What Is A Disaster?

We recognize the images of disaster, but what factors do organizations take into account when responding to disasters?

We're familiar with the destruction and pain that disasters bring - the images are familiar to us. What is less people understand, though, is that the actual event - a tornado, flood, hurricane, or disease outbreak - is only part of what makes up a disaster. In other words, it is not just the event that is a disaster but also how it affects the community it hits. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies uses this formula to define what a disaster is:

(Vulnerability+Hazard) / Capacity = Disaster

Let's break down this formula a bit.

  • Vulnerability is the diminished capacity of an individual or group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard. Some factors that influence vulnerability are poverty, isolation, or lack of defense.
  • Hazard is the actual event (what we usually refer to as disaster). A hazard can be a natural event (tornado, flood, hurricane) or could be caused by human action (oil spill).
  • Capacity is the resources available to individuals, families, or communities cope with a threat of a hazard or to resist the impact of it. These resources could be material or physical, but could also be the organization of the community.

So, it is these three factors that help organizations define what a disaster is. Hopefully, with this information, you can be more informed about the most effective ways to prepare for disasters or respond to disasters in other parts of the world. 

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