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Combined Review on Natural & Social Disasters

five books on social disasters, natural hazards...
Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - Karl H. Wolf, B.Sc. (Canada), Ph.D. (Australia), D.Sc. (USA), Emeritus Professor of Geology, Springwood, NSW 2777, Australia


Combinational review-essay of five books on social disasters, natural hazards, damage & location, geographic uncertainty, remote-sensing mapping of hazardous terrains, and fractal analysis of the latter


Karl H. Wolf, B.Sc. (Canada), Ph.D. (Australia), D.Sc. (USA), Emeritus Professor of Geology, Springwood, NSW 2777, Australia




(1)  Handbook of Disaster Research, edited by Havidian Rodriquez, Enrico L. Quarantelli and Russell R. Dynres, Springer Verlag, New York, 2007, 611 pp., ISBN 978-0-387-73952-6 and e-ISBN 978-0-387-32353-4

(2)  The Relationship Between Damage and Localization, edited by H. Lewis and G.D. Couples, Geological Society of London, Special Publication No. 289, 2007, 247 pp., ISBN 978-1-86239-236-6

(3)  Geographic Uncertainty in Environmental Security, edited by Ashley Morris and Svitlana Kokhan, Springer Verlag, Amsterdam and Dortrecht, The Netherlands, 2007, 287pp., ISBN 979-1-4020-6437-1 (pbk) and ISBN 978-1-4020-6438-8 (e-book)

(4)  Mapping Hazardous Terrain Using Remote Sensing, edited by R.M. Teeuw, Geological Society of London, Special Publication No. 283,2007, 169pp., ISBN 978-1-86239-229-8

(5)  Fractal Analysis for Natural Hazards, by G. Cello and B.D. Malamud, Geological Society of London, Special Publication No. 261, ISBN 10: 1-86239-201-3

(6)  Brief comparative/contrastive overview of the five books


The above five books deal with a spectrum of social and natural environmental topics, yet in combination are offering a unified (even if, by necessity, partly incomplete) disaster-hazard-context, as the keywords in each of the titles indicate. The books cannot be compared/contrasted as they supplement each other through the authors’ different preferentially chosen style of research approach. Some books, especially the first one, deal mainly with the social conundrums (effects, results) of disasters, hazards, catastrophes, accidents, calamities, crises, cataclysms, …, whereas the others deal selectively with the physical aspects, and a third group emphasizes research methodologies.  The sequence of reviews-presentation is from the book with the broadest approach to the one with the most particular-topic information.


(1) Handbook of Disaster Research

Introduction. Without doubt (paraphrasing): ‘this Handbook may be the most important publication of this decade as the experts of the disaster community have shared in 32 chapters their multi-disciplinary knowledge on important topics of the days, addressing international practitioners as well as academics, theoreticians, researchers, sociologists, management professionals, and students of disaster, hazard, and catastrophe planning, prevention, and response. The book documents the present accomplishments of research of numerous non-scientific social and humanities-related disciplines or knowledge domains, pointing to the needs for further investigation. An overview of the scientific and technologies was not the aim.’ However, absolutely see the two caveats below.

Contents.  Three Forewords, respectively be the US National Academics’ Research Council, a Member of Congress, and a member of UNICEF of Geneva, an excellent 7-page Editors’ Introduction, Acknowledgements, and a list of the Contributors are followed by the Contents and the 32 chapters plus an excellent 70-page References and a too-meagre Index.

This mini-encyclopedic compilation is a rather important contribution so that it may be of advantage to cover the Contents beyond the usual shorter version by listing the more significant topics of all chapters (using some subheadings; no authors listed):

1.     What is a disaster? Kind, type, context and of definition?; classical period of its evolution; hazards-disaster tradition; agenda; for future research;

2.     A heuristic approach to future disasters and crisis: new, old, and in-between types. Not new social phenomena; societal interpretations and responses; systematic studies are new; different conceptions; new kinds of disasters/crises; nature of new happenings; possible future ‘trans-system social ruptures’; differentiated and changing social setting; social amplifications; full range of all disasters/crises; implications; the future of the future; conclusions;

3.     The crisis approach. Nature of crisis; theoretical aspects; ubiquity of crisis; crisis management: crucial leadership issues;

4.     Methodological issues. Field studies (timing, access); survey research; documentary research; generalizability; research outside North America; ethical issues;

5.     The role of geographic information systems/remote sensing in disaster management. Disaster spatial decision support systems; GIS applications: examples; risk assessment; information sharing; vulnerability mapping; trends and future needs;

6.     Morbidity and mortality associated with disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, heat, ice and snow, wildfires, terrorism; note on psychological morbidity;

