Seven decades of disasters: A systematic review of the literature

Document Type

Journal Article


Cambridge university press


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Originally published as: Smith, E. C., Burkle, F. M., Aitken, P., & Leggatt, P. (2018). Seven decades of disasters: a systematic review of the literature. Prehospital and disaster medicine, 33(4), 418-423. Original article available here


Introduction :The impact of disasters and large-scale crises continues to increase around the world. To mitigate the potential disasters that confront humanity in the new millennium, an evidence-informed approach to disaster management is needed. This study provides the platform for such an evidence-informed approach by identifying peer-reviewed disaster management publications from 1947 through July 2017.

Methods :Peer-reviewed disaster management publications were identified using a comprehensive search of: MEDLINE (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; Bethesda, Maryland USA); CINAHL (EBSCO Information Services; Ipswich, Massachusetts USA); EMBASE (Elsevier; Amsterdam, Netherlands); PsychInfo (American Psychological Association; Washington DC, USA); and the Cochrane Library (The Cochrane Collaboration; Oxford, United Kingdom).

Results :A total of 9,433 publications were identified. The publications were overwhelmingly descriptive (74%) while 18% of publications reported the use of a quantitative methodology and eight percent used qualitative methodologies. Only eight percent of these publications were classified as being high-level evidence. The publications were published in 918 multi-disciplinary journals. The journal Prehospital and Disaster Medicine (World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine; Madison, Wisconsin USA) published the greatest number of disaster-management-related publications (9%). Hurricane Katrina (2005; Gulf Coast USA) had the greatest number of disaster-specific publications, followed by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania USA). Publications reporting on the application of objective evaluation tools or frameworks were growing in number.

Conclusion :The “science” of disaster management is spread across more than 900 different multi-disciplinary journals. The existing evidence-base is overwhelmingly descriptive and lacking in objective, post-disaster evaluations.