Disaster response

Disaster response is the second phase of the disaster management cycle. It consists of a number of elements, for example; warning/evacuation, search and rescue, providing immediate assistance, assessing damage, continuing assistance and the immediate restoration or construction of infrastructure (i.e. provisional storm drains or diversion dams).The aim of emergency response is to provide immediate assistance to maintain life, improve health and support the morale of the affected population. Such assistance may range from providing specific but limited aid, such as assisting refugees with transport, temporary shelter, and food, to establishing semi-permanent settlement in camps and other locations. It also may involve initial repairs to damaged or diversion to infrastructure.

Relief Camp at Bhuj after 2001 Gujarat Earthquake

The focus in the response phase is on putting people safe, prevent next disasters and meeting the basic needs of the people until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found. The main responsibility to address these needs and respond to a disaster lies with the government or governments in whose territory the disaster has occurred. In addition, Humanitarian organisations are often strongly present in this phase of the disaster management cycle, particularly in countries where the government lacks the resources to respond adequately to the needs.


A "disaster", noun, is defined as a calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage or hardship such as a flood, aircraft crash or an angry person. "Response" is defined (in this context) as: Noun: An answer or reply, as in words or in some action.

The Business Dictionary provide a more comprehensive definition for "disaster response";[1] Aggregate of decisions and measures to (1) contain or mitigate the effects of a disastrous event to prevent any further loss of life and/or property, (2) restore order in its immediate aftermath, and (3) re-establish normality through reconstruction and re-rehabilitation shortly thereafter. The first and immediate response is called emergency response.

The Johns Hopkins and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)[2] state: "The word disaster implies a sudden overwhelming and unforeseen event. At the household level, a disaster could result in a major illness, death, a substantial economic or social misfortune. At the community level, it could be a flood, a fire, a collapse of buildings in an earthquake, the destruction of livelihoods, an epidemic or displacement through conflict. When occurring at district or provincial level, a large number of people can be affected."[3]

A recent case study of a disaster response undertaken by the IFRC can be viewed here.[4]

The level of disaster response depends on a number of factors and particular situation awareness. Studies undertaken by Son, Aziz and Peña-Mora (2007) shows that "initial work demand gradually spreads and increases based on a wide range of variables including scale of disaster, vulnerability of affected area which in turn is affected by population density, site-specific conditions (e.g. exposure to hazardous conditions) and effects of cascading disasters resulting from inter-dependence between elements of critical infrastructure".

In the British Government's Emergency Response and Recovery guidance, disaster response refers to decisions and actions taken in accordance with the strategic, tactical and operational objectives defined by emergency responders. At a high level these will be to protect life, contain and mitigate the impacts of the emergency and create the conditions for a return to normality. Response encompasses the decisions and actions taken to deal with the immediate effects of an emergency. In many scenarios it is likely to be relatively short and to last for a matter of hours or days—rapid implementation of arrangements for collaboration, co-ordination and communication are, therefore, vital. Response encompasses the effort to deal not only with the direct effects of the emergency itself (e.g. fighting fires, rescuing individuals) but also the indirect effects (e.g. disruption, media interest).[5]

Common objectives for responders are:

  • saving and protecting human life;
  • relieving suffering;
  • containing the emergency – limiting its escalation or spread and mitigating its impacts;
  • providing the public and businesses with warnings, advice and information;
  • protecting the health and safety of responding personnel;
  • safeguarding the environment;
  • as far as reasonably practicable, protecting property;
  • maintaining or restoring critical activities;
  • maintaining normal services at an appropriate level;
  • promoting and facilitating self-help in affected communities;
  • facilitating investigations and inquiries (e.g. by preserving the scene and effective records management);
  • facilitating the recovery of the community (including the humanitarian assistance, economic, infrastructure and environmental impacts);
  • evaluating the response and recovery effort; and
  • identifying and taking action to implement lessons identified.

Disaster response planningEdit

The United States National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600 Standard (NFPA, 2010) specify elements of an emergency response, as: defined responsibilities; specific actions to be taken (which must include protective actions for life safety); and communication directives. Within the standard, NFPA recognize that disasters and day-to-day emergencies are characteristically different. Nevertheless, the prescribed response elements are the same.