7.     Race, class, ethnicity, and disaster vulnerability. Theorizing inequalities; race and ethnicity; class and political economic transformations; research focusing on race and class and vulnerability; race/class/environmental justice;

8.     Gender and disaster: foundations and directions. Theoretical approaches; key empirical findings (class/gender, gender violence, gender division of labor, women’s grassroots strategies); international perspectives; knowledge gaps and future research;

9.     Globalization and localization: an economic approach. Globalization, business cycle, vulnerability; disaster localization; macroeconomic argument; model for localized disaster; vulnerability in the context of globalization; impact prevention; response mechanisms; compensatory/anticipatory response; social exclusion; business cycle synchronization;

10.  Local emergency management organization. Context in the US; history and functions; involvement with official partners; participating emergent groups; organizations in other nations; current challenges/future opportunities; research needs;

11.  Community processes: warning and evacuation. Evacuation as a community process; changing technologies and social context of warnings; research record and major findings; societal characteristics; organizational response; behavior in evacuations;

12.  Search and rescue activities in disasters. Knowledge about search and rescue; social actors; cultural/social arrangements; survival; behavior of victims; ecological factors (earthquakes: building collapses; NASA accidents) World Trade Center  & Pentagon; research gaps;

13.  Community processes: coordination. Community process: coordination; problem identification: fragmentation; Objects of study & basic principles; coordination strategies; future agenda; 

14.  Sustainable disaster recovery: operationalizing an existing agenda. Review of disaster recovery literature; defining disasters recovery; sustainability & disaster recovery; characteristics of successful plans; State and Federal recovery planning; toward a ‘theory of recovery’ and new implementation framework; sustainability;

15. Sheltering and housing recovery following disaster. Sheltering and temporary housing; permanent housing; future research;

16.  Businesses and disasters: vulnerability, impact, and recovery. Extreme evidence cases; disasters: impacts on businesses; business recovery & longer-term impacts; research needs;

17.  Organizational adaptation to disaster. Organized responses: from DRC typology to formal structural code; broader issues; integrated research strategy to increased readiness;

18.  Community innovation and disasters. Concepts & definition; community innovation; innovation across disaster phases; facilitating & obstructing innovation; uncertainties;

19.  Disaster and development research and practice: a necessary eclecticism? Meaning of “disaster’ and “development”; practices of planning/management; sustainability; livelihoods approach & social capital; reconciliation;

20.  National planning and response: national systems. Historical roots; review of contemporary research; Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines; Future developments of risk management;

21.  Disaster and crisis management in transitional societies: commonalities and peculiarities. Historical background; hypotheses and propositions; bureaucratic-politics; transitional vulnerability;

22.  Terrorism as disaster. Homeland Security Council’s 15 planning scenarios; nature/purpose of terrorism; terrorism disaster responses (Oklahoma city bombing, 9/11 attacks); weapons of mass destruction; challenges and future research agenda;

23.  Recent developments in US Homeland Security policies and their implications for the management of extreme events. Post-September 11 policy landscape; presidential directions; reinforcing pre-September 11 trends: militarization and stovepipes;

24.  Unwelcome irritant or useful ally? The mass media in emergencies. Media response to disasters’ convergence; media myths; effect of new reports; audience; warnings and rumor control; emergency information’ media, victims, and relatives; specialized audiences; newer media (blogs); media specialists;

25.  The popular culture of disaster: exploring a new dimension of disaster research. Structural bias of disaster research; cultural strain of disaster research; conceptualizing the popular culture of disaster; rationale for studying the popular culture of disaster; future research needs;

26.  Remembering: community commemoration after disaster. Rituals, grief and mourning; spontaneous expressions of grief; connectedness in life and death; searching and identifying: physical/emotional activity; body recovery and management: repersonalizing the dead; religion, ritual and remembrance; conspicuous compassions or collective comfort? Formal memorial services; anniversary events; permanent memorials; community control and consultation; remembering: as recovery; remembering: the future;

27.  Research applications in the classroom. Current research applications in the classroom; review of relevant syllabi; the challenges; solutions and approaches (research centers); promising national initiatives; selected syllabi review; discipline-specific use of research: sociology; internationalizing the US curriculum; international initiatives: practitioner sector; 

28.  From research to praxis: the relevance of disaster research for emergency management. Present resources; current applications; definitions—referents; planning principles; organizational behavior; communication; cooperative efforts and sampled results; reaching out: from praxis to research; what now?;

29.  Communication risk and uncertainty: science, technology, and disasters at the crossroads. Communicating risk and warnings; model for the communication of risk; mass media and communication of risk and warnings; technology and communication of risk and warnings; future research needs;

