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Cascading Effects in Disaster Risk Science: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives

Special Issue of International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Research and knowledge gaps assessment

After the establishment of the National Knowledge and Research Center for Emergency Management, in 2018, an assessment of emergency-related knowledge and research gaps was conducted in order to direct and maximize the center’s resources.  This process included interviewing and conducting roundtable workshops for professionals, decision-makers, and scholars, in order to identify common themes and multi-disciplinary topics in need of further research. The process yielded nine topics, which guided the center’s funded research during its first three years. For a list of multi-dusciplinary research gaps for emergency readiness press here. For more details about 2018 gaps (in Hebrew) see here

In 2021, the needs assessment was updated, both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in light of other global changes. Between February and June 2021, Dr. Danielle Zaychik (post-doctorate fellow at the center) led the process of updating the needs assessment. This process included interviewing researchers, decision-makers, and relevant professionals.  In addition, an online survey was distributed to researchers in Israel and in relevant global networks.

Based on the analysis of research findings, 17 research gaps were identified: National Management of Crises: Inter-agency coordination, organizational structures, and the spread of responsibilities and authority; The Role of Local Governments in Emergencies; Evaluating Programs and Protocols; Influences on Public Behavior; Vulnerable and Minority Populations; Information Transfer and Use; Technology; International Comparisons and Case Studies; Military versus Civil Orientation of Preparing for and Managing Emergencies; Individual and Human Rights and Ethics During Times of Emergency; Economic Aspects of Disasters; Recovery; Decision Making during Emergencies; Mapping Projects; The Place of Communities during Crises and the Ability of Communities to Navigate Disasters; The Climate Crisis and Assessment of the Implication of the COVID-19 Lockdowns.

See here for more details

The outcome of this process led to the Center’s internal calls for proposals, prioritization, and the research projects chosen for support:

On-going research 2018-2020

Robust preparedness against surprises in extreme events: Multi-site fires and earthquakes

Researchers:
Yakov Ben-Haim and Shira Daskel, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Ronen Avni, Israel Fire and Rescue Authority and Adar Ben-Eliyahu, University of Haifa

Abstract (see here for more details):
This research assesses the level of resilience in the National Fire and Rescue Services (NFRS) in the event of multi-site fires. While decisions are usually made with cost-benefit analyses or by comparing alternatives, in situations with high levels of uncertainty these methods are often ineffective and inaccurate. This research suggests using decision-making methodology based on the info-gap theory in cases with high levels of uncertainty. In info-gap analysis, alternatives are assessed by the degree of error tolerated in the assessment of the situation which would still allow the intervention’s goals to be met. With regards to multi-site fires, the analysis focuses on the distribution of resources needed in the response to an event, with the goal of reaching a distribution that maximizes resilience in the face of uncertainty. Additionally, the researchers suggest principles for the creation and assessment of programs designed to increase social-emotional resilience in the society. A sample program is designed and presented to the education system to prepare students for emergencies.

Policy Recommendations

Based on the findings in this report, the researchers make the following policy recommendations:

  • In the face of uncertainty, levels of resilience can be raised with proper oversight, surveillance, and monitoring during the event of a fire. The real-time collection, processing, and analysis of data, along with the integration of data from other sources, can improve the NFRS response to multi-site fires.
  • It is recommended that the NFRS establish goals and definitions of “success” in the case of extreme events.
  • A national strategic plan for firefighting and prevention is needed. The plan should provide detailed recommendations for prevention, the evacuation of the populations, and tactics for firefighting and rescue.
  • A plan for learning and integrating info-gap theory decision making techniques should be created and implemented among decision makers in the NFRS, as well as in other emergency and government agencies, in order to effectively navigate situations with high levels of uncertainty.
  • The program outlined for strengthening social-emotional resilience should be implemented in schools throughout the country. The cooperation and participation of various stakeholders (emergency and rescue services, the local government, and various community representatives) should be elicited. Additionally, the program should give students exposure to peers from different grades. Several options for expanding the program are detailed in the report.
  • Generally, plans for strengthening social-emotional resilience should be assessed in light of the specific scenario they are created to address. The plan that maximizes resilience in the face of uncertainty should be chosen.