In support of the NFPA standard, Statoil's (2013) practical application of emergency response is across three distinct "lines" that incorporate NFPA's elements. Line 1 is responsible for the operational management of an incident; line 2, typically housed off-site, is responsible for tactical guidance and additional resource management. Finally, in the case of major incidents, line 3 provides strategic guidance, group resource management, and government and media relations.

While it is impossible to plan for every disaster, crisis or emergency, the Statoil investigation into the terrorist attacks on In Amenas place emphasis on the importance of having a disaster response. The report concludes that a disaster response framework may be utilized in an array of disaster situations, such as that at In Amenas.


The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies that require an international response. OCHA plays a key role in operational coordination in crisis situations. This includes assessing situations and needs; agreeing common priorities; developing common strategies to address issues such as negotiating access, mobilizing funding and other resources; clarifying consistent public messaging; and monitoring progress.

The organisation in the United Kingdom for the provision of communications disaster response is RAYNET. The UK organisation for the provision of disaster response by off-road vehicles is 4x4 Response.

In Canada, GlobalMedic was established in 1998 as a non-sectarian humanitarian-aid NGO to provide disaster relief services to large scale catastrophes around the world.[6][7] Time magazine recognized the work of GlobalMedic in its 2010 Time 100 issue.[8] It has a roster of over 1,000 volunteers from across Canada that includes professional rescuers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics who donate their time to respond to international disasters. Their personnel are divided into Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) that operate rescue units, Water Purification Units (WPUs) designed to provide safe drinking water; and Emergency Medical Units (EMUs) that use inflatable field hospitals to provide emergency medical treatment. Since 2004, GlobalMedic teams have deployed to over 60 humanitarian disasters around the world.

In India, the National Disaster Management Authority is responsible for planning for mitigating effects of natural disasters and anticipating and avoiding man-made disasters. It also coordinates the capacity-building and response of government agencies to crises and emergencies.[9] The National Disaster Response Force is an inter-government disaster response agency that specializes in search, rescue and rehabilitation.[10]

In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates federal operational and logistical disaster response capability needed to save and sustain lives, minimize suffering, and protect property in a timely and effective manner in communities that become overwhelmed by disasters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer information for specific types of emergencies, such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters and severe weather, as well as chemical and radiation accidents. Also, the Emergency Preparedness and Response Program of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health develops resources to address responder safety and health during responder and recovery operations.

Among volunteers, the American Red Cross is chartered by Congress in 1900 to lead and coordinate non-profit efforts.[11] They are supported by disaster relief organizations from many religious denominations and community service agencies.[12] Licensed amateur radio operators support most volunteer organizations, and are often affiliated with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

Disaster response organizationsEdit

In addition to the response by the government, a great deal of assistance in the wake of any disaster comes from charities, disaster response and non-governmental organizations. The biggest international umbrella organizations are the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

Humanitarian OSM Team works to update and provide map in areas struck by disaster.[13]

Disaster response technologiesEdit

Smart Emergency Response System (SERS)[14] prototype was built in the SmartAmerica Challenge 2013-2014,[15] a United States government initiative. SERS has been created by a team of nine organizations led by MathWorks. The project was featured at the White House in June 2014 and described by Todd Park (U.S. Chief Technology Officer) as an exemplary achievement.

The SmartAmerica initiative challenges the participants to build cyber-physical systems as a glimpse of the future to save lives, create jobs, foster businesses, and improve the economy. SERS primarily saves lives. The system provides the survivors and the emergency personnel with information to locate and assist each other during a disaster. SERS allows to submit help requests to a MATLAB-based mission center connecting first responders, apps, search-and-rescue dogs, a 6-feet-tall humanoid, robots, drones, and autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles. The command and control center optimizes the available resources to serve every incoming requests and generates an action plan for the mission. The Wi-Fi network is created on the fly by the drones equipped with antennas. In addition, the autonomous rotorcrafts, planes, and ground vehicles are simulated with Simulink and visualized in a 3D environment (Google Earth) to unlock the ability to observe the operations on a mass scale.[16]

The International Charter Space and Major Disasters provides for the charitable retasking of satellite assets, providing coverage from 15 space agencies, etc. which is wide albeit contingent. It focuses on the beginning of the disaster cycle, when timely data is of the essence.

