Basics of Disaster Risk Reduction In Emergencies

The world is full of things that can go wrong or pose some sort of threat. They can range in severity from things that are simply inconvenient to causing fatal harm, and can come from sources that are naturally occurring to man-made. The effects caused by such instances can also range in severity, from the minor to the absolutely devastating.

It is often though that these instances of threat and harm are inevitable-that only so much can be done to stop and/or predict their occurrence. While this is a possibility, as pessimistic as it may sound, it is not completely true. There are practices and efforts that can be applied by anyone to help protect themselves in the event of a disastrous event. Collectively, this is referred to as disaster risk reduction.

What Is Disaster Risk Reduction?

Disaster risk reduction, or DRR, isn't just a single action that helps reduce the harmful effects of a disastrous event. It is actually a strategic multifaceted approach that requires looking at the different factors involved in a disaster situation, including social, environmental, economic, health, and safety factors.1 DRR also includes the analysis of risk factors that are currently present and those that may arise under particular circumstances, e.g. during a natural event like an earthquake. These risk factors can be vulnerabilities that can worsen the situation during a disaster and may even have a domino effect by causing additional disasters.

Most users of DRR, whether they be small communities or large governments, use it as a means of disaster management and prevention. When applied properly, it can help minimize the potential adverse effects of a disaster and improve the safety of those affected by it. The approach is viewed as a very conventional way for leaders to prevent harm and to ensure a positive outcome when a disaster occurs.

The Importance Of DRR In Emergencies

There are some that are convinced that DRR only works when there is advanced notice of an impending disaster. Nothing can be done if you can't see it coming, so to speak, and thus the approach isn't applicable in times of emergency. However that's not true! The possibility of a disastrous event happening is already there-it's just a matter of when such an event will happen. Factors of unpredictability can be included in DRR, and definitely should be, due to emergencies that contribute to and happen during disasters. That unpredictability can come into play when you once again take into account that many disasters and emergency situations are not singular events, and definitely should not be treated as such.

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The application of DRR in emergencies can be a struggle, largely due to the unpredictable nature of an emergency and what can happen. As with any disaster event, analysis of vulnerabilities in DRR can help pinpoint some of what might happen in an emergency situation. Whether or not DRR can be successful in an emergency depends on the amount of preparation is put in beforehand and how those preparations are implemented when the time comes. That success can vary depending on the DRR efforts of the group/organization/leadership/etc. that is applying to disasters and emergencies. Inconsistencies in DRR training, education, and practices have resulted in such variances of outcome, as noticed in The Learning Needs Assessment conducted by the organization RedR.2

How Can You Reduce Risk?

The actual efforts in DRR to reduce risk often require a lot of work to determine what specifically needs to be done. A significant portion of DRR is analysis of factors and vulnerabilities, and determining what role those things can play in a disaster or emergency. That can include general situations where a disaster or emergency can occur that any planning can be implemented in and specific situations that need a much more specialized approach.

Once the information, data, and risks have been fully analyzed, DRR can be implemented in several ways. Typically this is done through three primary means:

Preparation and Planning-Most experts agree that DRR involves making choices, and that those choices can impact the outcome of DRR's application.3 The majority of those choices need to be done in advance, and thus the bulk of DRR involves planning and preparation efforts. This includes looking at the different vulnerabilities that can be hazardous in a disaster and/or emergency and determining what can be done to reduce the harm they can cause. Reaction plans (e.g. for evacuations) and repairing existing damage in the community from past disasters, for example, are just some of the things that may need to be addressed. Education about disasters and emergencies is also another preparatory aspect used with DRR, especially in schools.

Budgeting for Emergencies-Disasters are not cheap, and there is significant costs that can come up even when the damage is isolated or minor. Too many users of DRR fail to fully take into account the financial elements of disasters and emergencies.4 Purchasing insurance is often a go-to option, but the coverage plans provide only go so far. There are costs that arise during the event itself, not just in the aftermath. Many people spend large amounts of money on supplies to help them through an impending disaster, much of which is not purchased until they are notified that it is going to happen and when. The costs for the recovery efforts after a disaster are not always determined until those efforts are underway. Purposefully setting aside funding for emergency situations and the spending involved while putting together a budget can make things easier. It can also help avoid financial waste and mistakes during an emergency situations.

