Understanding Disaster Management | Western Cape Government

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Understanding Disaster Management

(Department of Local Government, Western Cape Government)

The Disaster Continuum


Why disasters happen

If certain preparations and actions are implemented effectively, timely and adequately, there should be very few events that lead to a disaster. However, events become disasters people do not take precautions, nor heed warnings or are negligent in some way.

Failure to learn from history

Disasters often recur because the systems that should be working on prevention, like the local community, local, provincial and national government, have failed to learn from history. Thus, the shacks that washed away during a flood because of being built on the river bank, should teach the local community, not build there again, since the disaster will very likely recur. Local Government should take steps to ensure this does not happen. The local community itself should prevent the risk of raging waters becoming a hazard to them and their loved ones and avert a disaster occurring.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development includes examining the environment, natural resources, social development, poverty and inequality, education, training and development. It's about meeting the needs for everyone in the here and now, without compromising the sustainability of future generations.

Sustainable livelihoods

Sustainable livelihoods are the ability and resilience of people to ensure short - and long - term household well-being within a particular environment. It involves creating the ability to resist and recover from illness and threats like drought.

Municipal disaster management

The metropolitan or district municipal council is responsible to ensure the implementation of the disaster management act for the area of the municipality as a whole. The Municipal Disaster management center (MDMC) should exist in all municipalities. The main aim of the MDMC, is to ensure that the focus is on risk and vulnerability reduction in communities most at risk.

Early Warning Systems (EWS)

Technology is used to warn community of pending risks and possible hazards in the offing, like a threatening earthquake or volcano about to erupt. Local and indigenous knowledge can also be used very effectively to warn people of impending droughts, veldfires approaching. Although a situation like drought can not be prevented, its impact can certainly be lessened through properly designed and implemented preparedness measures.

How understanding risk can lead to resilience

When people are aware of and understand risk than they are exposed to, they can choose to adapt behaviour in order to avoid or minimised the risk or prepare for the hazards which may be included in the risk. Thus through understanding risk, the resilience of a community can be improved.


Earthquake magnitude or amount of energy released is determined by the use of a seismograph, an instrument that continuously records ground vibrations.

Richter scale

A scale developed by a seismologist named Charles Richter mathematically adjusts the reading for the distance of the instrument from the epicenter. The Richter scale is logarithmic. An increase of one magnitude signifies a 10-fold increase in ground motion or roughly an increase of 30 times the energy. Thus, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter Scale releases 30 times more energy than one with a 6.5 magnitude, and approximately 900 times that of a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. A quake of magnitude 3 is the smallest normally felt by humans. The largest earthquakes that have been recorded under this system are 9.25 (Alaska, 1969) and 9.5 (Chile, 1960).

The content on this page was last updated on 15 May 2015