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Seven Decades of Disasters: A Systematic Review of the Literature

  • Erin C. Smith (a1) (a2), Frederick M. Burkle (a3) (a4), Peter Aitken (a2) (a5) and Peter Leggatt (a5) (a6)



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.


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).


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.


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.

SmithEC, BurkleFMJr, AitkenP, LeggattP. Seven Decades of Disasters: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2018;33(4):418423


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Erin C. Smith, PhD, MPH, MClinEpi Edith Cowan UniversitySchool of Medical and Health Sciences Joondalup, Western Australia, Australia E-mail:


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Conflicts of interest/funding: Research funding support for this project was provided at different time periods by the Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia); the College of Public Health, Medical, and Veterinary Sciences, Division of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University (Cairns, Australia); and the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University (Joondalup, Western Australia). The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.



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Seven Decades of Disasters: A Systematic Review of the Literature

  • Erin C. Smith (a1) (a2), Frederick M. Burkle (a3) (a4), Peter Aitken (a2) (a5) and Peter Leggatt (a5) (a6)


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