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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

The Context of School Disasters

Classifying School Disasters

No organization, facility, or geographical location is immune to disasters (Fink 1986; Perrow 1984), and schools are no exception. Schools may be affected by various disasters; some common to those affecting the community at large (e.g., floods), and others unique to the school environment (e.g., school closure).

Disasters may be classified in a variety of ways including their nature (natural, man-made, environmental, technological, civil disorder, and warfare); duration (short or longterm); speed of onset (rapid or slow); agent (nuclear, chemical, flood, weather related); or impact area. Regardless of their classification, disasters often require a team response which is best planned and prepared for in advance of the disaster (Dynes 1970; Quarantelli 1985).

Disasters affecting schools can be organized into three separate categories (Kuban 1992). This breakdown highlights the need for separate preparedness efforts for each of the three disaster types. The three categories are:
  • Institutional-specific
  • System-wide
  • Community-wide
Institution-specific disasters include explosions, fires, and contamination of the school facilities; shootings, hostage-taking, and major disturbances (e.g., riots) within the school; and the death of students or staff members from natural, accidental, or malicious causes. While these and other situations are typically confined to the school facility, their effects may also be experienced by the surrounding community.

System-wide disasters. This category affects a major portion of the community’s educational system long enough to significantly disrupt its operations and prevent the achievement of its goals. Examples include large-area flooding or severe weather conditions which hamper mobility, major evacuations due to forest fires or chemical contamination, epidemics, civil disturbances, significant financial curtailment of school operations, and strikes by teachers or other public servants.

The relationship between the school and the community is often so intertwined that a disaster affecting one will seriously affect the other even when the disaster strikes during a period of school closure. Community-wide disasters typify this relationship. They may include earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, major chemical spills, or explosions—all of which may cause significant damage to the community and its infrastructure. They will also cause, either directly or indirectly, major disruptions to school operations.