The terms “emergency”¯, “disaster”¯ and catastrophe”¯ have very much in common. All three terms denote some sudden event that leads to negative consequences in the life of a society causing losses in human and material resources, or environmental losses. All three terms can be used in emergence management. However, there are certain differences in the nature of meaning of these terms. According to Brenda D. Phillips, David M. Neal and Gary R. Webb, some events that occur in our life are “day to day emergencies, others are disasters, and on rare occasions some events are catastrophes”¯ (33). As a rule, disaster is larger than emergency, but smaller than catastrophe.
Emergencies occur very often in the life of a community or society and can be handled locally. In most cases, emergency is predictable. It means that there are special organizations which are ready to respond to this or that local emergency. Emergency response situations include not only car accidents and house fires, but also heart attacks. That is why emergency response organizations can generally predict the situation and anticipate their needs (resources and people). For example, such holidays as New Year’s Day and Independence Day are “the busiest days of the year for firefighters”¯ (PhillipsĀ et al. 34). Fireworks and outdoor fires on these days can be predicted by the firefighters. That is why these emergency situations can be effectively managed. Some situations require outside help. For example, in case of a large fire, the neighboring fire departments will help to fight the fire blocking it, if it is spread within the city.
However, the term “disaster”¯ has another nature. Although it can be applied to some negative and destructive event as well as emergencies, this event is always unpredictable. One of the definitions is the following: a disaster is a large number of sudden and destructive events that lead to serious disruption of the functioning of the community and cause not only widespread human and material losses, but also serious environmental losses. In most cases, a community or a society have no enough resources to cope with disaster (Redmond 126). There are several types of disasters: natural disasters, which include such climatic events as storms, flood, drought, geographic disasters: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, and biologic disasters: insect infestations, epidemics (swine fever, bird flu), and man-made disasters, when damage is caused by people, for example an airliner crashed into residential neighborhood (Bumgarner 11).
Catastrophes are larger than disasters and have a regional impact. Some examples of catastrophes that are connected with industry failures include Kuwait Oil Fires in 1991when over 900 oil wells burnt producing huge clouds of smoke and massive oil lakes in the region; AIDS amplification in Africa when the greater part of the population suffered from the increased HIV infection rate; numerous pipeline fires which caused hundreds of deaths (Mark 73). The main difference between a catastrophe and disaster is that catastrophic incidents often occur in large metropolitan regions due to the high concentration of people and infrastructure.Ā One of the examples is a category 5 hurricane, which stroke an undeveloped area and created less damage than a category 3 hurricane that hit a large city. Hurricane Katrina of 2006 can be considered a catastrophe because it had enormous impact on the life of the society. About 80% of New Orleans was flooded and the greater part of the territory along the Mississippi coast had extensive storm surge damage. Local emergency response organizations had no opportunity to respond to this event. The lives of the citizens were totally disrupted. Outside help had problems in arriving and performing operations (Phillips et al. 36). Ā It means that the major differences between a disaster and a catastrophe are that a catastrophic incident focuses on the event’s impact, scope and severity and has large scale consequences, including severe national implications in economy and infrastructure, while disasters have less impact and scope.
To sum up, the terms “emergency”¯, “disaster”¯ and “catastrophe”¯ are widely used in emergency management because all of them have direct relation to the negative events that sometimes occur in our society. All of them are connected with sufferings of people, deaths and destruction. However, it is very important to use these terms in concrete situations. Tornado, hurricane, flood, explosion and, as a result, destroyed buildings and bridges, demolished roads and electric and water systems are associated with disasters. Hundreds of injured and killed, lack of local resources to respond to the event and the necessity of external help are associated with catastrophes. Everyday predictable negative events, such as house fires, car accidents, etc., are associated with emergencies.