Malaysian Socio-Technical Disaster Model and Operational Guide

The researchers have found that despite the differences of disasters involved and their technologies, they exhibited common characteristics and that socio-technical disasters are not sudden cataclysmic events but evolved in phases with long developmental period.

Researchers: Aini Mat Said, Fakhru’l-Razi Ahmadun, Mohamed Daud, Nor Maria Adam and Razali Abdul Kadir

Since independence, Malaysia has progressed and developed at an unprecedented rate and has transformed herself from an agrarian to an industrialized nation. Corollary to the industrialization, man-made disasters associated with development and technology become more apparent. The nation has also experiences various socio-technical disaster such as structural collapse, fires and explosions. Some of these disasters were landmark disasters whereby various safeties, emergency acts and regulations were proposed, amended or introduced.

Advancement in science and technology has led to the development of super carriers, mega high rise buildings, mammoth complexes, use of technologies with narrow margins for error and horrific consequences and emergence of mega cities. With this backdrop, it is predicted that on the global scene, we are inevitably faced with more and worse disasters in the future, coined with the terms such as super disaster, mega disasters and armageddon (Quarantelli, 1999; Mulhall, 2001; and Moore, 2001). The complexity and extensiveness of future disasters, the high probabilities of their occurrence and their protracted impacts make empirical research vital.

A multi strategy research was designed utilizing qualitative and quantitative approach to develop a socio-technical disaster model and operational guide for Malaysia. Using a grounded theory approach, disaster inquiry reports were used to identify the phases associated with the development of the socio-technical disasters and their latent errors. Disaster inquiry management system was formulated based on benchmarking of national and international disaster experts and organizations. Data obtained from both qualitative and quantitative study was then transferred into a Visual Basic 6.0 computer to form a disaster leaning and advise model.

Despite the differences of disasters involved and their technologies, disasters exhibited common characteristics. Analysis of the six disasters showed that events associated with socio-technical disasters encompasses three distinct periods namely pre-disaster, disaster and post-disaster consecutively. Within each period there exists different phases, each with its distinct features and characteristics.

o Pre-disaster period is the time before the occurrence of the disaster and consisted of four phases namely operation, incubation, forewarning and activation.

o The disaster period embraces two phases, namely onset and rescue and recovery. The onset of the disaster is triggered by specific action or event identifiable directly to the cause of the disaster. Rescue and recovery phase follows suit in order to save lives, properties and return to normalcy.

o Post disaster period was found to consist of four phases: inquiry and reporting; feedback; social justice; and social and legislation reform.

There is an establishment of social entity such as formation of specialized bodies, amendment and formulation of new legislations such as Uniform Building By Laws (UBBL), and formulation of policies such as the Land Disaster Management and Relief Policy (Directive 20). The above findings demonstrate that socio-technical disasters are not sudden cataclysmic events but they evolved in phases with long developmental period.

The findings demonstrate that socio-technical disasters are not sudden cataclysmic events but they evolved in phases with long developmental period. Underlying causes of the disasters were due to latent errors that are accumulated and get embedded in the system during the incubation period. Inside the organization, a complex set of managerial, procedural, training, safety and failure to learn factors interact with external factors of regulatory and human failures to produce the disasters. Organizational error and regulatory failures were found to be the main types of latent error that contributed significantly to the disasters with 53.6 and 37.0 percent respectively.

The findings demonstrated that disasters are not caused by a single factor but social, organizational and administrative processes, in amalgamation systematically produced the disasters.

Malaysian disaster experts had proposed the following in order to enhance leaning from past disasters:

o There must be a guide as to what type of disaster inquiry to be set up following a disaster

o A setting up of counsel to the inquiry who acts as a guardian of public interest

o A general guide should be provided for report writing of inquiry into disaster

o The report of the inquiry should be published and made accessible to public

o Implementation of recommendations made by tribunal should be made mandatory

o There must be a mechanism to supervise the implementation of recommendations

o The organization responsible to take up recommendations should produce a report of their implement method and schedule.

o An institution to be establish in order to collect, collate and analyze disaster data and disseminate lessons

o Establish appropriate channels and linkages to relevant industries, educational and training establishment and professional institutions for dissemination of lessons from disasters.

Identification of the root causes and phases of disasters revealed the patterns of disaster development in the country. This provides a tool for organizational and institutional diagnosis of vulnerability and risks.

The findings can be used by Government and organizations to formulate new codes of practice, safety legislations and emergency management in the country. Learning and advise model of socio-technical disaster developed represents a useful tool for teaching at higher institutions, media of instructions for training institutions and industries, e- learning for professional development and operational guide for safety professionals.

Future disasters are envisaged to have profound effect not only on the victims but also to the social, political and economic of a nation and other nations. Thus hindsight gained from these negative events could be utilized by Government and enterprises to design organizational structures that will help reduce the likelihood of disaster as nation progresses.

This product has won a number of awards and recognition, and has been filed for a patent.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Nayan KANWAL
Email: [email protected]


Dr. Aini Mat Said
Department of Resource Management & Consumer Studies
Faculty of Human Ecology
Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400 UPM, Serdang, Selangor
Tel: +603 8946 7095, 7051
E-mail: [email protected]

Published: 05 Aug 2007

Contact details:

Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) 43400 UPM Serdang Selangor Malaysia

+603 8947 1622
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Websites: Expert page for Prof. Dr. Fakhru’l-Razi Ahmadun