Disaster forensics: Detecting best practice

Disaster forensics—learning about the successes and failures in disaster risk management and resilience—will be vital if we are to adapt to our changing world. The IIASA Risk and Resilience Program have helped develop a new methodology, known as the post-event review capability (PERC) approach, for systematically analyzing disaster events and identifying actionable recommendations.

The risk of disasters such as floods is on the rise, and there is an urgent need to improve our understanding and response to these events. The PERC methodology—developed by IIASA, the Zurich Insurance Group, and the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International—systematically and holistically analyzes disasters, helping those in the field to learn from successes and failures in disaster risk management and resilience. It also helps to uncover the underlying drivers of increasing risk. Unique in the disaster forensics field because of its policy-oriented and holistic focus, the PERC methodology is designed to generate objective, politically neutral insights and actionable recommendations in a policy-relevant timeframe following a disaster event.

The PERC approach has been applied seven times to date: for the floods in southern Germany in 2016; the floods in Columbia and Charleston, USA in 2015; the floods in Benevento, Italy in 2015; flooding and storm damage from storm Desmond in the UK in 2015; the floods in Algarve, Portugal in 2015; the floods in Guelmim and Sidi Ifni, Morocco in 2014; the floods in Karnali, Nepal in 2014; the floods in Emmental, Switzerland 2014; the Balkan floods (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia) in 2014; storm Xaver in the UK in 2013; the Boulder floods in the USA 2013; the Central European floods in 2013 (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, and Switzerland).

By carrying out a meta-analysis of these different case studies, IIASA researchers demonstrated that policymakers and practitioners in disaster risk management face strikingly similar challenges across the globe, despite their different contexts. This indicates that there is good potential for mutual learning.

The case studies also highlight the importance of integrated risk reduction strategies, which combine risk reduction (e.g., building dikes), preparedness (e.g., early warning systems), and risk financing (e.g., insurance).

IIASA researchers are now encouraging others in disaster risk management to use the PERC approach—which is freely available to all—and to contribute to building a repository of learning for disaster risk management and resilience.


[1] Keating A, Venkateswaran K, Szoenyi M, MacClune K, & Mechler R (2016). From event analysis to global lessons: disaster forensics for building resilience. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 16: 1603-1616.