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Hazard Identification: A Cornerstone in Disaster Risks Reduction (Drr) Strategy

Endy is a DRMDS student and had worked extensively in hazard identification, hazard and risk assessment and vulnerability studies.

Hazards and Disasters

The word disaster draws to mind two scary images. The first and the most common is a chaotic situation in which a group of people or individuals are trapped by calamitic event or events without the capacity to cope with such event or help themselves.

The second and the easy to imagine is an unchaotic situation in which isolated persons or group suffers silently in a non-chaotic disaster such as hunger, epidemiology or brutal subjugation; and they are unable to cope or help themselves.

No matter which of these pictures come to your mind at the mention of the word ‘disaster’, it is important to know that disasters do not happen in the absence of hazards. Disaster happen when a hazard or hazards interacts with a vulnerable target.

In theory, disaster is said to arise from a combination of the presence of hazards, vulnerability and the absence of capacity or what in other term is referred to as preparedness and/or resilience. Hence, the term disaster is defined using the relationship between hazard, vulnerability and capacity.

The mathematical relationship between the four terms of disaster, hazard, vulnerability and capacity is given below:

Disaster = (Hazards + Vulnerability)/Capacity

This particular relationship will be fully examined in another article. The focus of this article is to explain the importance of hazard identification in disaster risks reduction.

Hazard turned into Mini-Disaster


Hazards, Definitions and Dimensions

The word hazard refers or is used to explain an abnormality in the order of things such that if left unchecked can result in harmful consequences, events or in extreme case, a disaster. Hazard can be (1) a situation, (2) an object, (3) a living agent, (4) a chemical substance, (5) a process, (6), a product, (7) a person, (8) a system and so on, which posed some degree of threats, danger or has potential to cause harm to human or other animals/plants lives, health, properties, environment and/or means of livelihoods.

Hazards are hard to imagine because a useful object can constitute a hazard. Also, a situation or an object that ordinarily may not constitute a hazard can become a hazard through a change of position or because of the age of the person interacting with it. In the same vein, the level of experience of a person handling a process can cause an entire process to become a hazard.

Also, humans are not naturally considered a hazard, but practical experiences prove that humans are the worse kinds of hazards. Why? Because, humans are dynamically unstable and capable of extreme manipulations and/or even physical abuse.

Hazards can also be considered from two important dimensions. First, the frequency at which the hazards occur (hazard frequency) or likelihood of occurrence; and the second dimension is the seriousness or magnitude of injury or harm caused when such hazards manifest. This two-dimensional consideration of hazards give rise to what is known as risk or a risk associated with the hazards.

Imperatively, the risk associated with any given hazard depends largely on the frequency or likelihood of occurrence and the seriousness or magnitude of harm caused by such a hazard, if they occur.

Flood Plain


Hazards Dynamics and Classifications

Another important aspect of hazard that I wish to introduce in this article is what I called hazard dynamic. Hazard dynamic or what is popularly known as hazard modes are sets or classes into which hazards can be placed based on the state.

In effects, hazards much like water can change state or can exist in different states. On the basis of modes or dynamics, hazards can be considered as dormant (the ice state), armed (the liquid state) and active (the steam state).

A hazard is dormant if it remains inactivated and there is no interaction between the dormant hazard and a vulnerable target. (Please, note that the word target as used here means anything that can be harm by hazards if such hazards are activated).

We can think of a dormant hazard as an electric heater inside its carton, yet inside a cupboard without any form of interaction with a target. But once the heater is removed from the cupboard, removed from the carton and plugged to a power or an electricity source, we said it is armed. We said armed because the possibility of causing harm or emergency has been increased through;

  1. The interaction between the heater and the electricity source;
  2. Interaction between the heater and the target (the person that plugged in the heater); and
  3. A combination of the both factors in (1) and (2) as well as the possibility of a power surge.

Finally, we can imagine the interaction between a toddler and the armed or plugged in heater. The toddler in this case is a vulnerable target because it has no idea of what harm the plugged heater is capable of causing. The moment the toddler touches the armed heater and scream, the hazard is live and an accident or emergency had occurred. Under this condition, we said that the hazard is active.

In technical term, an active hazard is a hazard that is already ravaging or wrecking harm on a vulnerable target. It’s always difficult to place an active hazard in hazards identification exercise because it is a pulse or the briefest interval between an armed hazard and an accident. The magnitude of this accident is what determines whether it rise to the degree of an emergence or a disaster.

An Active Hazard


Hazard Identification

Hazards identification are procedural or methodical approaches, techniques or sequences involved in gathering information or data about the identity of a hazard. This information or data could be the class of the hazard, the nature of hazard, the mode of hazard, the threats posed by the hazard—whether to lives, health, properties and/or environment. The process involves spotting, investigating, analyzing (where possible), documenting and/or recommending possible elimination or handling methods.

Hazards identification is an integral and a crucial part of disaster risks reduction (DRR) and disaster risks management (DRM) cycle.

Different methods had been employed in hazard identification exercise. These methods or techniques include the use of hazard identification checklist, brainstorming, hazard and operability (HAZOP), failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), dynamic method, structured what-if (SWIFT) and the FAST method. These methods or technique differs in a number of ways.

The choice of method or technique employed in hazard identification exercise depends on the environment where the identification is to be carryout, the hazard identification experts and the suitability of the method or technique to the surveying team of experts. See https://hubpages.com/business/Hazard-Identification-Step-of-Disaster-Risks-Reduction-DRR-Methods-Techniques-and-Tools-Part-1

Whichever method chosen, the purpose of all hazard identification exercise is to improve their application to decision-making in hazards, risks and vulnerability reduction. This is the central framework and a major theme in disaster risks reduction (DRR). Besides, it is the first and the most important stage in the disaster risks reduction strategy.

This is why hazard identification is a cornerstone in the disaster risks reduction strategy because if we don’t know the hazards and the risks the pose to our health, lives, properties, environment and means of livelihoods, we will not be able to prioritize or plan how to elimination or at minimum reduce these hazards and the impeding negative impacts.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Ajodo Endurance Uneojo


Ajodo Endurance Uneojo (author) from Lokoja, Nigeria. on November 24, 2020:

Thank you, FlourishAnyway for this encouraging comment.

I found the field really interesting, and I feel as well as know, that most problems or accident that occur in our environments would have been prevented if they were handled at hazard level.

Coronavirus for instance would have been prevented if it was treated as a hazard and handled. But because this didn't happen, the world had to go on a lockdown. It's a lesson the world need to learn.

The interesting thing is that the cost of handling a hazard is far less than the cost of handling disaster. But where I live, we careless about the hazards and wait until they because disasters. This is one of the reasons I am fascinated about hazards, disaster and how to create the needed awareness.

Again, thanks for your comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 24, 2020:

I haven't been introduced to these terms, but your explanations were superb. How fabulous that you are energized by this topic. We need more competent people like yourself to make this world safer from potential harm.

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