Defining Disaster...What's the difference?

Since DisasterNet has just kicked off, I thought it would be beneficial to start of my blog with a post about defining "disaster." In our hearts and minds, we all seem to know what a disaster is.  However, to many people and many industries, the definition of "disaster" varies greatly.

Whether you define disaster by threats, consequences, or resources used, it is important for all people and organizations to know how disasters affect them.  Many people and organizations operate knowing that only certain types or aspects of disasters will impact them.   So is there really a common definition we can agree on?  Or even a need for a common definition?

Below is a list of existing definitions. -

  • An occurrence causing widespread destruction and distress; a catastrophe.
  • A grave misfortune.
  • A calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, as a flood, airplane crash, or business failure.

National Center for Children Exposed to Violence -

  • Events that are relatively sudden, highly disruptive, time limited (although the effects may be longer lasting) and public (affecting children from more than one family).*

*Adapted from the American Psychological Association's definition of disaster.

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction -

  • A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.

  • An unexpected natural or man-made catastrophe of substantial extent causing significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life or sometimes permanent change to the natural environment.
  • An unforesen event causing great loss, upset or unpleasantness of whatever kind.

How do you define disaster, in your personal life, in your industry, or in your organization?  Does defining disaster matter to you?