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Managing disaster risk

Society faces an increasing risk of disaster and, as a result, we have developed an increasingly diverse armoury of approaches to managing those risks.

Over the last 50 years, we have seen a number of important shifts in the way we deal with disaster, risks and underlying causes. While there has always been an emphasis on disaster or humanitarian response to meet the basic needs of those affected, we can identify three key phases in the evolution or broadening of our approaches to disasters.

Diagram the development in Disaster Management in the 80s -90s, 90s-00s and 00s-10s. Select the image to view a screen readable PDF of this image

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The disaster management lifecycle has been an instrument for the management of disaster events and their effects since the 1970s (Baird, O’Keefe, Westgate and Wisner 1975). Unsurprisingly, this coincided with a number of catastrophic disasters – drought, cyclones, floods and earthquakes across Bangladesh, India, Southeast Asia, China and South America.

Figure to show the disaster Management Cycle. Starting with a crisis, there is an immediate response, followed by a recovery. After these stages there are periods of mitigation and preparedness in preparation for the next disaster.

With the repeating cycle of costly disasters came a recognition that proactive management of disaster risk was a more efficient use of capital than simply providing reactive disaster relief and recovery. Pre-disaster actions were necessary.

The lifecycle shows that for many areas at risk they exist in one of two phases pre-disaster or post-disaster. This cycle was developed to draw attention to the fact that there are a number of phases of activity that can be undertaken through the cycle.

While many permutations of disaster phases exist, there is a consensus that risk prevention or mitigation and preparedness constitute the pre-disaster phase, while response and recovery constitute the post-disaster phase.

Since the risk of disaster can never be eliminated, response capabilities will always be required. However, we are increasingly investing in risk management, which can be divided into two aspects:

  • Reducing the risk of disasters happening in the first place
  • Preparing to respond to disasters that result from the risks we can not remove

By carrying out both of these activities the effect of disasters can be minimised throughout the disaster cycle in a proactive rather than reactive manner.


Baird, A., O’Keefe, P., Westgate, K., & Wisner, B. (1975) ‘Towards an explanation and reduction of disaster preparedness’. In Disaster Research Unit Occasional paper No. 11. University of Bradford.

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Risk Reduction: An Introduction

Coventry University