Defining disaster: The need for harmonisation of terminology

Lidia Mayner, Paul Arbon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    There is a need to harmonise the definitions for disaster terms from a wide range of glossaries and other sources, to build a more unitary foundation for further research, policy and practice. As a first step in a wider programme of research, we present an analysis of the term disaster. Definitions for disaster were obtained from glossaries found in books, reports and internet sites. One of these sources was the National Library of Medicine (NLM), USA which contained 62 disaster related glossaries. A total of 110 glossaries were found containing disaster terminology however, only 52 identified contained definitions for the word disaster. Leximancer software was used to analyse consensus between the different definitions identified, by mapping the connectivity of words and associated concepts. 128 different disaster definitions were identified and included in the analysis, which detected main themes of: disruption; ability; widespread; event; outside; damage; property; and overwhelm. Hence the most consistent definition for disaster appeared to be 'the widespread disruption and damage to a community that exceeds its ability to cope and overwhelms its resources'. This paper reports on only one term, namely disaster, for which there seems to be little consensus throughout the research and wider community. A number of other limitations are outlined, which are being considered for the ongoing analysis of over 100 disaster-related terms.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-26
    Number of pages6
    JournalAustralasian Journal of Disasters and Trauma Studies
    Issue numberSpecial Issue
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • Definitions
    • Disaster
    • Glossary
    • Terminology
    • Text analysis


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