Discovering The Roots Of Disaster Risk Reduction And Management

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Nov 19, 2019

DRRM: The Origin Story

There is a saying that goes ‘to move forward, one must learn to look back’. Now, it’s not to be confused with digging the past and holding onto regret. Far from it! Instead it lets us see how far we’ve come. It also encourages us to keep on learning from experience. 

Remember the book Origin, Dan Brown’s latest mystery thriller (shout out to all philosophical types out there)? The novel follows Robert Langdon as he tackles two of the most important questions of human existence: ‘Where do we come from?’ and  ‘Where are we going?’

Similarly, let’s trace the evolution of disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) from its early stages of development to its current state. Only then can we better appreciate its purpose and understand its future direction.

Great! Where do we begin?


Picture DRMM As The Trunk 

In the Philippines, the word DRRM is a catch-all used by the government to refer to a ‘proactive, holistic, people-centred and inclusive’ approach to reducing disaster risk and managing its impact. In short, DRRM needs an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

Imagine this: various stakeholders, multiple disciplines and different sectors complementing and supporting each other in building and strengthening our disaster resilience. A beautiful thought, isn’t it

Although you might be surprised to know that the DRRM concept is not widely used outside of the country. Yup, that’s right! DRRM is an umbrella term covering a broad category of things. We have to break it down to grasp what it really means.

Picture a tree. DRRM is the trunk with lots of branches extending out from it.  The many stems represent the many functions that make up modern-day DRRM such civil defense, crisis and emergency management, disaster risk governance, humanitarian assistance and more. (It’s a lot, but we believe you can absorb it all!)

Are you curious how the DRRM ‘tree’ came to be? Let’s trace its roots!


The Root Cause Of DRRM

Ever wondered why the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is administered by the Office of Civil Defense and why the Armed Forces remain in charge? 

Fast fact: The origins of government-led DRRM, in the form it is practiced today, can be traced to the civil defense programs in the late 1930s, a time when the prospect of World War II (WWII) grew. 

The primary objective? To safeguard citizens of a state, mainly non-combatants, from military strikes. Good examples of these were air raid precautions during WWII and preparedness measures for nuclear attacks during the Cold War. 

Civil defense programs were initially focused on emergency operations like immediate mass evacuations. Early on, civil defense was solely led by the government through a single agency, department, ministry or office. And the response was highly directive, short-term oriented and very reactive to perceived threats. Like using a bucket to scoop water out of the boat just to stay afloat.


Branching Out To Disasters

At the end of the Cold War, civil defense programs shifted from defending civilians against military strikes to protecting them from disaster impacts. Calamities often follow natural (e.g. earthquake, typhoon), technological (e.g. industrial accidents, structural collapse) and human-induced hazards (e.g. biological and chemical weapons).

We all know change is rarely smooth. So how did the transformation work out?

The emergence of new dangers led to traditional civil defense being replaced with more developed forms of citizen protection such as crisis, emergency and disaster management. Although several countries like the Philippines, Singapore, and New Zealand still retain the civil defense brand, others have their own take. Like the US which refers to comprehensive large-scale civil protection as homeland security. And when external help is needed, humanitarian assistance kicks in.

So what’s changed besides the name? Everything else!

The focus shifted from preparing and responding to the dangerous and disruptive events as it happens, to assisting citizens in minimizing and recovering from the adverse effects . The emphasis was no longer on the hazards alone but on the risks, too. 

Civilian protection moved from being reactive to preemptive, and tried to satisfy a wider range of needs too. It also began to consider the economic and political consequences in ‘peace-time’. Government cooperation and partnerships with civil society and the private sector became a MUST. 


So, Where Do We ‘Grow’ From Here? 

Well, it’s really hard to pinpoint. 

Why? Because DRRM, continuously evolves together with our way of living. For instance, new risks are also emerging as we get more physically and digitally interconnected. Cities around the world are getting denser and larger every year, along with rapid social change and technological advances. 

Although we know that DRRM, at present, has two key features that distinguishes it from its predecessors. 

First, we now see disasters as a reflection of people’s vulnerability to its impacts rather than simply being exposed to such hazards. What this means is that we can and should reduce and manage disaster risks we face. We have a choice not to remain a victim and build our capacity to cope and adapt to unfortunate events. (We have the power to change stuff!)

Second, we now recognize that DRRM is means to an end, not an end in itself. We treat it as a foundation for further growth. DRRM enables us to achieve sustainable development, to take better care of the environment and our planet, and to secure lasting peace and stability. (And who wouldn’t want that!)

No doubt, the evolution of DRRM opened up many opportunities that enable us to live longer and fuller lives. However, we are also facing a host of global challenges that not only worsen on-going DRRM issues but also create new ones.

We have a huge task ahead. Are you ready for the challenge?

Up next: We will explore the language of crisis, emergency and disaster management, and examine the ways it is applied in practice. Watch out for the next article! 


Want to learn more about Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM)? Thinking of starting a career in Humanitarian Affairs? Are you seeking personal development in this field? The General Academic Strand (GAS) strand offers Disaster Readiness and Risk Reduction as a core subject for Senior High School students. 

Plus, the learning resources in this blog will teach you about emergencies and disasters, how it affects your life, why it matters, and what we can do about it. Check them all out on!

Enjoying the blog? Register on Edukasyon today!



Coppola, D. “The Management of Disasters”.  Introduction to International Disaster Management. 3rd ed., Butterworth-Heinemann, 2015, pp. 1-29.

Covello, V. T. & Mumpower, J. Risk analysis and risk management: A historical perspective”. Risk Analysis, vol. 5, no. 2, 1985, pp. 103–118.

David Alexander. “Preface and Aims, Purpose and Scope of Emergency Planning”. Principles of Emergency Planning and Management. Terra Publishing, 2002, pp. ix-xi and  1-11.

NDRRMC. DRRM Knowledge Center.

Quarantelli, E. L. Disaster planning, emergency management, and civil protection: The historical development and current characteristics of organized efforts to prevent and respond to disasters. University of Delaware Disaster Research Center, 1995.


Understanding Disaster Risk

From Disaster Response to Disaster Prevention

Preventing Natural Disaster from Becoming Humanitarian Ones


Written By:
Angelo Trias

Angelo Trias believes that we cannot sustain growth and progress in societies unless we build safer and more resilient communities first. He contributes articles to raise awareness on the dangers we face. He continues to pursue lifelong learning and holds degrees and certificates in emergency and disaster management, political science, crisis management and psychology.

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