30.  Crisis management in the 21st century: “unthinkable” events in “inconceivable” contexts. Paradigm shift (new frontiers, emerging crises); generic challenges (discontinuity, ignorance, massive domino effects, high-speed-contagion, erratic effects, submerged information, citizen at frontline, global dynamics, loss of orientation, governance—not communication, rationality to wager); the trap: fear and paralysis (resistance); testing: the resistance (four handicaps: intellectual, managerial, governance, psychological, plus straightjacket to daily routines); creative dynamics needed; building fundamental strengths (radical change in intellectual approach, highest involvement required, civil society back in loop, training); immediate creative initiatives; preparation of senior management, active partnerships, bold initiatives); research needs’ perspectives;

31.  New dimensions: the growth of a market in fear. Contemporary culture of fear; specifying the experience of fear (problem, unstable free-floating, problem of meaning; market of fear; and

32.  Disaster ever more? Reducing US vulnerabilities. Organizations: permanent failing; more promising response: reducing vulnerabilities (decentralizing chemical storage and populations plus organizations); interconnectedness; four examples of efficient, reliable decentralized system.

The chapters are followed by the superb 70-page References and a shorter Index. A quick impression: what an excellent overview of the American approaches to disasters!

Style of presentation. The text, figures and tables are good. The chapters are logically divided and sub-headed – the subheadings ought to be part of the Contents for allowing a quick overview of the book. Perhaps more graphics (various types of diagrams, flow charts, models, etc.) and comparative/contrastive-style tables plus bulleted lists could have been utilized.

Two caveats. One of the caveats to be pointed out has been highlighted, namely (a) the book deals almost exclusively with social and humanities-related aspects, i.e. hardly any of the scientific/technological physical disaster phenomena are dealt with. This is such a conspicuously large domain in its own right that a separate book of equal, or even larger, size is required. (b) The second caveat to be unequivocally lies in the fact that the social concepts (or hypotheses, theories, philosophies) are based, also almost exclusively,  on American schools-of-thought. None of foreign conceptual orientations are utilized. Through correspondence, a Central American researcher emphasized to me that, for instance, several German social, risk-management, and related philosophies ought to be considered in the future – because they are proffering a counter (or at least a cognitive/intellectual balance or alternative) to the (I quote) ‘old-fashioned American view of social science’.

In so far as this hyper-type book review is available on the Internet for various styles of ‘modification’ -- such as expansion, criticism, correction, alternative viewpoints, … -- I am listing here a few of the German references. Hopefully, an expert will take the challenge to comparatively-cum-contrastively tackle the American vs. German (and other schools’) disaster-contextual social and risk analysis philosophies. See:

● Bennet, R.J. 1984. Systemanalyse und Umwelt-Management: Entwicklung and Zukunftstendenzen. Mitteilungen der Österreischen Geographischen Gesellschaft, Band 126, 29-49. (Absolutely see his holistic/integrative Information System and Decision-Making models plus References.)

● Habermas, J., 1981. Theorie des Kommunitativen Handels, Volumes 1 & 2. Band 1.  Handlungsrationalitat und Gesellschaftliche Rationalisierung. Band 2. Zur Kritik der Funktionalistischen Vernunft. Surkamp, Frankfurt, Germany.

● Luhrmann, N., 2003. Soziologie Des Risikos. Walter De Gruyter Inc., 252pp. (See his numerous other books.)

● Renn, O. Schweizer, P.J., Dryer, M. & Klinke, A., 2007. Risiko: Über den Gesellschaftlichen Umgang Mit Unsiderheit. Oekom Verlag, 271pp.

● Renn, O., 2008. Coping With Uncertainty in a Complex World; Risk Governance. Earthscan Ltd. (See his other 30 books.)

Types and extent of disasters considered. Among the many types of natural and man-made disasters there is not one type that has been ignored – see Fig. 32.1. Types of disasters for ‘Natural, Unintended and Deliberated disasters’. Recommendation: prepare a Disaster Typology Matrix based on space (size/scale: ranging from spot/local to regional and global) vs. time (duration: ranging from instant through medium time span to longtime and geological time ranges).

The types of disasters (all eventually to be dealt with hostically, systems analytically, cybernetically—see below for comment) considered in the Handbook are (haphazardly listed): earthquakes, tsunamis, marine accidents, various environmental/ecological disasters, fires/wild fires, avalanches, landslides, mudflows, rock falls, volcanism-related, asteroid/comet and outer-space chunk impacts on earth, agricultural disasters, weather/climatic disasters (e.g. heat waves, floods, hurricanes/tornadoes, blizzards, snow-ice storms, extreme frosts, smog hazes) industrial disasters (e.g. biological, physical, chemical, nuclear-types; such as structural collapses, explosions, poisoning, pollution), medical/health disasters (e.g. famines, genetic bioengineering mishaps, nano-technological mishaps, …), terrorism and wars (armed conflicts, including ethnic strives, genocides, hostage situations), technological disasters (computer system failures, city electricity system/power grid collapses), social-based deleterious situations (e.g. protesting rioters, ghetto riots, stampeding people, mass shootings, delivery strikes, traffic disruptions, …), political system collapses, among others.

