in some form or fashion,  that without humans, there are no disasters.  Authors differ not only in how this idea/argument is expressed, but also in how far they are willing to take the idea.  Some authors have taken the idea further than others.  Mileti, for example, in Disasters by Design, presents natural disasters as a result of the interaction between three systems: earth, human, and constructed environment.  Other authors have gone much further, and have asserted that there are no “natural” disasters: all disasters are the result of human action.

There are many examples of this view, such as the UNISDR,  or this  2010 Bankoff article that presents the term “natural disaster” as a  form of…and I hate having to use the term….discourse.  In Bankoff’s view, natural disasters are  a convenient way for avoiding human responsibility, and closely tied to colonialism, development, and aid.

A personal favorite of this blog, Dr. Ilan Kelman is another such author.  For a second time since starting the blog, I have accidentally stumbled upon one of his unpublished papers, where he not only asserts that there are no natural disasters; there are no natural hazards, either.  He also reviews some of the key literature in the evolution of the  “un-natural” natural disaster perspective.  His general argument  is that hazards are simply our interpretation of necessary natural processes, and it is our own choices that makes them hazards and leads to disasters.  According to Kelman, should a gamma-ray burst roast Earth tomorrow, it apparently will be our own (and I note he particularly targets “the rich”) fault that we didn’t invest enough to prevent gamma ray bursts from turning the earth into a planetary BBQ.  And in a style I am beginning to think is his trademark, Kelman proclaims after presenting several global catastrophe scenarios: “A full inventory and scientific analysis of these scenarios might provide some exceptions for the claims in this document that neither natural disasters nor natural hazards exist. “

Although it is thought that an earth-cooking gamma ray burst is extremely unlikely anytime soon: once every 15 billion years (universe is almost 14 billion years old and earth is only 6 billion years old)...if one did happen would this be considered a "non-routine social problem"?

Our good friend the earth-cooking gamma ray burst is back…Kelman says you can blame society if one should ever turn the human race into the charcoal briquette race. Maybe you agree with his point of view.  I don’t.

The notion of the “un-natural” disaster has now been parroted by enough authors as if it were fact, to make me suspicious that it might be something other than a well-reasoned, logical, conclusion.  Perhaps it is really a symbol, a slogan, a mantra….even….and once again I am sorry to use the term…a discourse.

Ideas are like jokes: you can take them too far.  A good comic knows how far he can push the limits of a joke before he loses the audience.  A bad comic crosses the line and then sight-sees awhile, oblivious to the fact that he is simply no longer funny.  Likewise, in the land of ideas, a good thinker knows that there is one town no good idea goes: Absurdia.  I think Kelman and perhaps other authors have gone too far, confused symbolic meaning with literal meaning, and have taken up residence in Absurdia.

What do I mean by saying that they have confused the symbolic and the literal?  I mean that when authors speak of “un-natural” disasters, they are not attempting a systematic and logical analysis of “natural” disasters in order to clarify the concept of disaster at the conceptual/theoretical level.  For example, I have yet to find an author who examines what is meant by the term “natural”, including how do we determine which human actions are natural and which are unnatural; or an author who addresses the fundamental question of whether it is correct to limit disasters to events involving humans: would other organisms perceive certain events as disaster-like if they had sufficient intellectual/emotional/linguistic ability, and would we perceive what happened to those same organisms as disasters?  If  human presence/action is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for disasters,  then this should inform our conception of what is a natural or “un-natural” disaster.

2037029-extraterrestrial-scenery-with-ruins-of-some-alien-civilization

Are disasters only applicable to human events? If we were one day to discover remnants of a long extinct alien civilization on another world, would the term “disaster” be one of the possible terms to describe what happened? Might the alien civilization have used a word in their own language with a similar meaning? 

