UK lacks social skills

March 15, 1996

Those who live in a country awaiting an imminent disaster such as an earthquake, flood or drought can look to the United Kingdom for top-quality expertise. But UK experts are better at preparing people for the physical effects of the disaster than the human, says a new report launched at the Royal Academy of Engineering this week.

The UK makes a strong contribution to preparing for disasters overseas, says the report, Disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, by the UK arm of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. But our knowledge of how people cope in emergencies is poor, said co-author Ian Davis, of the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies.

Dr Davis said that social science was vital to good disaster preparation. He said that the Japanese had a similar problem. At Kobe in Japan, the site of a major earthquake last year, Dr Davis found that while the authorities coped well with other aspects of the disaster, social insight was lacking. The 150,000 homeless were rehoused in pre-fabricated buildings about 30 kilometres from where they used to live. "This breaks up communities just when they need to be together," he said.

The authors also found that academics specialising in disasters are not talking to each other enough and information is slow to flow between academics and non-governmental organisations.

The committee has launched a two-year project, Forecasts and Warnings which will examine areas where British expertise can help to refine these warning systems.

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