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Background and Origins
Disaster Action was founded as a charity in 1991 by survivors and bereaved people from UK and overseas disasters. In the late 1980s, there were a number of serious incidents in which many lives were lost, such as the sinking of the MV Jupiter (1961), Hillsborough, the Herald of Free Enterprise, Lockerbie, the Marchioness, Piper Alpha and UTA Flight 772. One individual from the Herald Families Association began to realise that the issues the Herald families were experiencing would almost certainly be encountered by others in similar disasters. Maurice de Rohan therefore gathered together a group of people in circumstances that paralleled his, and so the charity Disaster Action was set up. By 2014, members had personal experience of 29 disasters, including rail, air and maritime as well as natural disasters and terrorist attacks in the UK and overseas.
Purpose and Objectives
The charity was founded on the principles of accountability, support and prevention and to represent the interests of those on the receiving end of disaster. Its founding objectives were to:
- Offer support to those directly affected by major trauma
- Raise awareness of the needs of survivors and the bereaved in the short- and longer-term aftermath
- Help create a safety climate in which disasters are less likely to occur
Rather than functioning as a frontline responder following a disaster, Disaster Action acted primarily as an advisory and advocacy service to central government, local authorities, the statutory services, voluntary bodies and commercial companies, such as railway operators and airlines, about the human aspects of planning and responding to disasters and emergencies.
An important aspect of Disaster Action's foundation also lay in supporting and guiding survivors and bereaved affected by disasters. Information is among the greatest needs of those directly affected by disaster and so Disaster Action members drew on their personal and collective experience to develop a series of leaflets, which are available free and online for those who are bereaved and survivors (see When Disaster Strikes at http://www.disasteraction.org.uk/when_disaster_strikes/).
The website also includes extensive resources for emergency planners, responders, the media and academics (see Guidance for Responders at http://www.disasteraction.org.uk/guidance_for_responders/ and Guidance for the Media at http://www.disasteraction.org.uk/guidance_for_the_media/).
The organisation evolved and developed through the years, while adhering to its founding principles. One significant thread was the introduction of legislation to provide for remedies against Corporate manslaughter, which culminated with a new law coming into force on 1 April 2008.
Another was to draw together and learn from the collective experience of its members and offer information, guidance and support to others affected in future disasters; this culminated in the series of leaflets, which are available online.
A third strand was to act as lay-advisors to central government departments and others to remind them of their ongoing responsibilities when disasters happen.
A fourth strand was to offer presentations based on members' experience. The charity generated some income through charging fees for the presentations by members on training courses for the police, local authorities and private companies.
Funding and Status
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust funded much of the organisation's work on corporate responsibility as well as offering core funding for five years from 2003. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and then the Golden Bottle/Bulldog trusts also gave grants for core funding. Disaster Action cherished its independence, not receiving funding from sources that might have created a conflict of interest with its work in supporting survivors and the bereaved.
In 2015 the decision was taken to no longer to offer a proactive response to major emergencies or offer presentations. However, some former members continue to speak, give presentations and work within the field of disaster management in their own right, and the extensive resources, including access to the Charity’s key publications, remain available through the website: www.disasteraction.org.uk.
Further Reading, Publications and Key Achievements
- The Case for Corporate Responsibility: Corporate Violence and the Criminal Justice System (Disaster Action, 2000, http://www.opengrey.eu/item/display/10068/577549)
- DA won a Guardian charity of the year award in 2004 for excellence in its field (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/oct/13/charityawards.voluntarysector1)
- Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2007/19/contents)
- Disaster Funds: Lessons & Guidance on the Management & Dissemination of Disaster Funds (Disaster Action, 2010, http://www.disasteraction.org.uk/publications/Disaster_Funds_Lessons_and_Guidance_on_the_Management_and_Distribution_of_Disaster_Funds.pdf)
- Collective Conviction the Story of Disaster Action (Liverpool University Press, 2014, http://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=11&AS1=Collective+Conviction)