Studies, Reviews and Research

Emergent Groups and Spontaneous Volunteers in Urban Disaster Response

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IIED, International Institute for Environment and Development

Spontaneous responses by self-organizing, “emergent” voluntary groups and individuals are a common feature of urban disasters. Their activities include search and rescue, transporting and distributing relief supplies, and providing food and drink to victims and emergency workers. However, informal actors are rarely incorporated into formal disaster and humanitarian planning. This paper reviews the current state of knowledge concerning the nature and scale of emergent activity around the world, its impact in the short and long terms, challenges associated with it in different contexts, and lessons for future urban humanitarian practice.

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