Technological and Natural Disasters and Ecological Problems: Similarities and Differences in Planning for and Managing Them

Quarantelli, E. L.
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Disaster Research Center
Our papers has five major parts in dealing with the general question: for planning and managing purposes to what extent can destructive and damaging situations as are occasioned by natural disasters, civil strife and riots, technological disasters, and ecological problems be viewed as essentially similar phenomena? In the first part, we make a conceptual distinction between natural and technological disasters as consensus occasions and other crises that are of a conflictive nature. These two types of crises require somewhat different kinds of planning and managing, so conflict occasions are not further examined. Also, natural and technological disasters are distinguished from ecological problems on the basis of their sudden and crisis generating nature. While we look at ecological problems in the last part of the paper, most of our observations are about disasters. We next indicate how popular thinking, much disaster planning and some hazard research has tended to conceive of sudden type disasters in agent specific terms, that is, as hurricanes, chemical explosions, earthquakes, radiation fallouts, etc. We question the value of such an approach with its emphasis on physical features of an event, and also challenge the frequently advanced distinctions drawn between so-called “Acts of God”/natural disasters, and technological/human created disasters. Instead the usefulness of thinking of disasters in generic or general rather than agent specific terms is suggested; in particular the value of conceiving of disasters as social phenomena is stressed. We especially note how a generic approach which views disasters as social occasions rather than physical happenings has important implications for the preparing for and managing of such social occurrences.
natural disasters , ecological problems , disaster planning , disaster management