Science and the Post-2015 Natural Hazard Agenda (Sunday, 8 June 2014, 15:45 – 17:30)

Political Dimensions amongst Researchers and Practitioners Gauging Community Disaster Resilience at a Provincial Scale
Thomas J. HUGGINS (New Zealand)

Anthropological Expertise and Risk Communication: Technical Knowledge Confronted in the Courtroom after the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake
Mara BENADUSI (Italy)

Defining Disaster: the Need for Harmonisation of Terminology
Lidia MAYNER (Australia)

Needs of National Disaster Statistics on Damages and Losses for Making Better Policy and Setting Disaster-Related Goals and Targets in the Post-HFA and Post-MDGs
Yuichi ONO (Japan)


Political Dimensions amongst Researchers and Practitioners Gauging Community Disaster Resilience at a Provincial Scale

Thomas J. HUGGINS1, Robin PEACE2, Stephen R. HILL3, David M. JOHNSTON1 and Alicia Cuevas MUÑIZ4

  1. Joint Centre for Disaster Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. School of People Environment & Planning, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
  3. School of Psychology, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  4. Faculty of Sciences, University of Colima, Colima, Mexico

This research used Q-method to explore strong opinion factors affecting monitoring and evaluation of community resilience at a provincial scale. Provincial community resilience is a property of complex social systems, which interact within and between geographic scales. Relevant disaster-related outcomes vary widely between social contexts and can be very hard to predict. The complexity of community resilience therefore represents a challenge for monitoring, evaluating and planning community resilience interventions.

Provincial interventions and their indicators can also be politically contentious, marked by strong disagreements in opinion, which only add to the layered complexity of relevant mechanisms. Q-method was used to disentangle some of the major opinion factors amongst researchers and practitioners working to monitor and evaluate a new focus on community resilience for the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office. This method involved an initial sample of over 600 statements drawn from documents circulating amongst these professionals during 2012. The sample was systematically reduced to a working set of 60 statements, which 10 researchers and practitioners sorted by how much they agreed or disagreed with each one.

A preliminary analysis of practitioner sorts found two statistically significant (eigenvalue >1.5), shared opinions calling for an assessment of community resilience interventions, which varied by sub-provincial areas. These findings guided an initial researcher-practitioner collaboration to revise key performance indicators for the community resilience team at Wellington Region Emergency Management Office.

A range of opinion factors for practitioner and researcher groups and for the combination of both groups suggested there were common opinions, which are already bringing these groups together, alongside points of difference to be resolved. Knowledge of these opinion factors is informing a more collaborative approach to research, combining priorities from both practitioner and researcher communities. It is this collaborative approach to community resilience research that is helping develop Wellington into an international centre of excellence for Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR).

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Anthropological Expertise and Risk Communication: Technical Knowledge Confronted in the Courtroom after the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake

Department of Political and Social Science, University of Catania, Catania, Italy

Scientific communication provided by members of the Major Risks Committee in the days leading up to the earthquake on 6 April 2009 in L’Aquila (Italy) resulted in a controversial court case that still has great repercussions at an international level. In fact, the process in L’Aquila stimulated an intense debate about the relationship between scientific knowledge and risk communication. The committee’s failure to provide the population with a timely and coherent information regarding the risk of a high magnitude earthquake revealed the controversial role of “experts”, especially when they turn out to be negligent and politically subjugated. This led to a fairly generalized reflection at a national and international level regarding the need to regulate how to communicate risks to local communities, and to re-define the role of scientists in this sector in order to avoid scenarios  like the L’Aquila one, whereby science can be politicised.

This case is also emblematic for another reason. It was the first time in Italy that an anthropologist advised the Court, helping to analyse scientific communication and the way this communication was perceived and put into practice by the local population. The anthropological expertise played a key role in the verdict that resulted in a six year prison sentence for the scientists. The scientists were convicted not on the grounds of lack of foresight, but for having been incorrectly reassuring, and urging the population to stay at home that night, although there were no scientific elements to exclude the possibility of a strong earthquake. The anthropological analysis (well-documented in a recent publication by the anthropologist himself) attests that scientific communication caused an underestimation of risk and resulted in lethal choices being made by the community.

In the paper, the analysis of the L’Aquila case will be used to reflect on the potential role of science in the 2015 agendas (post-HFA, post-MDGs, GAR) and the need for strengthening integrated research in the study of negotiation processes, and political factors that affect risk communication.

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Defining Disaster: the Need for Harmonisation of Terminology

Lidia MAYNER, Vikki WISE and Paul ARBON
Disaster Research Centre, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

The impact of disasters is increasing. Disasters have been classified as natural or man–made and, more recently, other categories have been used such as toxicological, technological, major, complex, foreign and catastrophic. Many policies and management plans have been written and are in place to mitigate and respond to disasters that may occur. However, effective response is undermined by the lack of suitable scientific evidence. Where studies are available it is difficult to compare findings because there is very limited agreement about the definition of key terms and data points. The international response to disaster may also be disabled because policies, plans and procedures are based upon different interpretations of key terms. Hence the establishment of consensual definitions of commonly used disaster terminology is important. There are many glossaries of disaster and related terms. There is a need to harmonise the definitions for disaster terms so as to build a foundation for further research and practice, including at the management level whereby policies, reports and other documents utilise the same definitions. As a first step in this wider effort we present our findings for the definition of the term “disaster.”

Definitions for disaster were obtained from glossaries found in books, reports and internet sites, one of which was the entry from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), USA, which contained 65 disaster-related glossaries. Leximancer ver4 (2011) software was used to analyse the different definitions for disaster. This software provides a visual output and maps the connectivity of words and themes.

A total of 110 glossaries were found containing disaster terminology, however, only 49 glossaries identified contained definitions for the word disaster. Four entries had more than eight definitions for the word disaster and, overall, there were 133 definitions found. Of these three definitions were identical although they were from different sources. Hence 130 disaster definitions were included into the analysis. The output from Leximancer showed the main themes to be disruption, ability, widespread, event, outside, damage, property and overwhelm. Hence the most consistent definition for disaster appears to be “an event causing widespread disruption and damage exceeding the local ability to cope, overwhelming resources.”

There is a need for harmonisation of disaster terminology. This presentation reports on only one term, namely “disaster,” for which there seems to be no consensus for a definition throughout the research and wider community. Further word analysis is progressing for over 400 disaster-related terms.

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Needs of National Disaster Statistics on Damages and Losses for Making Better Policy and Setting Disaster-Related Goals and Targets in the Post-HFA and Post-MDGs

Yuichi ONO
Tohoku University

A series of large-scale disasters in recent years provoked a new movement to enhance disaster risk reduction activities at the national, regional and global levels. One common challenge is that most countries do not systematically collect disaster damages and losses data for all disasters, regardless of their magnitude. Lack of sound national disaster damages and losses statistics hinders discussions to develop goals and targets at the national, regional and global levels because they would require a sound scale to measure the progress.

The current paper reviews and evaluates ongoing initiatives to collect information on disaster damages and losses by some countries and organisations, and provides what incentives and mechanisms are required for developing such. Based on sound disaster statistics, policy makers are able to develop counter-measures to reduce disaster risks. Good bi-products, such as white books on disaster risk reduction based on sound official statistics, could be generated as a good planning tool for policy-makers and decision-takers.

Finally, accurate and dependable national disaster statistics is mandatory to set goals and targets at the Post-HFA and Post-MDGs schemes. It also requires standardisation of disaster data and statistics.

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