Effects of disasters summarized. The effects are partly deducible from the just-listed types of disasters ranging across the whole spectrum-cum-continuum of disruptive and calamitous effects on society and communities, political and economic systems plus other infrastructures like health systems, traffic and communication, all ranging in size/scale from local spots to cities, regions, countries, and even the whole world. Effects and responses are physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual/religious on individuals, groups, and masses of people. Global economic disasters, of course, can affect the whole world, as demonstrated by the recent 2008/09 money-market, investment and related collapses.  Not to forget are the global system disasters we are expecting through climate changes, global warming, resource depletions, and so forth.

Methodologies and research ignored. Although this encyclopedic Handbook  is complete in its presentation and analysis-cum-discussion of a rather huge amount of data, and consequently the editors plus authors have absolutely well-accomplished their aim and purpose, allow the following comments related to potential future research. There are at least two parts to be considered here: (a) from the systems analytical and cybernetic (note that several near-synonymous terms/expressions also have been used) viewpoint; and (b) perhaps from the human in combination with physical geography viewpoint, as done by Bennett (1984)..

Although the words ‘systems, complexity, order/disorder, chaos, fuzzy logic, hierarchy, integration, unifying approach, networks, emergence, linearity, self-regulation, feedback, organizational and operational theory, expert systems, prediction, …’ were occasionally mentioned in many of the chapters, there are too few – and only implicitly mentioned – references to these numerous specific, more-recently-developed types of research methodologies, concepts, hypotheses, and theories. For example, theories of complexity, chaos, self-organization, emerging, uncertainty, attractors, entropy, hierarchy, fractal mathematics, among numerous others, ought to have been considered in the context of hazard/disaster research, even if only briefly. Indeed, many of the authors of the Handbook request ‘further empirical exploration’ and outline ‘future research agenda’. Although many of the above concepts/theories were developed in the physical sciences, many publications are available referring to social problems.

To explain further:  even preferentially social-only selected disaster research comprises a whole spectrum of all the scientific (basic and derived/hybrid types), technological and humanistic toolkits. Thus, it stands to reason that the social complexities must eventually be tackled by the modern systems analytical, cybernetic, integrative, synectic, comparative/contrastive, … theoretical and practical philosophies.

I suggest, of the dozens of books available, to commence with the following:

● Union of International Associations, 1995. Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, Vols. 1, 2 and 3. K.G. Saur Publishers, Munich and London. (See over 40 entries on disasters, catastrophes, and hazards, among others. See also my reviews in: Journal of Documentation, 1998, Vol. 54, No. 4, Sept. ’98, 520-523; Social Behavior & Personality, 1998, Vol. 26, No. 4, 407-408; and Contemporary Psychology, 1998, Vol. 43, No. 9, 604-606.)

● François, C., 2004 (2nd edition). International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics. K.G. Saur, Munich and London. (See entries of ‘DISASTERS: a systemic approach’, cindynics, among others. See also my reviews in: International Journal of General Systems, 2005, Vol. 34, No. 3, June ’05, 321-324; Journal of Documentation, 2005, Vol. 61, No. 5, 672-675; Human Systems Management, 2005, Vol. 24, 117-119; and The Australian Geologist Newsletter, 2005, No. 134, 49-50.)

● Érdi, P., 2008. Complexity Explained. Springer Verlag, 397pp. (See my review in the International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 37, No. 5, Oct. ’08, 637-639.)

● Mainzer, K., 2007 5th edition). Thinking in Complexity: the Computational Dynamics of Matter, Mind and Mankind. Springer Verlag, 482pp. (See my review in the International Journal of General Systems, 2009, in press.)


(b) Refer also to the numerous physical geography books on systems engineering studies, unifying principles, and modeling dealing with time/space phenomena directly applicable to disaster studies (even if restricted to social problems) (see Bennett, 1984, for consideration of geographic variables):

● Chorley, R.J. and Haggett, P. (Eds), 1967. Models in Geography. Methuen, London;

● Chorley, R.J. and Kennedy, B.A., 1972. Physical Geography: a Systems Approach. Methuen, London;

● Coffey, W.J., 1981. Geography: Towards a General Spatial Systems Approach. Methuen, London; and

● Huggett, R. 1980. Systems Analysis in Geography. Oxford University Press.


