Social Vulnerability to Disaster and Hazards and the Community’s Preparedness
Communities face diverse disaster and hazard levels depending on where they have settled. Assessing social vulnerability can be used as an effective measure of risk brought about by hazards and disasters in a community. Zoning policies regulate the kind of use to which it is possible to put land in different locations. Building codes address the details of structures acceptable within specific locations (Waugh & Tierney, 2007). These codes and policies can be instrumental in addressing vulnerability that communities in given locations face by allocating activities best suited to every locale and setting construction standards that ensure maximum protection against the most likely disasters in every area.
Conflict and critical theories provide a framework for understanding the role of local zoning policies and building codes in the community of Columbus, Georgia. Conflict Theory conceptualizes society as consisting of classes in competition for resources (Petherbridge, 2013). In this respect, the safety of the local community is the resource for which all people are in competition. The Euclidian zoning method affects the allocation of land for a specific use in different geographical zones. This zoning method is effective, as it ensures that the residential areas, for instance, are separated from industrial zones where there are toxic waste emissions. Such emissions amount to environmental pollution, which is a notable hazard to the human wellbeing.
Similarly, building codes specify the standard of structures acceptable in every area, in addition to the supporting infrastructure. Without regulation, there have been incidences where the poorest people in society have had to live close to the areas of environmental pollution, since that is where they could afford to live (Wilson, Hutson, & Mujahid, 2008). As such, they were left vulnerable to hazards, such as diseases. However, zoning policies and building codes act as institutional mechanisms as described in Critical Theory, ensuring that no human is left vulnerable to toxic substances due to their social class (Petherbridge, 2013). Evidently, zoning and building regulations serve as the measures of controlling social vulnerability within all levels of society.
Institutions responsible for disaster planning and mitigation are instrumental to every step pertinent to the hazards facing local communities. These agencies are numerous, ranging from international, national, and local government organs to non-governmental organizations. For a community to minimize damages and hasten the recovery process, these institutions should be dependable. Such reliability is the result of being properly informed on all aspects of disaster management (Waugh & Tierney, 2007). For instance, communities face evolving dangers, hence, there is a need for consistent search for information to ensure that there are plans covering the widest range of potential hazards possible. The emergence of participatory to disaster management is highly effective in improving disaster response, and local authorities are progressively supporting this model.
Traditionally, disaster management followed a top down approach, wherein planning began at the highest hierarchies of the institutions responsible. However, research has demonstrated that this model is inhibited in several respects. For instance, it proved to suffer the bottleneck of limited information pertinent to the perception of disasters among the affected communities. Therefore, some of the resultant plans and mitigation steps proved to be out of touch with reality and, hence, limited in its effectiveness once a disaster occurred (Sinthumule & Mudau, 2019). Therefore, there was a need for a more efficient alternative.
The alternative is the participatory approach to planning, wherein research incorporates local communities. This provides their perspective on potential hazards and informs solutions, which Sinthumule and Mudau (2019) reported to be highly effective. In Columbus, the model for planning is still highly dependent on the emergency response authorities. However, they are consistently expanding research efforts to incorporate more people. For instance, they incorporate workgroups consisting of local representatives in the preparation and review of emergency plans (The City of Columbus, n.d). This way, the local community can expect improved safety if a disaster strikes.
A worldview consists of the values, ideas, and beliefs that determine an entity’s attitude and, consequently, actions (Phillips, Thomas, Lovekamp, & Fothergill, 2010). The media affects people’s perception of reality and their view of the world, usually by convincing them that news is something they need to understand the world better. Therefore, media houses bear substantial power with regard to shaping the populace’s perception and understanding of emergency events, as reporting on Rio de Janeiro floods in mudslides indicated.
After heavy rains caused landslides that killed numerous people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in January 2011, the media was on the frontline reporting on the evacuation plans and the extent of damage suffered. International media, such as US News, Fox News, and BBC, released news reports on the displacement of families, those missing, and the call by the Local Authorities for donations in terms of food, clothing, and makeshift shelters from the public. The coverage of this disaster adopted the nature of the humans’ worldview (Phillips et al., 2010). Therefore, the focus was predominantly on the helplessness of the victims and relief efforts, extolling the values of humanity, and accuracy. Therefore, the audience drew the sense of defeat and powerlessness in these reports.
In informing media representatives, it would be reasonable to advise them to go beyond covering a sensational part of events and delve deep in their research. For instance, in the coverage of the Rio de Janeiro flood and mudslide disasters, studying the role of disaster management authorities was vital. Humans’ relationship with nature would have pointed to changes in the environmental degradation, which could help understand the causes of the rains (Phillips et al., 2010). Consequently, this worldview would have helped hold authorities to account better by demonstrating that humans are not entirely victims, but also have a part in preventing such disasters.
According to Amanda Ripley, “we still measure risk with the ancient slide rule that worked for most of our evolutionary history, even though we have calculators at our side” (Ripley, 2018). Ripley seeks to explain how the human mind responds or fails to respond during critical times. She observes that the human mind responds better in a crisis if it has experienced it before. She further identifies the first three stages the human mind goes through during a disaster. These include the initial denial, deliberation, and decisive moment (Ripley, 2018). How an individual feels and reacts at the moment determines whether or not they will survive a disaster and how quickly they will recover.
Ripley states that most people will use the knowledge they have accumulated over generations to estimate risk. She finds this approach inadequate, time-consuming, and the one that requires a lot of thinking. A calculation that can accommodate conditions such as the lack of control for people caught up in a certain situation, the unfamiliarity of an event, the runaway imagination of victims, the pain inflicted, the destruction scale, and injustice of a disaster would help better estimate risk (Ripley, 2018). Evolutionary knowledge is inadequate in times of risks and can interfere with rescue operations and the recovery process.
People wait too long or do nothing when faced with a new situation. This happens while the mind tries to judge a situation based on past experiences, societal pressure, and rational thinking. The mind will normally commit mistakes in these situations due to the overwhelming panic and fear. However, these mistakes can be reduced through training and intensive preparation. In this connection, frequent practice and training can reduce the response time (Ripley, 2018). These two activities improve performance during fear and panic, as well as increase resilience.