Disaster response is the second phase of the disaster management cycle. It consists of a number of elements, for example; warning/evacuation, search and rescue, providing immediate assistance, assessing damage, continuing assistance and the immediate restoration of infrastructure.The aim of emergency response is to provide immediate assistance to maintain life, improve health and support the morale of the affected population. Such assistance may range from providing specific but limited aid, such as assisting refugees with transport, temporary shelter, and food, to establishing semi-permanent settlement in camps and other locations. It also may involve initial repairs to damaged infrastructure. The focus in the response phase is on meeting the basic needs of the people until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found. Humanitarian organizations are often strongly present in this phase of the disaster management cycle.
A "disaster" is defined as: Noun. A calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage or hardship such as a flood, aircraft crash or a business failure. "Response" is defined (in this context) as: Noun: An answer or reply, as in words or in some action.
The Business Dictionary provide a more comprehensive definition for "disaster response"; Aggregate of decisions and measures to (1) contain or mitigate the effects of a disastrous event to prevent any further loss of life and/or property, (2) restore order in its immediate aftermath, and (3) re-establish normality through reconstruction and re-rehabilitation shortly thereafter. The first and immediate response is called emergency response.
The Johns Hopkins and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  state: "The word disaster implies a sudden overwhelming and unforeseen event. At the household level, a disaster could result in a major illness, death, a substantial economic or social misfortune. At the community level, it could be a flood, a fire, a collapse of buildings in an earthquake, the destruction of livelihoods, an epidemic or displacement through conflict. When occurring at district or provincial level, a large number of people can be affected. Most disasters result in the inability of those affected to cope with outside assistance."
A recent case study of a disaster response undertaken by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC) can be viewed here.
The level of disaster response depends on a number of factors and particular situation awareness. Studies undertaken by Son, Aziz and Pen ̃a-Mora (2007) shows that “initial work demand gradually spreads and increases based on a wide range of variables including scale of disaster, vulnerability of affected area which in turn is affected by population density, site-specific conditions (e.g. exposure to hazardous conditions) and effects of cascading disasters resulting from inter-dependence between elements of critical infrastructure”.
In the British Government's Emergency Response and Recovery guidance, disaster response refers to decisions and actions taken in accordance with the strategic, tactical and operational objectives defined by emergency responders. At a high level these will be to protect life, contain and mitigate the impacts of the emergency and create the conditions for a return to normality. Response encompasses the decisions and actions taken to deal with the immediate effects of an emergency. In many scenarios it is likely to be relatively short and to last for a matter of hours or days—rapid implementation of arrangements for collaboration, co-ordination and communication are, therefore, vital. Response encompasses the effort to deal not only with the direct effects of the emergency itself (e.g. fighting fires, rescuing individuals) but also the indirect effects (e.g. disruption, media interest).
Common objectives for responders are:
- saving and protecting human life;
- relieving suffering;
- containing the emergency – limiting its escalation or spread and mitigating its impacts;
- providing the public and businesses with warnings, advice and information;
- protecting the health and safety of responding personnel;
- safeguarding the environment;
- as far as reasonably practicable, protecting property;
- maintaining or restoring critical activities;
- maintaining normal services at an appropriate level;
- promoting and facilitating self-help in affected communities;
- facilitating investigations and inquiries (e.g. by preserving the scene and effective records management);
- facilitating the recovery of the community (including the humanitarian assistance, economic, infrastructure and environmental impacts);
- evaluating the response and recovery effort; and
- identifying and taking action to implement lessons identified.
Disaster response planning
According to the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), disaster response is most suitably incorporated within an overall Business Continuity Plan. The BCI's Good Practice Guidelines (GPG) (BCI, 2013) highlight that crisis or disaster response cannot be considered as a discreet entity in the case that BCM is employed; based on the premise that BCM is a holistic approach to any high impact incident. On the other hand, organizations may not use amalgamated risk disciplines and instead utilize a stand alone disaster response plan.
In either approach, the United States National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600 Standard (NFPA, 2010) specify elements of an emergency response, as: defined responsibilities; specific actions to be taken (which must include protective actions for life safety); and communication directives. Within the standard, NFPA recognize that disasters and day-to-day emergencies are characteristically different. Nevertheless, the prescribed response elements are the same.
In support of the NFPA standard, Statoil's (2013) practical application of emergency response is across three distinct "lines" that incorporate NFPA's elements. Line 1 is responsible for the operational management of an incident; line 2, typically housed off-site, is responsible for tactical guidance and additional resource management. Finally, in the case of major incidents, line 3 provides strategic guidance, group resource management, and government and media relations.