Disciplines involved and thus readership addressed.  The above is sufficiently indicative of the fact that unequivocally all science/technologies and all ‘humanities’ are involved in the study of human and natural disasters. Some may not be involved in the social aspects of disasters, but when broadening the scope of disaster research to comprise all aspects there are no exceptions: all knowledge domains/professions are involved!



(2) The Relationship Between Damage and Localization

Introduction. In the discipline of engineering there exist certain hazards which result in damage. Consequently, the more we understand the phenomena between natural and human influences, the more likely we are capable of predicting, monitoring, and even preventing accidents, disasters and catastrophes. Several geosciences are involved here and this book is preferentially dealing with some aspects of this type of research.

            To be certain, this publication is strictly for those interested, experienced and expert in higher-level rock mechanics, rock physics, and related fields like structural geology, geo-material and geo-mechanical systems’ behavior, deformation laboratory experiments, seismology, and more specifically (as mere examples) in reservoir rock (porosity/permeability) engineering, geothermal, geo-hydrological, compaction, and some types of diagenetic studies. Having frequently complained in earlier and recent reviews in various journals (e.g. in 2005 to 2009 book-review issues of the International Journal of General Systems), I am pleased to see this book refers to the more-modern concepts-cum-theories of   complexity, self-organization, attractors, continuum, scalar-variation, non-linearity, and feedback. However, why were the theories of chaos, order/disorder, entropy, fuzzy logic, uncertainty, hierarchy, among others, ignored – especially fractal geometry (see below)?!

            Contents. After the fine Introduction by the editors, the following contributions follow: Damage and Localization: two key concepts in rock deformation studies (a useful overview), of course); mechanics of fault distribution localized in high-porosity sands; strain localization in geomaterials; progression from damage to localization displacement observed in laboratory testing of porous rocks; microscale damage evolution in compacting sandstones; grain-size and geothermal-gradient influences on ductile-to-brittle transition in arenaceous sedimentary rocks: implications for fault structures and fluid flow; fracture geometry, etc., laboratory studies; permeability of fault rocks in a tectonic area using pressure-cycling tests; insights into faulting process from numerous simulations of rock-layer bending; improved seismic identification of inter-fault damage via linked geomechanics-seismic approaches; localization processes in a coupled hydro-mechanical sensitive fractured system; and proximity to a critical point: evidence from and implications for hydrocarbon reservoirs. No doubt, the book is both theoretical and applied/practical in its offerings – all for the expert/specialist!

            Style of presentation.  This book is well written and well edited, as demonstrated by the chapters prepared by those authors of non-English language background. The editors’ Introduction is a must-first-read to obtain a good overview of the Damage and Localization phenomena. All contributions have Abstracts and Conclusions as well as good References; the figures, photographs (several in color) and tables are faultless in supporting the texts. The Index is sufficient – but the reader may obtain an additional quick overview from the many sub- and subsub-tittles in the texts.

            Cross-reference queries. Research of earthquake-related damage of engineering structures (dames, bridges, buildings) result in ‘structural failures’ that are partly still not well understood. What types of experimental and natural observational data are still required? And then there are certain (even if relatively rare) events where exploratory drilling for petroleum results in catastrophic blowouts  -- exemplified recently in Indonesia where a large region is being ‘drowned’ and villages ‘obliterated’. . Counter-measures require here a full understanding of the characteristics (both chemical and physical) of the subsurface rocks. What data is absent at present? The same applies in selecting underground rock masses for the million-of-years-storage of nuclear waste where it has been suggested to use bentonite (composed of swelling-type montmorillonite clays which expand upon contact with water) to plug any ‘escape routes’. For more details, see the review below of the book on Mapping Hazardous Terrain …).

            In this structural-geology context (plus damage and localization), the question arises as to why fractal geometry theories (used now by many geologist, engineers, etc.)  were not considered? – see Fractals and Chaos in Geology and Geophysics by D.F. Turcotte, 1997, Cambridge University Press, 397pp. – and, of course, see the book below on fractals. One rather unusual phenomenon of interest in the present context of rock deformation is the 2008-book Fossil earthquake-related pseudotachylites by Aiming Lin, Springer Verlag, 248pp. (See my review in The Australian Geologist Newsletter No. 148, Sept. 2008, 39-41.)


