Professor John Handmer and Dr Briony Towers, RMIT, summarise the findings of research into informing populations about disaster risk.
This paper was developed for the UNISDR Hyogo Framework for Action Thematic Review and as an input to the process of developing the ‘Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’.
Informing the general population about disaster risk is addressed in Priority 3, Indicator 4 of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), which states: ‘Countrywide public awareness strategy exists to stimulate a culture of disaster resilience, with outreach to urban and rural communities’. The Chapter examining this HFA indicator was drafted by an Australian team led by Dr Briony Towers, drawing on a number of input papers prepared by a wide range of people and organisations from many countries, and the global literature (Towers, Handmer & Ireland 2014).
As specified by the HFA monitoring and review process (UNISDR 2011) the key question for this indicator is: do public education campaigns for risk-prone communities and local authorities include disaster risk? There are also three means of verification by which this question is to be assessed, namely:
The UNISDR (2011) defines public awareness as:
‘The process of informing the general population, increasing levels of consciousness about risks and how people can act to reduce their exposure to hazards’. UNISDR 2001
The aim of raising ‘consciousness’ (awareness and knowledge) is directed at the goal of reduced risk. While assessments generally focus on governments, and international organisations, given their responsibility for implementing the HFA, disaster risk is more often reduced through the actions of informed and empowered citizens (Wisner 2006).
There are four major ways the public learns about disaster risk. These are via:
Worldwide there has been a surge in disaster risk reduction related awareness and knowledge education programs targeted to a diverse range of audiences, and there is evidence that disaster awareness has increased. Official programs are however only part of the picture and it important to keep this in mind as the formal assessment generally misses such informal efforts that could be highly effective.
This is an important achievement. However, has all this activity stimulated a ‘culture of disaster resilience?’ The answer to this question is not clear, but it appears that so far the effects have been limited. Any statement on progress needs qualification because the difficulty in measuring success characterises the field.
Examples of success include:
Even though much progress has been made, a number of major challenges to achieving the HFA aims remain. Some are of long standing, while others such as that posed by social media, are emerging. A selection of five challenges is presented here.
FEMA 2012, First responder communities of practice. At: http://community.fema.gov/connect.ti/FIRST_COP/groupHome.
Global Network for Disaster Reduction 2011, Views from the Frontline: A local perspective of progress towards implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action. At: www.preventionweb.net/files/9822_9822VFLfullreport06091.pdf.
GNDR 2014, Views from the frontline. At: http://www.globalnetwork-dr.org/views-from-the-frontline/vfl-2013.html.
International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies 2011, Public awareness and public education for disaster risk reduction: a guide. At: www.ifrc.org/Global/Publications/disasters/reducing_risks/302200-Public-awareness-DDR-guide-EN.pdf.
Masson Le V & Langston L 2014, How should the new international disaster risk framework address gender equality. CDKN Policy Brief. At: http://cdkn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/CDKN_Gender_DRR_PolicyBrief_Final_WEB.pdf.
Pew Research 2012, The global religious landscape. At: www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/.
Towers B, Handmer J, & Ireland N 2014, 3 (iv) Countrywide public awareness strategy exists to stimulate a culture of disaster resilience, with outreach to urban and rural communities.
UNISDR 2011, HFA monitoring and review through a multi stakeholder engagement process 2011 – 2013. At: www.preventionweb.net/.../hfa-monitoring/.../2011-13-HFA-Monitor-Te.
Vinck P, (ED) World Disasters Report 2013: Focus on Technology and the Future of Humanitarian Action. IFRC: Geneva.
Wisner B 2006, Self-assessment of coping capacity: participative, proactive and qualitative engagement of communities in their own risk management. In J. Birkmann (ed.) Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: towards disaster resilient societies (pp. 316-329). TERI Press: New Delhi.
Professor John Handmer works on the human dimensions of emergency management and disasters. He leads RMIT’s Risk and Community Safety research group, is a member of the National Flood Risk Advisory Group, and the national committee revising the Australian Emergency Risk Assessment Guide. He has also held positions with NCCARF and the IPCC.
Dr Briony Towers is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Risk and Community Safety at RMIT University. She is currently undertaking a three year research project on Child-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre.