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Disaster Management of the 1997 Poland Flood

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Geography
Wordcount: 4940 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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This essay focuses on disaster response with the focus on flood of 1997 in Poland, with the focus on recovery, vulnerability and risks of the communities and my reflection using Rolfe et al. (2001) (Appendix 1). A definition of disaster and disaster management are discussed. Details of The Great Flood of 1997 in Poland are explored and compared to the flood in Czech Republic (CR) as well as application of the current literature and policies in UK are explored.

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A disaster can be defined as an unexpected disastrous event that extremely disrupts the life of an affected population and results in human, material, and economic or environmental losses which causes that the affected community may be unable to survive using its own resources (IFRC, unknown). Disaster can be caused by nature or as a result of human actions (WHO, 2002).

Coppola (2015) recognises three types of disaster: physical hazard (natural origin); technological hazard (origin in man-made actions) and intentional hazards (anthropogenic agent, e.g. earthquake). Physical hazard or natural hazard is a danger of a naturally happening event with a negative impact on community. This negative effect is commonly known as a natural disaster (Nelson, 2018), Example may include hurricanes (Ike in 2008), or earthquake (Chile in 1960) Natural hazards (and the resulting disasters) are the result of naturally occurring processes that have operated throughout Earth’s history (NIBR, 2006). However, increasingly more scientists are convinced that global climate change, which is increasing the frequency and intensity and hence, associated with natural hazards, is the result at least in part, of human activity (IPCC, 2007). Thus, are physical hazards all natural? Furthermore, technological hazard is outcome of modern, industrial world and is linked to manufacturing and nuclear materials (such as an explosion in the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in April 1986); the built environment, computers, and transportation system (such as plane crash in Poland in September 1993) (McEntire, 2015). Intentional hazards are considered as the consequence of “individual or a group of anti-social, anti-establishment manner to cause harm” (Coppola, 2015, p.42), such as terror attack by the soldier from Islamic State in Berlin in December 2016.

Crisis is an unusual circumstance that has foundation in the realized consequences of a hazard coupled with the drastically reduced managing devices of an affected community (Coppola, 2015). Such crises are characterised by starvation, disease, uncertainty, lack of housing and a gradually increasing number of victims. Clearly, the health and life of affected population are threatened, and consequences may be fatal (Coppola, 2015).

Disaster Management is a 4-stage approach (Coppola, 2015) that is defined as organization and management of resources and responsibilities. Moreover, it deals with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, specifically in a/Mitigation, b/Disaster preparedness, c/Response and d/Recovery (IFRCa, date unknown).  Mitigation refers to numerous actions, such as reducing the risk, minimalizing the loss or the lessening of potential negative effects associated to disasters (McEntire, 2015). Disaster preparedness is defined as the process to actions taken to get ready for and decrease the impacts of disasters. These processes may include to predict or possibly prevent disasters; lessen their effect on affected community; react and efficiently deal with the outcomes, in order to meet the needs of the affected population as much as possible (IFRCb, date unknown). Disaster response is referred to rescue from immediate danger and stabilize the physical and emotional state of those who survived (IFRCc, date unknown). One element of response is a relief, which is usually known in international disaster management. Furthermore, response also includes acting in order to lessen or remove the effect of disasters, to avoid further impacts, financial loss, or a mixture of both (Coppola, 2015). Finally, recovery includes taking survivors` lives back to a normal condition after the effect of disaster outcomes. This stage typically starts straight after the immediate response has been completed and may continue for months or years after the disaster (Coppola, 2015). The disaster response management include also actions such as creating and updating policies and regulations regarding disasters.

The development of science and technology lets us better understand and present the risk and vulnerability issues; its application of remote detecting techniques and GIS has helped enormously in disaster management (Shaw et.al, 2011).  Lessening risks and vulnerabilities are vital in preventing injuries, deaths, and damages related to disasters. Most countries stress on the post-disaster stages – response and recovery, even though every country, regardless of their wealth or facilities, can address the source of risks and vulnerability (Coppola, 2015).

Risk is defined as the likelihood of an incident happening multiplied by the consequence of the incident, where it happens: Risk = Likelihood × Consequence (Coppola, 2015).  Likelihood is a probability or a frequency, whichever is more appropriate depends on the analysis method, however commonly displayed as the same absolute value. Frequency is referred to the number of times an incident will or is expected to happen within a recognised sample size over a particular period of time (Coppola, 2015). The consequence is defined as the impacts of the risk on population, built structures, and the environment. When considering the consequences of a disaster, there are three aspects – human deaths/fatalities, human injuries and damages (costs stated typically in US dollars) (Coppola, 2015). Additionally, consequences may include direct or indirect effects and tangible/intangible effects of damages and losses depending on their impact in social and economic settings (Coppola, 2015).

Vulnerability can be described as the proneness to disasters or the incapability of organizations and communities to avoid or cope with them efficiently (McEntire, 2015); and is the reduced capacity of an individual or society to anticipate, deal with, fight and recover from the effects of natural or man-made hazards. It is commonly linked to poverty. However, it may similarly ascend when people are remote, insecure or powerless to the risk, shock or stress (IFRC, date unknow). Communities vary in their contact with risk depending on their social group, gender, ethnic origin, age and other factors. Instances of possibly vulnerable population comprise: displaced communities (often because of a sudden effect of a disaster), migrants, returnees (former migrants), other population – such as relegated, children or pregnant women (IFRC, date unknow). Vulnerability can differ in its forms, for instance, poverty can mean that accommodation is no longer able to resist a natural disaster (e.g.: earthquake/hurricane); or lack of readiness can cause a slower reaction to a disaster, causing a greater loss of life or prolonged suffering (IFRC, date unknow).

A technique for risk and vulnerability analysis may be defined as a method to investigating risks and vulnerabilities in an activity, a geographic area, or in a system. Some techniques contain both risk analysis and vulnerability analysis, whereas some are more appropriate to a specific systems or hardship. Risk and vulnerability may be analysed quantitatively (numerical data) and qualitatively (non-numerical data). In some circumstances, more methods can be analysed or mixed to gain suitable results, such as to use both qualitative and quantitative data and information (SCCA, 2012).

As occurrence and intensity of natural hazards and losses caused as a result have significantly increased globally and the vulnerability. The European Environmental Agency suggests that Central Europe is one of the most vulnerable to climate change (Pollner, 2012). In case of 1997 floods resulted almost EUR 5.6 billion in economic damages – in Poland (over 3 billion), in CR (1.8 billion) and the Slovak Republic (0.06 billion) (Pollner, 2012).

The Great flood of 1997 in Poland, was “the largest natural disaster in the 1000-year history of Poland”, with historic total maximum water level persisted for numerous days (Kundzewicz et al.,1999). It was so extensive and complex that cause many changes in socio-economic system and policies (ClimatechangePost, 2018). The event swamped 2.592 towns and villages (1.362 completely and 1.230 moderately flooded), 162,000 evacuated people, about 665,000 ha of land were underwater, including 480 bridges destroyed and 245 damaged (Kundzewicz et al.,1999). Significant difference, compared to affected CR – where floods are the most threatening natural hazard in the country (Klemesova et al, 2014) – with 9 causalities and huge material loss and 360 buildings had to be demolished as a result of flood (Vaishar, 2000).

Prior to Great Flood of 1997 were recorded only small-scale floods in Poland. At the time, both Poland and CR were still in the transition period, recovering from communism and working towards democracy after historical changes in 1989, which caused significant weakness in the understanding and preparedness of the country as flood vulnerability and hazard were at the bottom of the priority list for both the government and the general public (Kundzewicz et al.,1999). Thus, during the event the Blue Services were not able to cope efficiently with a massive flooding that seriously exceeded their expectations and competences, as disaster and post-disaster management response of the event was the biggest civil and military operation in Poland since the World War II and was the largest humanitarian action in the country`s history (ClimatechangePost, 2018).

The event pinpointed weaknesses in natural risks management, in many areas, such lack of readiness, structural actions and incompetent forecasting, monitoring and warning schemes, and most importantly pre-flood risk communication was extremely poor or missing (Konieczny et al., 2001) creating higher vulnerability to the affected population (IFRC, date unknow). After the disaster, government`s response was the establishment of a complex National Reconstruction and Modernization Programme (NRMP) including disaster response actioned in immediate, medium-term and long-term horizons (Kundzewicz et al., 1999). The budget designed for flood-related costs increased from US $24 million to US $145 million (Kundzewicz et al., 1999). An aid package for victims (whose accommodation was partially/completely damaged), included financial aid of about US $900, that was triple of the average net monthly wage (Kundzewicz et al., 1999). Compared to CR, where government thru local authority offered the threshold equal to 16 times of average net annual salary (Finance.cz, 2017; MVCR, 1997).  Indeed, this event of 1997 in Poland caused a huge shock waves as a result of poor organisation and emergency response during evacuation and the high number of casualties. Moreover, the general public accused the government for the poor structural actions in the early stages and during the flood per se (Kaufmann et al. 2016). It took few days until the government realised the significance of the flood and started to act. Substantial emergency responses began, consisting 35.000 staff, many volunteers, 76 helicopters, 4 planes, and 387 boats. Military staff and emergency agencies saved lives and provided food, water and other supplies to the victims. The government understood that external help from abroad was required, and the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UNDHA) reached Poland soon after (Kaufmann et al. 2016).