(3) Geographic Uncertainty in Environmental Security

Introduction. This book is part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series, presenting the results of scientific meetings in 17 chapters by 36 researchers from 10 countries. The publication is an excellent example (utilizing fuzzy logic), together with that on Fractal Analysis for Natural Hazards (see below for review), of demonstrating the increasing application of systems analysis, holistics, and cybernetics. See my comments above related to the book on Disaster Research as to not delving into some modern research concepts. As to the ‘uncertainty phenomena’, see among others Ilya Prigogine, 1997. The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature. Free Press, New York, 228pp. There is no doubt: a comprehensive documentation of Systems Analytical and Cybernetic plus their respective numerous concepts needs to be undertake for cross-disciplinary applications in investigating hazards of any type.

Contents.  A short Preface is followed by (authors deleted): 1. Fuzzy regions: theory and applications; 2. Mapping the ecotone with fuzzy sets; 3. Issues and challenges of incorporating fuzzy sets; 4. Reliability of vegetation community information derived using decorana ordination and fuzzy c-means clustering; 5. A rough set-based approach to handling uncertainty in geographic data classification; 6. Fuzzy models for handling uncertainty in the integration of high resolution remotely sensed data and GIS; 7. Incompleteness, error, approximation, and uncertainty: an ontological approach to data quality; 8. A flexible decision support approach to model ill-defined knowledge in GIS; 9. Development of the geo-information system of the state ecological monitoring; 10. Mapping type 2 change in fuzzy land cover. 11. Indexing implementation for vague spatial regions with R-tees and grid files; 12. Association rule mining using fuzzy spatial data cubes; 13. Interactive objects extraction from remote sensing; 14. Classification of remotely sensed data; 15. Sustainability and environmental security; 16. Remote sensing and GIS application for environmental monitoring and accidents control on Ukraine; and 17. ProDec – Emergence procedure based on fuzzy notions for catchment management.

The Index  is rather meagre! An overall (i.e. dealing with the book as a whole) Introduction and a Summary and/or Conclusion would have been desirable as the Preface (really an Acknowledgement statement only) is too brief!

Style of presentation. Except for two chapters, all other individual contributions have an abstract, introduction or background statement, and a conclusion; some have a discussion and a summary – well done, although a guide for ‘uniformity of format’ might have assisted the authors. Each has a good reference list. Numerous good figures and comparative/contrastive-style tables support the well-written texts, so that the editing was no doubt well performed (considering that many authors’ tongue is not English).

The only disappointment I have is the little discussion on the ‘Security’ aspects of the book! This could have been dealt with in the requested overall discussion and/or overview by the editors.

Theory and applicability: readers addressed.  Just about all basic (fundamental, exact) sciences as well as derived/hybrid sciences and several of the ‘humanities’ (a generic/collective term here) are involved in environmental investigations related to security. Here are the disciplines (knowledge domains) mentioned in the book: biology/ecology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences/geology, landform and habitat studies, pedology, remote sensing, cartography, seismology, hydrology, climatology, disaster/accident/hazard studies (of landslides, sustainability), mathematics (statistics, topology, Boolean logic), information technology (data-base theory, data storing and analysis search methodology, metadata) decision-making, simulation, philosophy of science (e.g. research methodology), ontology, logic, systems analysis, cybernetics, integration, pattern recognition, modeling, expert systems, categorization/classification theory, certainty/uncertainty concepts, linguistics (semantics), politics, sociology, economics (e.g. ecological types), among others.


(4) Mapping Hazardous Terrain Using Remote Sensing

Introduction. In contrast to the book Disaster Research, this book too deals mainly with the physical phenomena of hazards and disasters.

Contents. The following geo-hazard-related aspects are described: volcanic and geothermal areas; earth-quake-caused ground deformations (see below for additional comments); landslides and urban ground/soil instabilities; mudflows and other mass- wasting problems; water infiltration, coastal and riverine flooding instabilities, cliff erosion and collapse, and sedimentation; mine site waste’s environmental (e.g. cyanide) pollution; shrinking/swelling clays’ mapping problem (see below for critical comments); onshore hydrocarbon seepage detection dilemmas; civil engineering landscape dynamic problems; various geomorphological and topographic problems (e.g. identifying fault zones); and prediction of impending disaster areas.

Question-cum-proposal. Allow one question-cum-criticism related to the exploration-for-swelling-clays research by four French/German geologists who wrote the contribution Detection and mapping of shrink-swell clays in SW France, using ASTER imagery (pages 117-124) – with only a few comments possible.