No, these writers serve another purpose, one with both positive and negative implications.  On the positive side, the concept of the unnatural disaster is a way to teach/inform/remind people that human decisions play an important role in disaster processes.  I think, however,  humans throughout history have understood much better than many of these authors credit,  the relationship between human actions and disasters, within the limits of their  knowledge of the world.  The human brain in 2013 is no different in its intellectual abilities  than the brain of 2000 B.C.E. .  Humans do not have to know the scientific explanations behind many geophysical events in order to learn and remember extreme events and their consequences upon humans, leading to attempts to prevent their re-occurrence.  Some of these early prohibitions designed to prevent disasters may have been couched in the language of myth and religion, but it does not change the fact that it is a way to prevent human actions resulting in disastrous consequences.

On the negative side (at least in my view) is that you may begin to believe that the concept is not just a useful teaching device, it is also literally true.  Human society is the cause of all disasters, and without humans there are no disasters.  And here the idea of the unnatural disaster begins to serve a deeper  ideological position.  The position is what McEntire (2004) in a paper on theories of disaster and development refers to as the “radical thesis”, based in Marxist theory, that sees disasters as the result of economic and social inequities.  Within this view, a global reduction in disasters requires elimination of these inequities and social injustices, which includes poverty and the development gap between richest and poorest nations.  Social vulnerability and its reduction takes precedence above all else.  What is sometimes missed in the discussion, as pointed out by Cardona (2003), is that social vulnerability to disasters is not really a specific vulnerability to disasters.  The factors that frequently define the term (poverty, race, gender, etc.)  make individuals more vulnerable and less able to recover from a broad spectrum of events, whether the event be related to crime, physical illness, mental illness, disaster, etc.  The socially vulnerable are simply more vulnerable….period.

The reason this concerns me is because ideological positions  are frequently based upon internally consistent, closed, systems of  great explanatory power at the level of theory,  but far less power to produce success when applied in practice.  Public Administration authors, like Drucker (1980), have pointed out that an important reason for the failure of government programs and interventions is the all too frequent reliance on ideological/dogmatic ideas rather than empirical results.  As the systems the positions are based upon are closed, failures can be explained away within the system rather than being taken as evidence there is something wrong with the system itself.  As such, they often defy philosophical, scientific, or empirical arguments.

It is not only convenient but even necessary for the radical perspective to assert that all disasters are the result of human action, and therefore all disasters are preventable through human action.  As a result, authors like Kelman find themselves trapped making arguments with absurd destinations, such as blaming society should we be destroyed by gamma ray bursts.  There is unlikely any evidence or level of absurdity that one could present that would persuade Kelman he has taken a wrong-headed direction, as this would ultimately undermine the underlying radical thesis.

If these were the only problems in asserting the myth of the natural disaster, we would be left with an interesting but largely inconsequential academic debate.  Unfortunately, for all of the radical thesis’ interest in development, sustainability, and reduction of inequity in the name of disaster reduction, they are as silent as much of the rest of the disaster community in addressing what almost seems a taboo subject: managing overpopulation and over-consumption (Smith, 1993).  I find this particularly odd, as you would think that a group of thinkers so devoted to identifying the root causes of disasters, as the radical thesis proponents are, might be concerned about these issues. Particularly as  history seems to tell us that as developing countries progress, their development will for a time paradoxically increase their population even more, as lifespans increase, fewer die by disease and disaster, etc.  Their levels of consumption will also grow with development, and we so far have very little evidence of countries voluntarily curtailing their industrial growth, development, and consumption to ensure that resources will be available for other countries to develop.  Everyone may say they hate the West and its values, but it seems everyone wants to equal its economic and industrial power.  Unfortunately, the world cannot long sustain  the continued industrial growth of the major world powers that already exist.  Will any country say: “We will curtail (or even contract) our own growth for the good of humanity?”

By 2050 the human population is expected to be near or exceed 10 billion, with most of it in the developing or near-developed world.  The UN anticipates the world population to peak around 10-11 billion, before stabilizing then declining .  At the same time, countries like China, India, and Indonesia will continue their industrial development, demanding more and more resources to fuel their growth, with other countries waiting to follow in their footsteps. Although there are optimists who suggest that the earth’s carrying capacity could be as high as 40 billion, it seems most scientists believe that we are already past what is sustainable in terms of population and economic growth. According to The Limits of Growth and its updated results, human civilization appears to continue its advance towards some form of systemic collapse, whether by mid-century or later.

