People matter most: recovery after natural disasters

Human recovery is as important as repairing infrastructure if communities are to get back on their feet following natural disasters. NIWA is part of a team providing a new toolkit for post-tsunami research, to include guidance on how to gather critical information from disaster victims following a tsunami.

Hazards researchers are often quickly on the scene following devastating natural hazards such as tsunami. Their aim: to gather as much information as possible, as soon as possible, and then to use what they have learnt to develop new ways of helping communities recover and reduce risks from hazards in the future.

Scientists have, until recently, often focused most on physical impacts of disasters, and the costs and requirements of infrastructure recovery. But this is changing because people now realise that understanding the impact of disasters on humans is equally, if not more, important.

NIWA social scientist Shona van Zijll de Jong has been involved in post-disaster field work following the 2009 Samoan tsunami. Her role immediately after these events centred on gathering information from, and about, local people affected by the tsunami. 

The revamped UNESCO-IOC Field Guide

Shona is now working with an international team to update the UNESCO-IOC Post-Tsunami Survey Field Guide. The updated guide will provide new field protocols to help all researchers, including socio-economic researchers, get the most from the post-disaster reconnaissance effort.

“The original guide, produced in 1998, focuses on things like geology, tectonics, deformation, measuring run-up and inundation, tsunami-transported debris and so on,” says Shona. “Social scientists need to work in partnership with other scientists in the emergency phase following a disaster. One of the new guide’s main aims is to provide a toolkit that will help researchers do robust fieldwork during the emergency phase of a disaster.”

The new guide will include information specifically aimed at ensuring that researchers interact with disaster victims in the best possible way, including recommending techniques for gathering socio-economic data. Topics include:

• how to carry out responsible fieldwork in an emergency phase of a disaster
• following cultural protocols
• recommended methods for collecting information from people about their personal losses. 

The revised Post-Tsunami Field Guide should be available in 2011.

Contact: Shona van Zijll de Jong

Read more

NIWA’s work followng the 2009 Samoan tsunami

1998 UNESCO-IOC Post-Tsunami Field Guide

Research subject: Tsunamis