Among the clays dealt with are also montmorillonite types, but for some reason the researchers consider only superficially the great variability of certain montmorillonite types when exposed to water: some clays expand/swell rapidly, others only slowly, whereas a third group not at all or will take hours to react! Inasmuch as my first scientific publication dealt with the fact that (a) many volcanic ash deposits and tuffs alter readily to montmorillonite clays, i.e. to form the petrologically-named ‘bentonites’; (b) there is a range of variable composition of the Na/Ca montmorillonites; which (c) then determines their degree (or even absence?) of swelling abilities, I cannot understand that the exploration-for-these-clay-deposits is not based on volcanic-terrain (bentonite) stratigraphic principles to support the mineralogical exploration concepts! For details, see Wolf, K.H., 1959. Bentonites? Journal of Alberta Society of Petroleum Geologists, Vol. 7,  No. 1, 13-15.

Anyone interested in Philosophy-of-Science-type (e.g. methodological)  differences of opinion in science/technology  may wish to consult H.T. Engelhardt & A.L. Caplan (Eds), 1987. Scientific Controversies: Case Studies in the Resolution and Closure of Disputes in Science and Technology. Cambridge University Press, 639pp.

Broader application. A few comments to broaden the ‘natural hazard context’ of this book are helpful. Mapping of ‘hazardous terrains’ by remote-sensing techniques is particularly important in populated areas where earthquakes are common and where, consequently, fault movements, are likely to occur. It is well known that in some localities schools, hospitals, dams, bridges, power/electricity plants, industrial and desalinization complexes, even nuclear facilities, and whole townships have been established over fault zones. This, naturally, ought to be avoided as far as possible. Mapping hazardous terrains is the first step of offering some control.

Style of presentation. This book too, like the several Special Publications by the same Geological Society of London, is well written and edited – the latter again indicated by numerous authors being from non-English language countries. All figures, diagrams, and photographs (some in color) and tables are superb. As in most cases, the reader will obtain the best overview of the book by checking the Index first and then read the many text’s sub-headings.  However, the Preface is rather meagre and actually is in reality merely an Acknowledgment – chapter one by the editor then offering a good balance as an Introduction to the remote sensing of hazardous terrains!


(5) Fractal Analysis for Natural Hazards

Introduction. Hazards require a multi-disciplinary and multi-methodological research approach. This book describes a preferentially selected methodology by illustrating the use of fractals in hazards research, thus opening the cognitive/intellectual door for the employment of numerous additional more-recently developed method, techniques, and concepts as outlined below. Thus, this book is an extension or supplement to the one above on Geographic Uncertainty … employing the concepts of fuzzy logic.

Contents. These twelve papers by thirty-three researchers on extreme natural disastrous events were presented at the 2004’s 32nd International Geological Congress in Italy.

‘Fractals and self-similarity (i.e. pattern repetition at multitude scales) have spread through social and physical sciences as demonstrated in 22,000 articles and hundreds of books. In the Earth Sciences, self-similarity scaling (scale invariance) and fractal geometry have been recognized in many natural objects, e.g. sand dunes, rock fractures and folds, and drainage networks. However, fractals for spatial and temporal analyses has been less used, especially in studying natural hazards. This book discusses these concepts in the context of landslides, rock falls, wildfires, floods, catastrophic rock fracturing, and earthquakes. Numerous research techniques are applied to both natural and experimental data, and computer simulation, which include probability hazard analysis, cellular-automata models, power law and spatial analysis, temporal variability, prediction, and various concepts such as self-organization.’ (Paraphrased from the Preface.) The particularly fascinating part of this book is the emphases on fractal geometry, self-similarity scaling, cellular-automata models, self-organization, and other more-recently developed concepts and theories.

Style of presentation. The book is well written and edited; the Edward Fry Readability Grade is high! One caveat to be high-lighted: the book is chiefly for the experts; the ‘uninitiated’ readers might logically have expected an Introduction, an Overview plus a Conclusion – all of which are absent; this being one editorial negligence.

Book’s aim. The book’s aim to present the state of knowledge of fractal analysis, among several other mentioned above, has been well realized for those with geoscience experience. However, it seems that more so-called systems analytical approaches could have been utilized by the researchers. To explain: recently, various sciences have developed (discovered, invented?) – as part of the all-inclusive Systems Analysis (or integration, cybernetics, holistics, synectics – these being near-synonyms with numerous differences) philosophy of science – numerous concepts (or hypotheses, theories, or even new natural laws?) of which the Complexity Theory is one outstanding super-methodology. (Quote, page 96: ‘Fractility is one of the features of such complexity’.) This Complexity theory is the overarching cognitive philosophical/methodological umbrella encompassing numerous concepts – fractals, self-similarity, and self-organization being only exemplars! This new conceptual and practical methodology is required to ‘find the universe in the particulars’, according to the Systems Law that ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts’. To reiterate; the present book (and that on Geographic Uncertainties) preferentially researched only particular parts of the whole. See my reviews of this book in the International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 37, No. 5, October 2005, 642-643; and The Australian Geologist Newsletter No. 147, June 2008, 37-38.

