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Disaster Risk: Objectives?

The definition of risk in the Risk Management International Standard is the effect of uncertainty on objectives. This definition works quite easily in the corporate context, where a business has a clearly defined set of objectives, but what about in disaster management.

Communities are a bit messier than a business. They don’t get together and articulate their objectives over the next ‘corporate planning period’. Although governments do attempt gather general views and aspirations of the community, these efforts are coloured by the purpose of the engagement and more vocal individuals that they tend to capture.

Most disaster risk management experts would characterise their objective as the reduction of disaster risks. Plug that into the risk definition and you get something that’s pretty close to being circular. Unpack it a bit further, though and disaster risk reduction boils down to this:

  • Protecting communities from harm; and
  • Minimising the immediate and long-term impacts of that harm on communities.

Applying the risk definition to these objectives shifts the focus from the hazardous events to our ability to anticipate, protect and recover from the community impacts of hazardous events.

The risks that we’re trying to manage are not floods, storms and chemical leaks. They’re that our levees may be full of holes, our logistical coordination arrangements are inadequate and that the community is not prepared to shelter-in-place during an emergency.

This approach offers new opportunities. It allows emergency managers to:

  • Focus on actions that are much more within our control;
  • Identify potential failure points in our emergency management system before the disaster occurs; and
  • Prioritise improvements to existing systems, equipment and infrastructure rather than re-inventing the wheel.

Knowledge of hazardous events is still important, though. Knowing how disasters will test our capabilities mean understanding both and their interaction.

Applied a capability focussed risk management process? Let me know in the comments.

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