Natural Hazards and Moral Hazards: Understanding the Insurance Coverage Limit

Researchers:
Daniel Felsenstein and Masha Vernick (Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Abstract (see here for more details):
This report assesses the presence of a moral hazard in the insurance market for natural disasters, both for structure and content insurance. The hypothesis states that insurance coverage does not reflect the distribution of natural hazards due to households tending to under-insure, as the liability of risk is likely to be borne by others. Using spatial econometrics, the study finds that the distribution of insurance coverage is unrelated to the distance from the centers of simulated earthquakes, affirming the presence of a moral hazard in the market.

Policy Recommendations
Given the results of this research, the authors make the following policy recommendations:

  • Create spatially differentiated insurance plans. That is, create insurance plans that vary based on distance to specific hazard risks. Presently, uniform national premiums cause a moral hazard in the insurance market.
  • Informational campaigns should be used to raise awareness about natural and anthropogenic hazards in order to give the public an opportunity to make informed decisions.
  • Hazard management should be spearheaded by local authorities in order to tailor plans to the characteristics of specific neighborhoods and populations.

Insurance, Thresholds, and Mechanisms for Post Disaster Resilience

Researchers:
Avigail Newman and Itay Fishhendler (Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Abstract:
Despite the prevalence of weather-related agricultural crop insurance, until now there has been no conceptual framework created to understand the determination of insurance thresholds. This report fills this gap with the creation of an archetype for determining insurance thresholds. After comparing the three primary sectors protected by insurance for weather-related events (agriculture, tourism, and urbanism), the researchers analyze the primary elements that compose agricultural crop insurance, as well as variables relevant to the establishment of insurance thresholds. The researchers suggest that the archetype- including the variables and mechanisms that influence crop insurance- be publicized in an accessible manner among insuring and insured parties.

Managing the Nation and its Citizens During Times of Crisis: An assessment of national resilience, public trust, and the performance of government and bureaucratic institutions during the COVID-19 crisis and during non-crisis times

Researchers:
Eran Vigoda-Gadot with: (alphabetize): Adar Ben-Eliyahu,Nissim (Nessi) Cohen,Uri Hertz, Rotem Miller-mor Attias, Efrat Mishor and Shlomo Mizrahi (University of Haifa)

Abstract:
In this research, the public was surveyed in order to assess levels of resilience and trust in government institutions during the COVID-19 crisis, as compared with non-crisis time periods. Additionally, the survey identified psychological strategies for handling the crisis among the populous. It also established the public’s prioritization for investing in various emergency organizations. The research finds that trust in political institutions eroded during the COVID-19 crisis. However, trust in bureaucratic institutions and the healthcare system remained stable. Additionally, as the COVID-19 crisis persisted, levels of fear decreased and levels of anger increased. Furthermore, use of mechanisms for emotional regulation among individuals in the population increased.

Policy Recommendations:
Based on the research, the following policy recommendations are suggested:

  • Since satisfaction and public trust are influenced by the presence of a threat, when a threat is proven false, it damages public trust. Therefore, it is important to project balanced, well-founded, realistic, and clear forecasts.
  • In order to enlist the cooperation of the public, government agencies must stay highly responsive to the needs and expectations of citizens during times of crisis. Agencies should aim to continue providing the breadth of their regular services.
  • Public trust in governing bodies can be damaged as a result of single high-profile cases (such as high-level public servants violating lockdown regulations), but is built gradually, with significant time and effort. Instances that harm public trust in government institutions should be responded to promptly and appropriately in order to mitigate their damage.
  • The erosion of public commitment and social solidarity suggests that creating governance-based channels at the local- and community-levels will ensure a more effective response for issues that arise during times of crisis
  • The rise in feelings of anger among the public, alongside the decline in feelings of fear, point to a sense of helplessness and injustice. These feelings create a more aggressive and less empathetic society, which erodes the willingness of citizens to act in the best interest of the state and follow instructions

Developing local resilience and planning urban spaces in times of emergency: A multi-disciplinary study comparing preparedness for extreme weather conditions to preparedness for conflict

Researchers:
Shlomit Paz, Hani Nouman, Maya Negev, Motti Zohar (University of Haifa) and Hagai Levine (Hebrew University)

Abstract (see here for more details):
This research compares current preparedness for extreme weather events to preparedness for wars. The report is composed of five sections: a literature review of preparedness plans to handle the effects of climate change in Israel; mapping of vulnerable populations in the Haifa-area; risk mapping for floods, fires, and heat waves in the Haifa-area; an online survey assessing resilience in the face of the COVID-19 crisis among Haifa residents; and in-depth interviews with decision makers to assess preparedness for crisis in the healthcare system.

