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Book Review: Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement

Date:24 January 2022
Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement
Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement

Book review: Neil Dufty: Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement. John Wiley And Sons Ltd, 2020

By Hamed Seddighi Khavidak

One of the characteristics of a sustainable society is its resilience to disasters. Communities may fail to respond to disasters due to their limited resources and capacities which are necessary to cope with the situation. Catastrophic floods in Europe in summer 2021 or extreme weather events and wildfire in the USA and Canada in 2021 are recent examples.

These disasters cause various human, economic and environmental damages.

As such, disasters have been mentioned in different items of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including: SDG # 4 (healthy lives), SDG # 11 (resilient cities), and SDG # 9 (resilient infrastructure). Specifically in Objective 11.5 it is emphasized that “By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially reduce the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.”

To reach this goal, it is important to increase the global attention to each of the elements of disaster management ((i.e., mitigation, preparedness, response, and rehabilitation/recovery). Unfortunately especially disaster preparedness is a less discussed topic both in academic literature as well as in practice. Disaster preparedness depends on many factors such as risk perception, risk severity perception, and self-efficacy. Public preparedness for disasters is an important duty for relevant actors, including the government.

A welcome exception
A recent book by disaster management expert Neil Dufty presents a welcome exception to the lack of attention for disaster preparedness. In Disaster Education, Communication and Engagement (ECE), he focuses on disaster preparedness and talks about disaster education.

In the first chapter of the book, the author acquaints the reader with the basic concepts of disasters. In the next chapter, the reader gets acquainted with the substantial list of keywords related to education, communication and disaster participation. The author subsequently examines the main theme of the book by discussing the various phases of disaster management cycle. In chapter four, he discusses the importance of disaster education and to what extent it should be considered by governments.

In the second part of the book, the author focuses on the main theme of the book―disaster preparedness―and provides the reader with practical information about education, communication and engagement that is. The author believes that he has presented the field of disaster education completely by explaining training methods, by presenting how to assess risks, and by discussing different target groups of such trainings. In between these descriptions, the author provides various examples from different countries, especially from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Preparing for disasters
Previous studies showed that there is a serious lack of complete and correct information about natural hazards in curriculums for students in many countries. As turns out, education curriculum and school textbooks play significant roles in child safety. For this reason UNICEF and UNESCO introduced a special framework. In the framework for hazard education for children adopted by the above-mentioned organizations, three pillars of hazard education in schools are presented which include safe learning facilities, school disaster management, and risk reduction & resilience education.

I think that if authors of school curriculums use the information provided in the book by Neil Dufty, many biases and information deficiencies in the textbooks will be eliminated. For example, an UNESCO report showed that school textbooks preparing children for disasters, in many countries only introduce safety tips during disasters (such as Drop, Cover, and Hold technique for earthquakes preparedness) and do not present other important issues such as early warning systems, responding to disasters, emergency shelter, and psychosocial support.

But this book states that people need to be familiar with a wider range of topics in order to be prepared for disasters. This is of great importance, because the textbooks are the main source for teaching and learning for teachers and students. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to those who have dropped out of school. These pupils should be educated by the government, as these people are more socially vulnerable, which increases their risk during disasters.

The all-hazard approach
Although the book rightly emphasizes that communities should be aware of local hazards, the all-hazard approach to education should also be considered in disaster education. The all-hazard approach builds on the idea that hazards vary in source (natural, technological, societal) but they often challenge communities in similar ways. Thus, risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response actions and community recovery activities are usually implemented along the same model, regardless of the cause.

This approach is important for two reasons. First, people do not necessarily live in one place and they may experience life in different communities and even different countries during their lifetime. So a person should become aware of his/her local hazards (e.g. earthquakes) but has to reorient his- or herself when moving to another country. Second, another reason for preparing for different disasters is climate change, which changes the type and severity of hazards, and causes that people in the same country experience new and different hazards.

Researchers have shown that people in different parts of the world will experience different risks such as floods, storms, droughts, fires, and severe alterations due to universal climate change. Floods in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and extreme heat in the United States and Canada were some of the latest unexpected disasters that recently occurred in the world.

Issues that could have improved the book

So this book is an important contribution because it addresses a variety of disaster education topics, training methods, and target groups. However, there are also a few issues that could have improved the book. The first is that the book has several chapters and many sub-sections in each chapter. This is sometimes confusing for the reader– especially those who are unfamiliar with disaster management. I would suggest that, if possible, some subsections and chapters are merged so that the reader may better understand the subject. Moreover, using more content organizers in the book, such as tables and figures, would have been helpful to categorize the information provided in a proper way.

My second suggestion is to provide more examples of education in different countries. The author points out in the book that he has mostly used the experiences of Australia and New Zealand due to the rich available literature on the subject in these two countries and the limited studies in other countries. However, a recent review study on disaster education programs for children indicated that the training was conducted in a variety of countries of other countries in different ways[1]. So, the author could have used supporting evidence in make the overview more insightful.

A valuable contribution to the field of disaster education planningBut besides my suggestions to improve this book, I think this book is an interesting contribution, and will be valuable to a variety of people. It can be one of the suitable scientific references for researchers who want to learn about disaster education, disaster preparedness, public education, and children's participation in disaster management. But maybe more important, this book can also be useful for humanitarian organizations and disaster management practitioners. Various organizations such as National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNESCO, and UNICEF can learn from the information provided by this book and apply it in their disaster risk reduction plans. Decision-makers and government agencies in different countries can also benefit from the book.

This book can be used as one of the main documents for writing laws and policies on national and local level because it provides a wide range of information and examples. So overall, this book can be further enriched by a more comprehensive look at the actions of different countries in the field of disaster education, as well as a more coherent presentation of the contents of the book. It is valuable contribution to the field of disaster education planning.

Hamed Seddighi Khavidak is a PhD Student at the Campus Fryslan. His research is on Public health, Social welfare, Climate-related disasters, Child protection in emergencies. 

[1] Seddighi, H., Sajjadi, H., Yousefzadeh, S., López López, M., Vameghi, M., Rafiey, H., & Khankeh, H. (2021). School-Based Education Programs for Preparing Children for Natural Hazards: A Systematic Review. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 1-13. doi:10.1017/dmp.2020.479

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