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Social Vulnerability to Disaster and Hazards and the Community's Preparedness

Categories: CommunityDisaster


This paper seeks to explore social vulnerability to disasters and hazards and how community standards on zoning and buildings codes affect this preparedness to these disasters and hazards. It examines how the institutions tasked with disaster planning and mitigation respond to participatory approaches to community planning. It analyzes media reports on these events and proposes alternative ways through which the representatives from the media and journalists can report on these events. The paper also tries to explain what Amanda Ripley’s means when she says, “We still measure risk with the ancient slide rule that worked for most of our evolutionary history, even though we have calculators at our side.

Communities usually respond first to disasters when they happen. Their response usually seeks to minimize loss, alleviate human suffering and assist in a speedy recovery. Assessing social vulnerability can be used as an effective measure of risk brought about by hazards and disasters in a community. Demographics, infrastructure and the economic status of a community affects its capacity to respond and recover from a disaster.

Zoning policies are put in place to help promote the public’s health, safety and welfare by ensuring appropriate water and sewerage systems, transport and providing regulations on land use and building specifications. However, restrictive zoning policies are usually hard on private developers leading to substandard buildings and hostility by the community. Non-compliance by a community directly threatens emergency planning and its preparedness for a disaster. There are several zoning policies and building codes that have been put in place as emergency planning procedures.

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However, voluntary and overall accepted zoning policies and building codes in a community greatly improve the community’s preparedness to disasters.

A community’s acceptance of regulations regarding building, relocation, renovation and all construction materials is a great step towards disaster preparedness. These standards differ according to zones and have to be followed in the respective zone as the hazards and damage differ. Adhering to these standards helps both the community and the public safety officers such as the police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel respond better to a disaster and quicken the recovery process thereby alleviating human suffering. A community that upholds standards such as building load, heat and refrigeration, power supply, flood proofing and design standards will usually come up with disaster-resistant structures. The ultimate way to reduce the risks and vulnerability caused by disasters is better land use, infrastructure and public education.

Institutions responsible for disaster planning and mitigation respond second when a disaster occurs. These agencies include the national government, local governments and the police force. For a community to minimize the damages and hasten the recovery process, it has to know it can depend on these institutions. Allowing these agencies to participate in the research, identification of a hazard and the extent of damage it could cause on a community, and the emergency planning will help them adopt the appropriate measures and instrument while responding to the disaster as well as establish extensive budgets for the recovery exercise.

These institutions also facilitate the training of the emergency planning measures in place. This training brings together those assigned emergency response roles like the police, firefighters, medical crews and the community. The community is therefore made aware of what is expected of them in the crisis. After the exercise, the facilitators need to evaluate whether the exercise was effective by using emergency drills or by allowing different response crews to interact to better understand the capabilities of each other and the actions they are expected to take. This helps eliminate overlaps in the roles of each emergency response team and bridge gaps in these roles. The training exercises and their successful evaluation help reassure the community that there is disaster preparedness for that community for the particular hazard addressed by the exercise.

The inclusion of external actors in the training and formulation of the emergency plan is also crucial in the mitigation process. These actors include the United Nations, NGOs, private sector who can offer technical support and local institutions such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Disaster risk reduction relies on the collective effort of all the internal and external actors, therefore, coordination and active participation by all the stakeholders is crucial to disaster management and emergency planning.

Worldview consists of the values, ideas and belief that determine a person’s attitude and consequently, actions. The media affects people’s perception of reality and their view of the world usually by convincing them that news is something they need to better understand the world. More often than not, the media gives humans a distorted view of the world while trying to satisfy their appetite. They merely reflect their observations and understanding of an event.

The media also plays a great role in disaster management by raising awareness on the disasters and the outcome. After heavy rains caused landslides that killed scores of people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the media was on the frontline reporting on the evacuation plans and the rising death toll of the victims of the disaster. The media also released news reports on the displacement of families, those missing, and the call by the Local Authorities for donations in terms of food, clothing and makeshift shelters from the public. Reporting on the rescue efforts and any hindrances help the safety agencies prepare the appropriate instruments for use in the rescue.

The media helped other citizens in Brazil prepare for any eventualities of the heavy rains. When they warned the general Brazil public that more rain was expected in other parts of the country like Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, the people in these areas were able to prepare to face and respond in case disaster happens. Reporting on flooded roads and streets also helped motorists and pedestrians avoid using them thereby avoiding any accidents.

Although the media and journalists help the public stay informed in the face of disaster, they mostly present on the negative and the extreme suffering brought about by these disasters which at times weaken people’s resolve and capacity to face the disaster. They neglect giving hope, direction and guidance to those affected. Media should regard the safety of its listeners by guiding them on where they can go and who they can seek for help and what guidance to follow.

According to Amanda Riley,” We still measure risk with the ancient slide rule that worked for most of our evolutionary history, even though we have calculators at our side.” Amanda seeks to explain how the human mind responds or fails to respond during critical times. She observes that the human mind responds better in a crisis if it has experience. She further identifies the first three stages the human mind goes through during a disaster are initial denial, deliberation and decisive moment.

Amanda stated that most people will use the knowledge we have accumulated over the generations to estimate risk. She faults this approach as inadequate, time-consuming and it requires a lot of thinking, unlike a calculation that can accommodate conditions such as the lack of control for people caught up in the situation, the unfamiliarity of the event, the runaway imagination of the victims, the pain inflicted, the destruction scale, and injustice of the disaster CITATION Rip18 \l 1033 (Ripley, 2018). This means that with frequent practice, the human mind response time can be reduced.


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  • Blaikie, P. M., Wisner, B., & Cannon, T. (2014). At-Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disasters. Florence: Taylor & Francis.
    Ripley, A. (2018).
  • The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes- and why. New York: Crown Publishers.
  • Waugh, W. L., & Tierney, K. J. (2007). Emergency Management: Principles and Practice for Local Government. ICMA press.

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Social Vulnerability to Disaster and Hazards and the Community's Preparedness. (2020, Oct 13). Retrieved from

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