Digital technologies are increasingly being used in humanitarian action, they have shown to improve the health and recovery of populations affected by both natural and man-made disasters. They are used in humanitarian response to facilitate and coordinate aid in various stages including preparedness, response, and recovery from emergencies. More specifically, mobile health (mHealth), which is defined as the use of communication devices such as mobile phones for the purpose of health services information. Nowadays, millions of people use mobile phones as a means of daily communication and data transference, out of which 64% live in developing countries.[17] One of the most important characteristics of disasters are the harms caused to infrastructures, accessibility issues, and an exponential need of medical and emergency services. In such situations, the use of mobile phones for mHealth can be vital, especially when other communication infrastructures are hindered. In such conditions, the abundance of mobile technology in developing countries provide the opportunity to be harnessed for helping victims and vulnerable people.[18]

Mobile health information technology platforms, in the acute phase of disaster response, create a common operational framework that improves disaster response by standardizing data acquisition, organizing information storage, and facilitating communication among medical staff. One of the challenges in disaster response is the need of pertinent, effective and continuous analysis of the situation and information in order to evaluate needs and resources.[19] mHealth has been shown to provide effective disaster preparedness with real time collection of medical data as well as helping identify and create needs assessments during disasters.[20] Using mobile technology in heath has set the stage for the dynamic organization of medical resources and promotion of patient care done through quick triage, patient tracking, and documentation storage and maintenance.[21]

Managing an effective and influential response requires cooperation, which is also facilitated through mHealth. A retrospective study demonstrated that applying mHealth can lead to up to 15% decrease of unnecessary hospital transfers during disasters.[22] In addition, they provide field hospital administrators with real-time census information essential for planning, resource allocation, inter-facility patient transfers, and inter-agency collaboration. mHealth technology systems can improve post-operative care and patient handoffs between volunteer providers.[23] Data entry with mobile devices is now widely used to facilitate the registration of displaced individuals, to conduct surveys, identify those in need of assistance, and to capture data on issues such as food security, vaccination rates, and mortality.

Above all, mHealth can harness the power of information to improve patient outcomes. Efforts lead by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Operational Medicine Institute during the Haiti earthquake resulted in the creation of a web-based mHealth system that created a patient log of 617 unique entries used by on-the-ground medical providers and field hospital administrators.[24] This helped facilitate provider triage, improve provider handoffs, and track vulnerable populations such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, traumatic orthopedic injuries and specified infectious diseases. Also, during the Haiti earthquake, the International Red Crescent sent more than 45 million SMSs to Viole mobile phone users. This resulted in 95% of the receiver reporting they had gained useful information, and out of these 90% reported the SMS helped in their preparedness.[25]

