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Complex Disasters as Future Challenge for Disaster Research and Management Passed

Tuesday September 21, 2021 13:00 - 14:30 D

Workshop leaders: Cordula Dittmer, Daniel F. Lorenz
Presenters: Ayushi Jain, Fatma Lestari, Peter McGowran, Theresa Berthold

  • Disaster Registries as Tools to Improve Understanding of Complex Disasters, Theresa Berthold, Birgitt Alpers, Marcel Zill, Jan-Thorsten Gräsner, Jan Wnent
  • Exploring disasters-in-the-making in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India, Peter McGowran
  • Natech risk management in Indonesia, Fatma Lestari
  • Contextualising Floods in India: The Challenge of Reinterpreting Flood Risk Management from a Socio-Political Perspective, Ayushi Jain, Prathamesh Mokal

Panel description

Research (e.g. Smet et al., 2012) has shown that disasters are becoming increasingly complex. Decisive for this increase in complexity are interactions and consequences of social processes on different levels. For some time now, scientific discourse has differentiated between different degrees of severity and temporalities of disasters (Quarantelli, 2000) and increasingly considers complex interaction effects of various natural, technical and socio-political hazards in “complex disasters” (Funabashi and Kitazawa, 2012). A variety of terms can be found to grasp different aspects of this new quality of disasters such as “compound disasters (Wachira, 1997), “consecutive disasters” (Ruiter et al., 2020), “cascading disasters” (Pescaroli and Alexander, 2015) or NaTech/TechNa disasters (Gill and Ritchie, 2018).

Among other things this increase in complexity means that less visible, often slowly building threats to societies but also fundamentally new consequences across scales are entering the field disaster research and management. Additionally, past and current events such as the SARS-CoV-2-pandemic have shown that disasters are not only becoming more complex but also trans-boundary. These developments can be expected to challenge disaster research, disaster management structures and international or supranational disaster relief radically in terms of responsibilities, capacities and operational practices.

The panel invites presentations both from practitioners (e.g., disaster management, relief organizations) and academics that analyze past events and conceptualize complex disasters in terms of challenges and (potential) scenarios for disaster management and research.


Funabashi, Y. and K. Kitazawa (2012) ‘Fukushima in review: A complex disaster, a disastrous response’. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 68(2). pp. 9–21.

Gill, D.A. and L.A. Ritchie (2018) ‘Contributions of Technological and Natech Disaster Research to the Social Science Disaster Paradigm’. In H. Rodríguez, W. Donner and J.E. Trainor (eds) Handbook of disaster research. Cham, Springer. pp. 39–60.

Pescaroli, G. and D. Alexander (2015) ‘A definition of cascading disasters and cascading effects: Going beyond the 'toppling dominos' metaphor’. Planet@Risk. 3(1).

Quarantelli, E.L. (2000) Emergencies, disaster and catastrophes are different phenomena. Newark, Delaware, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware.

Ruiter, M.C. de, A. Couasnon, M.J.C. Homberg, J.E. Daniell, J.C. Gill and P.J. Ward (2020) ‘Why We Can No Longer Ignore Consecutive Disasters’. Earth's Future. 8(3). pp. 16–25.

Smet, H. de, P. Lagadec and J. Leysen (2012) ‘Disasters Out of the Box: A New Ballgame?’. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. 20(3). pp. 138–48.

Wachira, G. (1997) ‘Conflicts in Africa as Compound Disasters: Complex Crises Requiring Comprehensive Responses’. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. 5(2). pp. 109–17.


Cordula Dittmer Workshop leader

Disaster Research Unit (DRU), Freie Universität Berlin

Daniel F. Lorenz Workshop leader

Disaster Research Unit (DRU), Freie Universität Berlin

Profile image for Ayushi Jain

Ayushi Jain Presenter

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India

Profile image for Fatma Lestari

Fatma Lestari Presenter

Disaster Risk Reduction Center Universitas Indonesia

Profile image for Peter McGowran

Peter McGowran Presenter

King's College London

Theresa Berthold Presenter

Institute for Emergency Medicine, University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel Campus