Policy Recommendations:
Based on this report, the researchers propose the following policy recommendations:

  • Create specific plans and procedures in order to effectively handle expected climate-change induced disasters and changes.
  • Prioritize preparedness plans for areas with vulnerable populations in the Haifa area.
  • Tailor plans to characteristics specific to different areas in Haifa. For instance, the population makeup, topographical structure, and sub-climate of different neighborhoods should be considered when planning.
  • Preparations for flooding (including improving drainage systems and creating solutions for surface runoff) should be made for high-risk areas in Haifa, including: Wadi Nisnas, the German Colony, and Western Haifa.
  • Preparations for fires (including regular thinning of greenery and strategically planning locations of fire stations) should be made for high-risk areas in Haifa, including: Ramot HaKarmel, the Karmel, and Ramat Hadar.
  • Preparations for heat waves (including creating shaded areas, installing misting systems, and using proper construction techniques) should be made for high-risk areas in the Haifa-area, including Kiryat Hayim and Kiryat Shmuel.
  • Steps should be taken to minimize the public’s exposure to climate-change induced health risks, including informational campaigns to increase public awareness of risks.
  • In order to meet the needs of the population, steps should be taken to increase the cooperation between national and local authorities in preparing for emergencies.

Planning Provisional Accommodation for Uprooted Communities
The Twilight Zone: Provisional Housing after Earthquakes

Researchers:
Amotz Agnon, Eran Feitelson (Hebrew University) , Moshe Weinstein (Lev Academic Center), Eran Lederman, Mike Turner, Tomer Shemi (Bezaleal Academy), Einav Levy (Israeli School of Humanitarian Action)

Abstract:
This report explores five central issues on the topic of provisional housing after an earthquake. In the first section, the authors present a tool for assessing whether aftershocks have subsided. This is important, as temporary housing solutions become relevant after aftershocks have subsided. The second section describes how to identify appropriate sites for the placement of provisional housing. Because it is impossible to predict the exact nature of an earthquake in advance, in this chapter, an algorithm (based on GIS systems) is created for the use of decision makers in real-time, in order to identify appropriate sites given the specific nature of the event.

The third section discusses important factors in choosing the type of housing units, in order to meet the needs of the affected population. Several types of existing temporary housing units throughout the world are described and assessed for their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, in this chapter, there are several recommendations for designing the layout of sites. The fourth section addresses the issue of connecting sites to infrastructure. The use of autonomous housing units is suggested in order to circumvent uncertainty of the condition of critical infrastructure after an earthquake. In the fifth section, social and mental aspects of planning temporary housing are discussed. Guidelines are presented in order to minimize the damage that temporary housing solutions may have on the social lives and mental health of displaced persons.

Policy Recommendations:
Each chapter details several relevant policy recommendations. Some of these include:

  • Priorities for selecting sites for temporary housing should be:
    • 1. Ensure that land that is stable, secure, and fitting for settlement.
    • 2. Select sites with minimal disruption to the lives of displaced persons. Sites should be in close proximity to permanent housing and sources of income.
    • 3. Priority should be given to selecting sites in which building plans already exist and that have options to connect to existing infrastructure.
    • 4. Avoid nature reserves, forests, and other open areas in which the settlement of human beings is likely to significantly stress the natural ecosystem.
  • A database of available land should be created. This will require inter-agency cooperation.
  • The guidelines for provisional housing for disaster victims published by the Ministry of Construction and Housing should be updated in accordance with the findings of this study.
  • With the cooperation of the UNDRR, a platform should be created for the development and assessment of temporary housing solutions, based on the “Ten Essentials for Making Cities.”
  • Using autonomous housing units is recommended as an effective way of relieving the effects of a disaster, especially during the first year after the disaster.
  • Plans for temporary housing sites should aim to preserve the nature of the community and social structure that existed pre-disaster.
  • Sites should be planned in close proximity to employment, leisure, and basic services, such as sanitation, healthcare, points designated for food preparation, and distribution points for food and supplies. The planning of temporary housing camps needs to take into account lighting, accessibility, and means for food preparations that need the needs of the affected populous. A return to normal functioning and planned activities can help minimize hardship and distress, while helping meet needs that arose as a result of the disaster.
  • Placement of public institutions (such as schools, religious institutions, and community centers) should be planned strategically according to the nature of the displaced population and the strength of community bonds within that population.
  • Displaced persons should be presented with choices. Many disaster victims may choose not to live in temporary camps, but may turn to other support systems, such as family and community.
  • Housing units should be built with careful consideration of the needs of the displaced population, including family size and accessibility to personal services.
  • Surveillance and monitoring of outside organizations that enter the camp is critical in order to protect the displaced population from exploitation and further damage.

