David Etkin is an Associate Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management at York University, Toronto Canada. He has contributed to several national and international natural hazard projects including the 2nd U.S. national assessment of natural hazards, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), two NATO workshops, was Principal Investigator of the Canadian National Assessment of Natural Hazards, and is Past President of the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network. His research interests focus on disaster management, risk and climate change. He has over 80 publications to his credit, including 6 edited volumes.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)
Alphonse Karr ("Les Guêpes")
This book is about understanding disaster. There are many ways that this could be approached, depending on the discipline, profession, and the author's purpose. Although my education was originally in physics and mathematics, and I come from a professional background of meteorology and environmental issues, I am taking a broad and holistic approach that emphasizes the social sciences. I do this because I see human behavior as the primary reason we create vulnerable communities that experience disaster-this is the area where we can exert the most influence on reducing disaster risk. I do not mean to diminish the importance of the physical sciences in the study of this field; they are essential. But they are also insufficient, and one of the main purposes of this book is to provide an understanding of the various ways people relate to and cope with disaster risk. In the field of disaster studies there is a noteworthy gap between theory and the actual practice of disaster risk reduction. This gap is diminishing, but the newness of the academic side of the field and the emergence of the practitioner community from civil defense has created a situation where much that is known is not used. In the medical field a transition to evidence-based practice was formally introduced in 1992-an approach that has spread to other disciplines. More emphasis needs to be placed on this approach in the practice of disaster and emergency management. Doing this means incorporating the knowledge gained from good theoretical and empirical research into how we reduce disaster risk. It is this research that is the driving force behind the organization of this book, linking the theoretical underpinnings of this field of study with empiricism and practice. Since the mid-20th Century there have been an enormous number of disasters that have taken a terrible toll on people and their communities. Because of this, government, nongovernmental organizations, and universities have all begun to pay increasing attention to the study of disaster and disaster management. One of the results of this growing awareness is programs such as the one I work in at York University, Toronto, Canada, and the graduate course on disaster theory that I teach. In Canada, such programs have been around for about a decade, but over time they will transform the profession of disaster and emergency management into one with a much more holistic approach than has historically been used. Predicting the future is not an easy task, but it seems to me that the world in which we are living is going through a transformation. The massive trends of globalization, urbanization, climate change, terrorism, population growth, species extinction, the rise of sea level, and the growth of novel technologies combine to alter old hazards, create new ones, and make societies vulnerable in ways that they have not been before. Coping with these changes is more than challenging and requires a constant questioning of the theories, models, and assumptions upon which our understanding of disaster risk construction is based. This book was written with students in mind, but it is also appropriate for professionals working within the field who want to gain a better understanding of theory and how it affects the practice of disaster risk reduction. It is also appropriate for the educated layperson who simply has an interest in this field of study. As much as possible, I have illustrated theory with examples and case studies to avoid the "ivory tower syndrome." The most fundamental question to be asked in the study of disasters is, What are they? That is the subject of the first chapter. The second chapter is a report on global disaster data with a commentary on the uncertainties inher