An overview of complexity needed. Inasmuch as I suggested above that several other concepts, methodologies and techniques could in the future be employed in addition to fractal geometry, self-organization, etc., allow me to provide an all-too-brief overview of Complexity, in the overarching context of Systems Analysis or Cybernetics. This, then, will proffer a logical  setting/context for fractals, for example, in association with theories of chaos, order/disorder, non-linearity, fuzzy logic, randomness, uncertainty, equilibrium, scaling, hierarchy, reductionism, emergence, attractors, cause-effect types, among others. For introductory publications dealing with all these concepts, see;

● Érdi, Peter, 2008. Complexity Explained, Springer Verlag. (See my review in the International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 37, No. 5, Oct. ’08, 637-639.);

● Mainzer, Klaus, 2007. Thinking in Complexity: the Computational Dynamics of Matter, Mind, and Mankind. Springer Verlag.  (See my review in the International Journal of General Systems, 2009, in press); and

Francois, Charles, 2004. International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, Volumes 1 & 2, K.G. Saur Publications (See my review in the International Journal of General System, 2005, Vol. 34, No. 3, June ’05, 321-324; Journal of Documentation, Vol. 61, No. 5, 672-675; Human Systems Management, 2005, Vol. 254, 117-119; and The Australian Geologist Newsletter No. 134, 2005, 49-50.) ).

            Cello/Malamud’s book overview fractal application in some chapters; e.g. discuss the power-law of extreme flood frequency and deal with laboratory rock-fracturing experimentation, in contrast to other chapters which are local case histories.  The latter consider:  crustal stress crises and seismic activities in Italy and Greece; and landslide distribution, scaling properties and fault/fracture systems, and relations between earthquake magnitudes in Italy. The last chapter’s distribution of wildfires study covers a global survey. These case histories, of course, must be supplemented by other publications for experts wishing a greater coverage.

            The book’s five types of fractal-studied natural disasters (i.e. landslides to earthquakes as listed above) are supplemented by all-too-brief  references to volcanic eruptions, seismology and ground failure, asteroid and comet impacts, snow avalanches, geological tunneling engineering, fractured geofluid (oil, gas, geothermnal water, mineralization) reservoir frameworks, world stress map, geomorphological analysis, even non-stationary heartbeat time-series diagnosis, climate dynamics, retrodicting palaeo-floods, runoff dynamics, hydrological uncertainties, river basin hydrological analysis, forest fire dynamics/propagation and turbulence, rainfall events, and earth system criticality (the Gaia theory has been ignored!), among others. The conveners could have invited more experts to cover several additional natural systems.

Readership addressed. The book addresses natural-catastrophe investigators, of course, but also (perhaps implicitly or indirectly) researchers of any type of physical natural complex systems, in contrast to the Handbook of Disaster Research preferentially treating the social, psychological and political (i.e. humanities-related) aspects. The expert/specialist readers therefore are advised to consider broader cybernetic approaches beyond fractals, for instance, to include the other concepts listed above. For example, the section on floods might have suggested to utilize fractals integrated with fuzzy logic (see book above on Geographic Uncertainties) catastrophe theory, chaos and order, stochastic (probability) predictions, plus other concepts in attempts to find theories to predict tsunami propagation. The book list many problems still to be solved – but by itself the authors are to be congratulated for having dealt with a rather interesting spectrum of  natural hazard research.


(6) Brief comparative/contrastive overview of the five books

One of the most basic differences of the five books: the Handbook of Disaster Research, as the title correctly indicate, is the most comprehensive summary-style survey of the five publications because the succeeding four books cover more preferentially selected topics. Secondly, this Handbook deals almost exclusively with social, psychological, political, and related ‘humanities’-related, ‘soft-sciences’-type, disaster-caused challenges – this in contrast to the four other books covering, again, preferentially chosen, ‘hard-scientific’ and/or technological settings. Thirdly, the Handbook, being a rather complete summary, requires for many daily-work practical needs not much additional follow-up research – although the approximate 1800 references are an open invitation for ‘eager beaver’ researchers! This is in contrast to the lesser-ambitious approach by the authors of the other four publications. 

Thus, it is quite apparent that the Handbook offers to experts/specialists an encyclopedic introductory plus advanced overview of the chosen topics, whereas experts interested in the topic of the other four books absolutely must supplement the available data through further research. Yet, authors of all five books did an excellent job; congratulations to all!


Karl H. Wolf, Emeritus Professor of Geology; B.Sc., Canada; Ph.D., Australia; 3xD.Sc., USA


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