8-6-2013 2-51-14 PM

It took from the beginning of homo sapiens first appearance on earth until 1804 (55,000 years give or take a few) for the world’s population to reach 1 billion. In 2011 it reached 7 billion.
(World Population Clock: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/#milestones)

As the Final World War begins, some very astute radical geographers and sociologists consider the possibility that it might have been a mistake to concentrate of development while ignoring overpopulation and over-consumption....

As the Final World War begins, some very astute radical geographers and sociologists consider the possibility that it might have been a mistake to concentrate on disaster reduction through international development while ignoring overpopulation and over-consumption.  They also take a moment to consider the positive side of the apocolypse: the gap between richest and poorest countries should narrow remarkably over the next several hours; and we can now all stop worrying about the future effects of global climate change… 

Seen in this light, irrespective of climate change, we should not be surprised to see in coming years growing instability and rising disaster costs throughout the world.  Seen from a systems perspective, these events will not be the problem itself, though based on current scholarship, we are likely to treat future disasters as such, or attribute the symptom to a closely related issue, but one that is still only a symptom: climate change.  The reality may be far worse: the system of human civilization itself is becoming more and more unstable as population and consumption grows, with disasters becoming more frequent and/or larger as the system becomes increasingly unable to find lasting stability.  When the system finally begins a global cascade failure, we will likely not recognize it as such when it begins.  As the failure spirals out of our control, we might begin to recognize it for what it is: part of a great “correction” in human population numbers. It will be the result of forces that are inescapable by both man and nature: this will make it  a perfectly natural disaster.

What may be scariest of all to me is the thought that the disaster community is mostly silent on issues of overpopulation and over-consumption simply because it is something we may be unwilling or unable to stop.

Catastrophe and Social Change, and the Pre-History of Disaster Studies and Sciences

CoverCatastropheSocChange

This monograph is frequently identified as the first sociological, or social science, investigation of a disaster.  That does not make it the first disaster-related investigation…the distinction is important.  More importantly, as a “scientific” study of a disaster,  how good is it? ….you should decide for yourself. Click to view the entire monograph on the National Archives website.

Deacon 1918

You have probably never heard of this book, published in 1918…neither had I until last night….Prince cites it in his 1920 work.

7-20-2013 3-04-43 PM

Ever heard of this article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also in 1918, detailing the epidemiology and treatment of eye injuries in Halifax?….

Last night I went to the UT Dallas library to retrieve more Web of Knowledge/Web of Science (WoK/WoS) records.  Returning from the Hazards Workshop, I decided it was time to acquire more data, including all Earthquake Spectra articles in WoS (2003 to the present); articles that cite At Risk, Disasters by Design, and several other papers; and to perform a general search for articles prior to 1994 .   For retrieving the pre-1994 articles I decided to search for all articles in WoS with either disaster or natural hazard in the topic, published between 1900 and 1994.  This produced approximately 6500 records, of which about 6400 are not duplicates of records I already have.  Some of these will ultimately be found to be unrelated to disaster studies and sciences, which will likely result in perhaps 6200 new articles covering the formative years of the field.

I was rather surprised by the relatively large number of records found for the first half of the 20th century.  The oldest article retrieved with an identified author dates to 1903 (there were several others with anonymous authors, but I did not download these).  Even more surprising is the variety of fields contributing to the pre-1960 literature: Sociology, Social Work, Geography, Industrial Chemistry, Occupational Safety, Medicine, Nursing, Public Health, Psychiatry/Psychology, and Law. In reading many accounts of the development of disaster studies, little mention is made to the existence of works pre-Prince (a notable exception is Dyne’s 2000 article concerning Voltaire, Rousseau, and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake-he considers Rousseau to offer the first social science view of disasters) or post-Prince until the 1950s.  As research works,  it is likely many of these early works lack scientific or methodological rigor.  But then again, Prince’s 1920 work, by today’s standard, lacks scientific and academic rigor.  He fits his observations into the sociological theories of the day, without much concern for hypothesis testing, or even accuracy (he claims that Halifax was the worst disaster to befall a single community in human history; the 1900 Galveston “flood” does not count because the deaths obviously did not come from just a single community).  He did make some very good observations, however, for future researchers to investigate.