If this flood happened now in the UK, I would follow Joint Doctrine: the interoperability framework and its principles (Appendix 2) (JESIP, 2016). The actions would consist of a typical system for incident response and information flow between agencies and their control rooms, known as M/ETHANE (Appendix 3) as well as Joint Decision Model (JDM) - A typical model applied nationally to allow emergency services personnel to response effectively and make joint decisions (JESIP, 2016).  METHANE improves communications and information flow in order to make efficient decisions fast by multiple agencies; and the Joint Decision Model Improves collective situational consciousness and knowledge of the emergency and the challenges handled (Flagan, 2014). All elementary safety processes would need be understood, and Joint Incident Commanders need to make sure that all staff follow JESIP and the health and safety policies during every stage. At the scene, it would be vital to commence an assessment of METHANE to use a clear command and control procedures as per JESIP principles and spread the outcome of assessment to the appropriate blue light services and other agencies (Sussex Resilience Forum, 2017).Thanks to JESIP, there is an assurance that blue services are involved and cooperate, and the Government has its central function to own and monitor what JESIP created is needed. Blue light services and other agencies often manage intervention independently and are not coordinated well, yet the attempts of cooperation can be seen in some cases. Such disorganisations often cause delays and inefficiencies in the delivery and management of the incidents; and create lags, gaps, and inaccuracies in communication between agencies that is the crucial part of the response and recovery (Coppola, 2015).

If similar project as JESIP would be in Poland, it could make sure the three emergency response services cooperate efficiently to keep the public safe, especially during key incidents or events (see Appendix 4). The Ambulance Services are primarily responsible for triage and decontamination of contaminated victims at the scene. The fundamental role of the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) is saving life, protecting property and the environment from fire and other disasters, and offering humanitarian services. The Police provides the general organisation of activity at the scene as well as the responsibility for the communication with the media (JESIP, 2018). Joint Doctrine is considered to be the best practice that has never been developed and recognised before. The key is to make sure the respectable work JESIP has created will continue and that blue light and other agencies will more plan and work closely together, while being trained, would test and practice together, that is the best way to progress cooperation (Flanagan, 2014). JESIP training is carried out locally and it is recommended to encourage services to work with their local emergency agencies if possible and needed (Flanagan, 2014).

In Poland case, the better co-ordination and management in early stages which JESIP pinpoints is vital. The research suggests that it is the operational and tactical personnel who make the difference, thus they are those who `need the support of a more co-ordinated approach to major incident response` (Flagan, 2014).  In Poland, is currently the mixture of European Union legislations and long-term policies (Matczak et al, 2016), however, the advancement of non-structural actions, such as planning, monitoring, or risk communication, is still moderately slow (Zelazinski, 2010) and the foreseen increase in flooding occurrence (Parry et al., 2007) requires the rise of more sophisticated measures (Działek et al, 2013). Until 2014, Poland used mostly a technical-infrastructural method to Flood Risk Management (FRM). Current Polish Flood Risk Governance Arrangement (FRGA) is split with underdeveloped mechanisms, because specific aspects of FRM are connected to different ministries – each having their own priorities. Flood risk management is still in its initial phases. The Flood Directive was created by the National Water Management Authority and is currently applying to a national IT system to defend the nation against flood threats. The part of the project were preparation of hazard and risk maps started to be employed and used by crisis management and emergency agencies (Kaufmann et al, 2016, Matczak et al, 2016).

Indeed, such actions should include detailed steps for local and national communities. However, national agencies in Poland stated that a modification is necessary, particularly in the clear understanding of the flooding, and the dominant approach, which is often actioned with typical old habits (Kaufmann et al, 2016). In CR, the traditional technical solutions of flood protection, that is not sustainable in the long-term (Bradford et al, 2012); is steadily but slowly changing to flood management move towards integrated method (Haidu & Nicoara, 2011). One of the tools for the assessment and management for floods was introduced by the European Union in 2007 (Kemesova et al, 2014). This includes the formation of flood maps created in GIS. Such maps, that are the first step to better disaster communication (Hagemeier-Klose & Wagner, 2009) may benefit to water management for experts, government and the public.

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Strategies for flood protection and management in Poland suggested by Kundzewicz et al. (1999) include the following: 1/ to adapt  vulnerability  to flood  damage regulations,  land-use planning  and management, such as disaster eventuality planning, self-protection  actions for the effected population, flood  predicting  and caution systems, better knowledge  and education  about  flooding and  the actions taken in emergencies; 2/ adapt flood defence infrastructure; 3/ adapt  the effect  of floods (from early stages up to recovery stage) uncovering  of the probability  of a flood  creating,  predicting  of upcoming water level and flow settings grounded on practical  hydrometeorological  observations, warning distributed to the local and national  authorities and to the communities, the appropriate actions  by the authorities and the public, the evacuation management, post-flood  recovery  and regeneration  of the affected areas, review of the flood  management  and planning  in order to improve emergency response in the future (Kundzewicz et al.,1999).


Appendix 1:  Reflective statement

I would reflect my experience using Rolfe et al.’s model (2001). At the time of this disaster, I was student (not studying paramedicine). I have never experienced such event, but details transmitted by media has stuck in my mind forever. The biggest shock was when local government informed public “there is nothing to worried about”. Polish government didn’t respond immediately and even blamed people for not having home insurance. The thing that affected me the most was, how incredibly people started to help each other in life-threatening situations and how we should never ignore mother nature. What I have learnt from this module is that in such disasters, correct polices, disaster management processes; the cooperation of blue lights services and training of all staff involved including public awareness are the key tools.

Appendix 2: The five principles




Appendix 3: METHANE

Appendix 4: JESIP

(Source: JESIP, 2018)



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