Collective communication and behaviourEdit

When a disaster occurs, prompt and reliable information exchange, coordinated behaviour and self-sacrifice play a role in individual and collective safety. A study published in 2020 showed that social networks can function poorly as pathways for inconvenient truths that people would rather ignore and that the interplay between communication and action may depend on the structure of social networks. It also showed that communication networks suppress necessary "evacuations" in test-scenarios because of spontaneous and diffuse emergence of false reassurance when compared to groups of isolated individuals and that larger networks with a smaller proportion of informed subjects suffered more damage due to human-caused misinformation.[26][27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Definition: disaster response, BusinessDictionary.com.
  2. ^ Public Health Guide for Emergencies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2013.
  3. ^ 24 Disaster Definitions, The Johns Hopkins and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
  4. ^ Haiti case study, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
  5. ^ Emergency Response and Recovery, Cabinet Office, 29 October 2013.
  6. ^ Czekaj, Laura. "Ready for the World: Paramedics Train for International Disasters", Ottawa Sun, 5 November 2006.
  7. ^ GlobalMedic. "GlobalMedic Mission Statement". GlobalMedic Website. GlobalMedic. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  8. ^ Bellerive, Jean-Max (29 April 2010). "The 2010 TIME 100: Rahul Singh". Time.com.
  9. ^ "Functions and Responsibilities". National Disaster Management Authority. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  10. ^ "About Us". National Disaster Response Force. Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  11. ^ A Brief History of the American Red Cross, RedCross.org website.
  12. ^ Disaster Relief Agencies, RedCross.org website.
  13. ^ Caron, Pierre-Louis (15 February 2016). "Volunteers Map Some of the Earth's Most Remote Areas to Help Aid Workers". VICE. VICE. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  14. ^ Smart Emergency Response System [1], team website.
  15. ^ SmartAmerica Challenge [2], website.
  16. ^ Video [3] Smart Emergency Response System
  17. ^ Alonso, Wladimir J; Schuck-Paim, Cynthia; Asrar, Ghassem R (2014). "Global health and natural disaster alerts: preparing mobile phones to endure the unthinkable". Earth Perspectives. 1 (1): 24. doi:10.1186/2194-6434-1-24. ISSN 2194-6434.
  18. ^ Tavakoli, Nahid; Yarmohammadian, MohammadH; Safdari, Reza (2015). "Role of mhealth in effective response to disaster". International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management. 3 (3): 129. doi:10.4103/2347-9019.157363. ISSN 2347-9019.
  19. ^ Chan, Theodore C.; Griswold, William G.; Buono, Colleen; Kirsh, David; Lyon, Joachim; Killeen, James P.; Castillo, Edward M.; Lenert, Leslie (August 2011). "Impact of Wireless Electronic Medical Record System on the Quality of Patient Documentation by Emergency Field Responders during a Disaster Mass-Casualty Exercise". Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 26 (4): 268–275. doi:10.1017/s1049023x11006480. ISSN 1049-023X.
  20. ^ Tavakoli, Nahid; Fooladvand, Maryam; Jahanbakhsh, Maryam (2013). "Developing health information documentation in disaster". International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management. 1 (1): 11. doi:10.4103/2347-9019.122426. ISSN 2347-9019.
  21. ^ Ahmadizad, Arman; Varmaghani, Maryam (1 August 2017). "A Pattern for the Effective Factors influencing the Adoption and Implementation of the E-marketing in the Tourism industry". Journal of Business Administration Researches. 9 (17): 197–224. doi:10.29252/bar.9.17.197. ISSN 2008-014X.
  22. ^ Marres, Geertruid M.H.; Taal, Luc; Bemelman, Michael; Bouman, Jos; Leenen, Luke P.H. (13 May 2013). "Online Victim Tracking and Tracing System (ViTTS) for Major Incident Casualties". Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 28 (5): 445–453. doi:10.1017/s1049023x13003567. ISSN 1049-023X. PMID 23663377.
  23. ^ Marres, Geertruid M.H.; Taal, Luc; Bemelman, Michael; Bouman, Jos; Leenen, Luke P.H. (13 May 2013). "Online Victim Tracking and Tracing System (ViTTS) for Major Incident Casualties". Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 28 (5): 445–453. doi:10.1017/s1049023x13003567. ISSN 1049-023X. PMID 23663377.
  24. ^ Callaway, David W.; Peabody, Christopher R.; Hoffman, Ari; Cote, Elizabeth; Moulton, Seth; Baez, Amado Alejandro; Nathanson, Larry (April 2012). "Disaster Mobile Health Technology: Lessons from Haiti". Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 27 (2): 148–152. doi:10.1017/s1049023x12000441. ISSN 1049-023X.
  25. ^ "Mobile technoloGY in emerGencies". www.readkong.com. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  26. ^ "Evidence of large groups responding more slowly to crises due to false information". phys.org. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  27. ^ Shirado, Hirokazu; Crawford, Forrest W.; Christakis, Nicholas A. (27 May 2020). "Collective communication and behaviour in response to uncertain 'Danger' in network experiments". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 476 (2237): 20190685. doi:10.1098/rspa.2019.0685. Retrieved 13 June 2020.   Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  • Son, Jeongwook; Aziz, Zeeshan; Feniosky Peña-Mora. Structural Survey, 2007, Vol. 26, Iss. 5. pp. 411–425.
  • NFPA (2010) Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs. 2010 Edition. NFPA
  • Statoil (2013) The In Amenas Attack: Report of the investigation into the terrorist attack on In Amenas. Prepared for Statoil ASA's board of directors. Statoil ASA

External linksEdit