Key concepts

To understand the DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) and the Sendai framework, it is important to fully comprehend a few key concepts.

An official terminology was created in 2009 (UNISDR terminology on disaster risk reduction), aiming to promote a common understanding and usage of disaster risk reduction concepts and to assist the disaster risk reduction efforts of authorities, practitioners and the public. This terminology was later (2016) updated following the request of the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction (paragraph 50), which recommended the establishment of an Open-ended Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on Indicators and Terminology Relating to Disaster Risk Reduction (OIEWG, 2016) [see related links and downloads at the bottom of the page].

The following, are some of the basic key concepts:
  • Capacity
  • Coping capacity
  • Disaster
  • Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
  • Disaster Risk Management
  • Losses
  • Preparedness
  • Prevention
  • Resilience


Capacity is the combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within an organization, community or society to manage and reduce disaster risks and strengthen resilience.

Capacity may include infrastructure, institutions, human knowledge and skills, and collective attributes such as social relationships, leadership and management.

Coping capacity is a widely used concept in what concerns DRR: the ability of people, organizations and systems, using available skills and resources, to manage adverse conditions, risk or disasters. The capacity to cope requires continuing awareness, resources and good management, both in normal times as well as during disasters or adverse conditions. Coping capacities contribute to the reduction of disaster risks.


Disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.

Note that Emergency is sometimes used interchangeably with the term disaster, as, for example, in the context of biological and technological hazards or health emergencies, which, however, can also relate to hazardous events that do not result in the serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society.

Other key concepts related to a disaster, considered within the Sendai framework: disaster damage, disaster impact, small-scale and large-scale disaster, frequent and infrequent disasters, slow-onset and sudden-onset disaster.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

Disaster risk reduction is aimed at preventing new and reducing existing disaster risk and managing residual risk, all of which contribute to strengthening resilience and therefore to the achievement of sustainable development.

Disaster risk reduction is the policy objective of disaster risk management, and its goals and objectives are defined in disaster risk reduction strategies and plans.

Disaster Risk Management

Disaster risk management is the application of disaster risk reduction policies and strategies to prevent new disaster risk, reduce existing disaster risk and manage residual risk, contributing to the strengthening of resilience and reduction of disaster losses.

Disaster risk management actions can be distinguished between prospective disaster risk management, corrective disaster risk management and compensatory disaster risk management (also called residual risk management).


Losses may result from a disaster.

Types of losses: human, material, economic and environmental losses.


The knowledge and capacities developed by governments, response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to effectively anticipate, respond to and recover from the impacts of likely, imminent or current disasters.


Activities and measures to avoid existing and new disaster risks.

Prevention (i.e., disaster prevention) expresses the concept and intention to completely avoid potential adverse impacts of hazardous events. While certain disaster risks cannot be eliminated, prevention aims at reducing vulnerability and exposure in such contexts where, as a result, the risk of disaster is removed.


Resilience is the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions through risk management.

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