While it is impossible to plan for every disaster, crisis or emergency, the Statoil investigation into the terrorist attacks on In Amenas place emphasis on the importance of having a disaster response. The report concludes that a disaster response framework may be utilized in an array of disaster situations, such as that at In Amenas.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA plays a key role in operational coordination in crisis situations. This includes assessing situations and needs; agreeing common priorities; developing common strategies to address issues such as negotiating access, mobilizing funding and other resources; clarifying consistent public messaging; and monitoring progress.
The organisation in the United Kingdom for the provision of communications disaster response is RAYNET. The UK organisation for the provision of disaster response by off-road vehicles is 4x4 Response.
In Canada, GlobalMedic was established in 1998 as a non-sectarian humanitarian-aid NGO to provide disaster relief services to large scale catastrophes around the world. Time magazine recognized the work of GlobalMedic in its 2010 Time 100 issue. It has a roster of over 1,000 volunteers from across Canada that includes professional rescuers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics who donate their time to respond to international disasters. Their personnel are divided into Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) that operate rescue units, Water Purification Units (WPUs) designed to provide safe drinking water; and Emergency Medical Units (EMUs) that use inflatable field hospitals to provide emergency medical treatment. Since 2004, GlobalMedic teams have deployed to over 60 humanitarian disasters around the world.
In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates federal operational and logistical disaster response capability needed to save and sustain lives, minimize suffering, and protect property in a timely and effective manner in communities that become overwhelmed by disasters.
Among volunteers, the American Red Cross is chartered by Congress in 1900 to lead and coordinate non-profit efforts. They are supported by disaster relief organizations from many religious denominations and community service agencies. Licensed amateur radio operators support most volunteer organizations, and are often affiliated with the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
A great deal of assistance in the wake of any disaster comes from various charities, and non-governmental organizations. See:
- American Red Cross
- Charity Guide
- Charity fraud
- Intelligent Giving
- List of articles about charitable foundations
- Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders
Disaster response technologies
Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) prototype was built in the SmartAmerica Challenge 2013-2014, a United States government initiative. SERS has been created by a team of nine organizations led by MathWorks. The project was featured at the White House in June 2014 and described by Todd Park (U.S. Chief Technology Officer) as an exemplary achievement.
The SmartAmerica initiative challenges the participants to build cyber-physical systems as a glimpse of the future to save lives, create jobs, foster businesses, and improve the economy. SERS primarily saves lives. The system provides the survivors and the emergency personnel with information to locate and assist each other during a disaster. SERS allows to submit help requests to a MATLAB-based mission center connecting first responders, apps, search-and-rescue dogs, a 6-feet-tall humanoid, robots, drones, and autonomous aircraft and ground vehicles. The command and control center optimizes the available resources to serve every incoming requests and generates an action plan for the mission. The Wi-Fi network is created on the fly by the drones equipped with antennas. In addition, the autonomous rotorcrafts, planes, and ground vehicles are simulated with Simulink and visualized in a 3D environment (Google Earth) to unlock the ability to observe the operations on a mass scale.
- Warfield, Corina. The Disaster Management Cycle, Global Development Research Center website.
- Definition: disaster response, BusinessDictionary.com.
- Public Health Guide for Emergencies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2013.
- 24 Disaster Definitions, The Johns Hopkins and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
- Haiti case study, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
- Emergency Response and Recovery, Cabinet Office, 29 October 2013.
- Czekaj, Laura. "Ready for the World: Paramedics Train for International Disasters", Ottawa Sun, November 5, 2006.
- GlobalMedic. "GlobalMedic Mission Statement". GlobalMedic Website. GlobalMedic. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- Bellerive, Jean-Max (2010-04-29). "The 2010 TIME 100: Rahul Singh". Time.com.
- A Brief History of the American Red Cross, RedCross.org website.
- Disaster Relief Agencies, RedCross.org website.
- Smart Emergency Response System , team website.
- SmartAmerica Challenge , website.
- Video  Smart Emergency Response System
- Son, Jeongwook; Aziz, Zeeshan; Feniosky Peña-Mora. Structural Survey, 2007, Vol. 26, Iss. 5. pp. 411–425.
- Business Continuity Institute (2013) Good Practice Guidelines: Global Edition. BCI
- NFPA (2010) Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs. 2010 Edition. NFPA
- Statoil (2013) The In Amenas Attack: Report of the investigation into the terrorist attack on In Amenas. Prepared for Statoil ASA's board of directors. Statoil ASA