Using Twitter for near real-time alerts and damage analysis of natural hazards in Israel and its close surrounding

Researchers:
Motti Zohar, Lea Wittenberg, (Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa); Avigdor Gal (Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Management, Technion), Efrat Morin (Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Ran Nof, (the Geological Survey of Israel).

Abstract:
During the last decade, the social network of Twitter has become a robust platform for distributing messages (tweets) among numerous subscribers worldwide. To date, Twitter is used by more than 300 million users worldwide. In Israel the growth of twitter subscribers is by ~100,000 since 2014 and to date consists of over 1,000,000 subscribers. The tweets, up to 280 characters only, can be sent via web pages, mobile devices or third-party Twitter applications. During and around the occurrence of natural hazards, people tend to over-tweet and consequently, the number of tweets raise significantly. While Twitter is already in use for near real-time alerts, processes for extracting reported damage from tweets and examining the resulted spatial distribution are still under development. In the proposed study it is suggested to acquire tweets made prior to and after natural hazards such as floods, fire and earthquakes that occurred in Israel and its close surroundings. It is planned to temporally and spatially analyze the fetched tweets in order to (1) achieve near real-time alerts; (2) analyze damage patterns and affected regions; (3) validate initial damage estimations and calibrate reference scenarios used for preparing the initial damage estimations and (4) inspect how this data can assist in management of cascading events during the first hours after a catastrophe occurs.

Towards an Israeli doctrine and legislative-regulative framework dealing with emergencies

Researchers:
Prof. Shlomo Mizrahi (Public Policy, University of Haifa) and Prof. Eli Salzberger (Law, University of Haifa)

Abstract:
During its short history Israel had gone through numerous emergencies, most of which were related to national security incidents. It is surprising, therefore, that Israel lacks a solid doctrine and comprehensive legislative and regulative framework dealing with preparation towards emergencies, handling and mitigating such emergencies and recovering from them. Furthermore, the legislation that does exist on the law-books is far from reflecting reality, creating a dangerous gap between the law in the books and law in action (e.g. The Home front Command which is currently the main body to deal with emergency is not mentioned in any legislation and the veteran Civil Defense Law 1951 does not reflect the actual decision-making and institutional structure addressing emergencies).
This research is meant to fill these lack and gap by:

  1. A comparative study of the emergency doctrines and legislative frameworks in other countries, among which are Japan, Canada, the Philippines and the UK – countries with different features regarding both the type of threats, as well as governmental structures (e.g. federation or a unitary country) and legal cultures (e.g. common law vs. civil law). We aim to analyze the different arrangements relating to various variables such as 1) whether the law relates to all stages of emergency – preparation and mitigation, management and recovery, 2) centralized vs. de-centralized emergency regime, 3) institutions and command structures during normality (preparation stage) and during emergency, 4) powers and authorities vis-à-vis the government, administration, local authorities, public entities, private entities and individuals, during normality and emergency, 5) enforcement mechanisms, judicial review and checks and balances during normality and emergency.
  2. Analyzing the Israeli current emergency management system and proposal of required reforms, which will involve also interviews with past and present key office holders in the emergency realm. We will use the methodology of policy research including the following steps: 1) identifying the main problems; 2) setting the main goals and specific targets; 3) identifying various alternatives regarding the regulatory and command structure that may minimize the problems; 4) evaluating these alternatives, prioritize them and produce recommendations. In doing so, we will integrate normative and positivistic approaches, namely we will apply both value-oriented evaluation and interest-based evaluation and integrate between the two.
  3. Producing a policy paper based on the findings from the comparative research and from the analysis of Israel.
  4. Translating the policy paper into a proposed legislative and regulative framework.