News Release

What makes individuals fall through the safety nets during disasters?

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Estonian Research Council

The International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, a flagship journal of crisis sociology, has published a special issue that brings together the latest insights into why people's lives, health or property suffer in crises, despite the best efforts of individuals, communities or authorities. The special issue was initiated and edited by Kati Orru, Associate Professor of Sociology of Sustainability at the University of Tartu (Estonia) and Tor-Olav Nævestad from the Institute of Transport Economics (Norway).

Barely recovered from the effects of the pandemic and still in the grip of war aggression, Europe and the world are shaken by heat waves, forest fires and floods. The ongoing poly-crisis is accompanied by instability in the natural environment, the economy and geopolitics, highlighting more than ever the structural inequalities and disadvantages that hinder the adaptation of societies to exceptional circumstances. To understand why thousands of individuals still suffer and so many have perished in these crises, crisis sociologists Kati Orru from the University of Tartu and Tor-Olav Nævestad from the Institute of Transport Economics (Norway) called for a special issue. The journal brings together knowledge gathered from recent pan-European research projects on how social vulnerability is defined and whether and how vulnerability can be prevented or mitigated.

According to Kati Orru, crisis research often focuses on the functioning of the institutions solving the crises and the resilience of the infrastructure. At the same time, the root causes of social vulnerability get little attention. However, understanding them is crucial to increase crisis preparedness and support the coping of those groups in society most likely to find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

One of the key questions in this special issue is who is vulnerable in a crisis. It discusses whether vulnerability is static and depends on a person's characteristics (e.g. age) or socioeconomic coping (e.g. poverty) or whether it is dynamic and anyone can become vulnerable. Among other topics, the journal focuses on people living in extreme poverty and explains that economic hardship is often not the main determinant of coping with crises. In addition to an individual's characteristics and abilities, reasons for poor coping should be sought, for example, in the limited availability of their personal or formal support network. Crisis-time measures themselves may also create or aggravate vulnerabilities.

"Crisis-time measures should be thoroughly analysed to avoid exacerbating exclusion and inequalities and to ensure access to the information, support networks and economic resources needed to cope in crises," explained Orru. The special issue offers valuable food for thought not only for researchers but also for policymakers in the field and crisis managers in municipalities and other responsible authorities.

The special issue examines the mechanisms of crisis vulnerability in European crisis management systems through examples of a variety of crises (e.g. COVID-19 pandemic, floods, earthquakes, residential fire). The articles draw on the results of European Commission Horizon 2020 research projects BuildERS (Building European Communities' Resilience and Social Capital), LINKS (Strengthening links between technologies and society for European disaster resilience) and HERoS (Health Emergency Response in Interconnected Systems).

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