Ethics in disaster management

Surya Parkash


In any profession, a basic set of moral values needs to be followed to comply with what we call ethics. Geoscientists have significant roles to play, more particularly in the field of geohazards, to appraise society about the possibilities of natural hazards such as landslides, avalanches, floods, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Geoscientists cannot only assess these hazards, but they can also estimate the potential consequences if these hazards occur in a given place and at a given time. However, sometimes it has been found that the credibility of geoscientists among society and government is lost, due to some unethical practices for short-term gain, or due to incorrect understanding of geological phenomena. Some of the hazards that cannot be predicted with the existing capabilities have been forecast by some pseudo-geoscientists, to draw social/ media attention, thereby bringing the reputation of the profession into disrepute. There is the need to be fair enough to accept the limitations of our profession in providing information about natural hazards that are not yet fully understood by the professionals themselves. More specifically, the predictions related to earthquakes have drawn the attention of society as well as media in the developing countries where the ‘common’ people have different perceptions. Most often, popular myths take over scientific facts among the public, and this can lead to rumors about natural hazards. This article will mention some cases of rumors about natural disasters, and particularly earthquakes, and the response of society, media and government. It emphasizes the role of geoscientists as the ethical responsibility to inform the public about the actual situations and the geohazards, to avoid panic caused by rumors from non-specialists or hyperactive pseudo experts. This article indicates the recent rumors about a lake outburst, flash floods, and volcanic activities after a moderate earthquake (M 6.9, September 18, 2011) in the Sikkim State of India, and considers the actions taken by the geoscientific community to correctly inform people about the real situation.


Geoethics; Earthquake disasters; Debris Flows; Landslides; Geohazards

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Published by INGV, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia - ISSN: 2037-416X