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Book Review
Hazard Reduction:
Developing an all-hazards capability

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2001-2

Review of:

Geological Hazards: Their assessment, avoidance and mitigation

by : Fred G. Bell (1999)

E & FN Spon, London
ISBN: 0-419-16970-9

Reviewed by: Douglas Paton
School of Psychology,
Massey University
New Zealand

The reduction, readiness and decision-making functions of contemporary emergency management take place in an environment characterised by the existence of numerous and diverse natural and (non-natural) hazards. Consequently, the effective management of these functions requires the adoption of an all-hazards approach. In other words, it is necessary to identify the similarity of effects that occur across the range of potential hazards that could occur within a specific jurisdiction. By developing an all-hazards approach, it becomes possible to develop more parsimonious and, importantly, adaptable plans, and to utilise scarce resources more efficiently. The pursuance of this task requires the availability of a comprehensive compendium of hazard information from which all-hazards plans and reduction and response capability can be developed. Bell's Geological Hazards provides such a resource. While not specifically identifying its target audience, the emphasis placed by this volume on mitigation or reduction make the contents particularly applicable to emergency managers and planners. It is from this perspective that this review is written.

Although dealing with highly complex phenomena, the content of this volume is readily accessible by non-specialists, those in management roles, or those generally seeking a better understanding of geohazard phenomena. Extensive references are provided at the end of each chapter to direct further reading or to pursue specific issues in more detail. The discussion of hazards is both comprehensive and critical and Bell does a good job of clarifying the complexity and uncertainty inherent in the study of geohazards. This critical focus further enhances the utility of this volume as an aid to comprehensive, all-hazards planning.

In addition to providing an introduction to the core issues in natural hazard assessment and planning, Bell discusses hazards, their assessment and their reduction under several generic categories. This text adopts the UNESCO definition of a natural hazard as the probability of occurrence within a specified period of time and within a given area of a potentially damaging phenomenon.

The volume opens with a discussion of geohazard assessment and planning. Assessment issues are tackled from both conceptual (e.g., risk management) and practical (e.g., remote sensing, GIS) perspectives. The incorporation of the outcomes of these processes within the planning process is also briefly discussed, as is a summary of structural and non-structural hazard reduction methods. Although brief, this discussion provides an introduction to the application of these processes in relation to each of the hazards reviewed in subsequent chapters.

There then follows a comprehensive review of hazards within a series of generically titled chapters. The chapter on volcanic activity addresses issues such as eruption types and products (e.g., pyroclasts, lava flows, lahars) and summarises contemporary work on prediction and volcanic hazard management. In regard to earthquake activity, Bell discusses seismic phenomena, how they interact with the built environment to generate their consequences, and the implications of these interactions for reduction and planning activities. Under the heading of mass ground movement, Bell discusses hazards that result from, for example, soil creep, landslides and slope instability. Bell also reviews hazards associated with problem soils (e.g., expansive clays, collapsible soils, frozen soils) and soil loss, erosion and desertification, and ground subsidence (e.g., from abandoned mining). In his chapter on wind action, Bell reviews hazards emanating from, for example, movement of dust and sand, desert dunes, salt weathering, stream action in arid and semi-arid regions, and flooding and sediment problems. In regard to hazards associated with water, Bell addresses issues relating to river and marine action. In regard to the former, he discusses fluvial processes, flooding, and run off. In regard to hazards originating within the marine environment, Bell discusses, for example, wave and tidal action, storm surges, and issues relating to beach and shore inundation. Bell also discusses another hazard linked to water, groundwater pollution (e.g., groundwater quality, pollution, leachate from landfill, salinity, nitrate pollution, and effluent). The final type of hazard activity discussed is that relating to waste and its disposal (e.g., domestic refuse, hazardous and radioactive waste and contaminated land). In addition to provide comprehensive and critical reviews of each of the hazard activity that falls within each type, Bell also provides comprehensive discussions of mitigation activities that can be used within risk reduction and planning strategies.

The comprehensive and critical review of the complexity and uncertainty associated with hazard activity and its implications for the reduction strategies and planning required to manage them makes this book an essential resource for those in emergency management and planning. However, despite the wealth of material covered, the effective and comprehensive attainment of the goal of avoiding and mitigating hazards requires that the contents be supplemented with material addressing both the social context in which mitigation or reduction occurs and the managerial activities required to realise reduction goals in practice.

Integrating hazard knowledge within the planning process requires due cognisance of the manner in which populations interpret these phenomena. While the complexities of risk perception and the differences in the outcomes of this activity across professional and lay groups was alluded to in the chapter on assessment and planning, additional attention to this would have increased the utility of this volume as a planning resource particularly in relation to the acceptance of, and the adoption of, the reduction strategies discussed.

While periodic reference is made to the social context, discussion does not provide reference points for the subsequent integration of technical, structural and social perspectives. Yet, this is essential if recommendations are to be acted upon. At a general level, community acceptance of strategies that involve public expenditure will require public consultation and an understanding of the mechanisms that drive this acceptance. More specifically, facilitating the adoption of measures to reduce risk can only occur if social dynamics are accommodated within the planning process. For example, research examining the public adoption of measures to reduce salinity and to develop resilience to volcanic hazard consequences has emphasised the need for the integration of technical and social solutions (Bishop et al., 2000; Paton et al., 2001). The utilisation of the comprehensive descriptions of hazard phenomena and their reduction contained within this text can also be facilitated by integrating them with the decision analysis and response planning mechanisms required to fully utilise their content (e.g., Paton et al., 1999).

While such integrated analysis was not a primary objective of this volume, fully realising the goals inherent in the title requires that those charged with the responsibility of implementing the recommendations contains within Bell's text do. Notwithstanding the need for this complementary material, Bells text represents an excellent and accessible review of diverse hazard phenomena and one that should be regarded as essential reading for anyone requiring a detailed and comprehensive summary of hazard phenomena and who is grappling with the complexities of developing all-hazards plans and response capabilities.


Bishop, B., Paton, D., Syme, G and Nancarrow, B (2000) Coping with environmental degradation: Salination as a community stressor. Network, 12, 1-15.

Paton, D., Johnston, D., Houghton, B., Flin, R., Ronan, K., and Scott, B. (1999) Managing Natural Hazard Consequences: Information management and decision making. Journal of the American Society of Professional Emergency Managers, 6, 37-48.

Paton, D., Millar, M., and Johnston, D. (2001) Community Resilience to Volcanic Hazard Consequences. Natural Hazards, 24, 157-169.


Douglas Paton © 2001. The author assigns to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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