Training and Education-All of the best preparations, planning, and budgeting in the world won't do much good if those who are involved have no idea what to do. Those who are responsible for taking action during a disaster or emergency-first responders like police officers, EMTs, fire fighters, etc.-will often have had disaster education as a part of their job training. However, such training and education isn't going to be standard for other professions and it isn't always easily accessible for the average person. The education that most people receive related to disasters and emergencies occurs in school alongside their regular education, but it's often not enough and only touches the surface.5 Educational efforts for DRR or that take into account factors of DRR are far more in-depth and offer more usable information for students.6


Who Should DRR Take Into Consideration?

Those who are given the responsibility of implementing DRR and creating a disaster response plan will often try to take a wide approach. This simply means that they try to take as much as possible into consideration and make any action plans as universally applicable as possible. While it may seem to general, it is actually a good thing as such a plan can be easily adjusted to the circumstances and aims to avoid leaving any gaps unprotected. This means addressing the different human elements involved in a disaster, and taking the people who will be directly impacted by a DRR plan and/or a disaster event into account. These can include:

Individuals And Their Families-Those who will be impacted the most by DRR are the individual people living in the area where a disaster can occur. They and their families will be the ones who will be expected to follow any plans and orders that are put into action when a disaster strikes. Whatever is decided upon by the leadership of a town, city, county, state, or country in a disaster event, these are going to be the people who are going to be directly impacted by those decisions. Failing to do so could cause further issues, especially if there is an entire group of people (e.g. residents of a certain area, a specific demographic, etc.) that is being left out or put at a disadvantage by elements of a disaster plan. This can also apply when individuals are using DRR to help their family prepare and to protect their home in the event of a disaster, taking into account those around them (e.g. neighbors) who may be going through the same disaster.

Communities-Many communities will use DRR for their own benefit, usually in addition to any established by local government leaders. In such instances, it's not done to circumvent any DRR efforts by the government, but as a compliment to those efforts. A community-based DRR is going to be much more specified than one created by the government of the city or state the community lives in. The DRR approaches used by local and state governments often are based upon those used by communities, as the latter often predate the former, and the communities tend to spring into action first.7

Government Leaders-Those in power, usually government leaders on all levels, are usually the ones that people look to in times of crisis. This is, for many, a rather crucial role that needs to be addressed and taken into consideration in DRR. Most government leaders are the ones who actually make the call to implement the plans created through DRR and sometimes even to start the process of DRR. The control and leadership responsibilities that the government has also means that they will be involved in DRR and disaster plans even if they do not start the process. From a legal perspective, the government is responsible for any restrictions and regulations placed under law that can interfere or support DRR and disaster/emergency response efforts.8 What those laws are and what effect(s) they can have through the government and its leadership are significant factors for DRR, both in terms of the risks posed and how those risks can be reduced.

Cultural Leaders-Elements of culture often transcend geographic or political boundaries, and they often have a significant impact on anything they come into contact with. It is because of this that many experts throughout the world on disaster response recommend that any DRR or preparation approaches address cultural factors.9 How the people who are directly impacted by a disaster respond to the events associated with it-the damage done, the recovery efforts, etc.-can be shaped by their culture. This can cause some resistance to DRR efforts should those efforts contradict cultural aspects, even if those efforts are completely beneficial and not suggested from a place of prejudice. With those factors, there may be a need for additional work and some kind of effort to be made to find a compromise or middle-ground.

Businesses-There are economic factors involved in DRR, so it is not too far-fetched of an idea to consider the businesses that may be affected by DRR efforts. Private businesses can be impacted by a disaster just as badly as anything else. A business is often tied to multiple other aspects-the individuals who are employed there or who own it, the community it operates in, the services it provides to that community-that can cause it to play a significant role when a disaster strikes. In many instances, businesses transform beyond its normal purpose into places for information, resources, shelter, and organization. They hold value during a disaster, and thus they need to be taken into careful consideration for DRR.

Schools-Schools are another thing that are tied to multiple aspects as businesses are. Not only can they act as central locations for resources and shelter in places where a disaster has struck, but they are major sources of information and education in DRR efforts. There is often a lack of understanding by the public of what disaster preparedness resources are available and what kind of response is to be expected, which can produce a significant disadvantage when a disaster or emergency does occur. The use and inclusion of schools and other academic intuitions in DRR is often the best way to close any gaps between efforts and the public's knowledge.10 Treating schools as a factor and a resource can prove highly beneficial to all those involved, by both educating the public on DRR and providing valuable feedback to the organizers of disaster response plans.