Much like the more recent literature of disasters, the early years seem presented in such a way that leads someone to think that virtually nobody, save for Sociologists, and perhaps a couple of Geographers or other social scientists, researched disasters.  This makes me a little irritable.

But it makes me very irritable to discover that, even in 2013 , sociologists still try to maintain a belief that Sociology (or Social Science, if they are more clever and do not want to appear so blatantly self-serving of their own disciplinary interests), is the exclusive home for the study of disasters (see Lindell’s paper in May’s Current Sociology that defines “Disaster Studies” as the social and behavioral study of disasters: http://csi.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/05/30/0011392113484456.abstract).  My own studies show that multiple liberal arts, social science, scientific, and professional disciplines have been a part of the intellectual landscape, growing more inter-connected with time.  In Prince’s monograph, his sociological study involved inputs from philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology.  It does not appear that in his day, disciplinary boundaries were as rigid as they have become today.

There is a harsh possible reality disaster sociology and geography might not want to consider: their way has failed.  In the fifty-plus years that they have, by their own admission, held the driver’s seat and positioned themselves as standard-bearers for the study of disasters, relatively little has been accomplished.  The field still lacks a widely accepted definition or conceptualization of disasters (Quarantelli, however,  has not let this small detail stop him from from advancing the argument that catastrophes are distinct from disasters….).  Despite all of the research, all of the the conferences, and all of the rhetoric; and despite the fact that today we live in a world that understands disaster processes better than ever before in the entirety of human history, we cannot stop the economic and human costs of disaster from rising around the world.  Their way and their answers have not worked. Trying the same thing again and again, thinking that just a little more effort is all that is needed, will not make a flawed approach work.

Something new is needed.

Couple of Thoughts on the Relationship of Crises and Disasters

Just wanted to write down some thoughts that came to mind today on the relationship between crises and disasters.  They may prove useful at some point: Some crises become disasters but not all crises lead to disaster. Disasters may occur in the absence of any preceding crisis. Disasters, however, may provoke crises.

This suggests that whereas disasters are more distinct events in time and space, crises are more like reactionary “critical decision points” in the lifespan of individuals, organizations, and systems.  Unlike ordinary decisions, these crisis decisions are forced upon decision-maker(s) by an event (or events) that bring with them the likelihood of significant negative outcomes.  The events that provoke crises can occur internally or externally, and  they may  occur within the context of a larger disaster that impacts an individual, organization, etc.  The negative outcomes that may follow the wrong decisions are not simply undesirable, they are extreme loss outcomes that jeopardize functioning and viability.   Depending upon the frame of reference, these extreme outcomes may be called a disaster if they occur.

A crisis can be resolved, which in a sense is to say it can be “undone.”  But a disaster, once it occurs, cannot be “undone”.  Recovery following the disaster is possible, but not making it so that the disaster never happened in the first place.  So a crisis’ relation to a disaster is a bit like the genie in a bottle.  In a crisis,  the bottle is closed but there is a distinct possibility the bottle will open. The goal is to prevent that happening.  If a crisis becomes a disaster the bottle has opened and the genie has escaped.  One then must hope to survive and manage the consequences.

Or perhaps this analogy also works.  In a crisis the individual, organization, etc., as it moves along its evolutionary journey, is brought by a set of events or circumstances, to the edge of a cliff, perhaps to the point of actually beginning to fall off.  A variety of decision paths/actions may be available.  Can one change direction and avoid the fall and the chasm (avoidance)? Can the fall be avoided and the chasm safely descended and  navigated (crisis as challenge and opportunity for growth)? Is the fall unavoidable but its negative effects can be reduced to acceptable levels (containment of consequences)?  If there is failure, then the fall will happen, and the main question becomes only whether or not one somehow survives the injuries caused by impact  (crisis as precursor to disaster).

%d bloggers like this: