presents several different ways of thinking about information and communication needs in disasters, which together provide a framework for understanding the various roles that IT plays in disaster management; and places the issue of IT use into the broader social context of disasters and disaster management.


Disasters are events that disrupt the normal functioning of the economy and society on a large scale (for more on terminology, see Box 1.1). Natural, technological, and willful (terrorist initiated) sources of disasters all cause dramatic losses of life and property.

BOX 1.1

Terminology Used in Disaster Management

A variety of terms are used in the fields of emergency and disaster management. Over time, a fairly standard set of definitions has emerged, as reflected in a series of reports from the National Research Council and other groups. Emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes, for example, are distinct events with important differentiating characteristics.1 This report does not specifically consider “emergencies”—a term that connotes “everyday” events that can be handled within the normal operational limits of public safety agencies—nor does it distinguish between disasters and larger-scale events that might be called catastrophes, even though it is likely that the value of IT capabilities increases as the complexity and scale of communication problems become greater. Throughout this report, the term “disaster” can be read as “disaster and catastrophe.”

This report uses the following set of definitions, adapted in part from Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions: 2

  • Disasters are non-routine events in societies, regions, or communities that involve conjunctions of physical conditions with social definitions of human harm and social disruption. The term “disaster” has significant policy implications; for example, a declaration of an event as a disaster is needed before certain resources are made available.

  • Hazards are a source of potential or actual harm. Hazards may be natural, technological, or willful in origin. Examples of natural hazards include floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, and so on. Technological hazards include industrial accidents and other human-made sources of potential harm. Bhopal and Chernobyl are examples. Terrorist attacks such as those on September 11, 2001, and the bombing in Oklahoma City are examples of willful hazards.

  • Incident (or event ) is the specific occurrence of a disaster. A single disaster incident may lead to additional incidents. For instance, an earthquake may lead to a tsunami and the tsunami may lead further to flooding. The term “incident” also

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