Building Disaster Resilience: A Multi-Prong Approach

Second in a four-part series exploring disaster resilience in the hotel sector

By Nancy Brown PhD Emergency Management, Joint Centre for Disaster Research | May 05, 2019

Click here for Part 1: Why Disaster Resilience is Important to Your Hotel Organization

Disaster resilience allows an organization to understand the resources available to aid in managing a disaster. The more resilient an organization is, the more opportunities it has to leverage and combine those resources to withstand and recover from disaster. As a result of building resilience, a hotel may not only maintain operational status in times of disaster but also can maintain its contribution to the local economy through services offered, employment, and in significant events provide accommodation options for the influx of people working on the disaster response.

The following discussion offers an opportunity for hotel leadership to understand predictors of disaster resilience from a multi-capital perspective. This executive summary provides a high-level introduction of components of the Disaster Resilience Framework for Hotels (DRFH) developed by Nancy Brown, Dr. Caroline Orchiston, Dr. Jane Rovins, Dr. Shirley Feldman-Jensen, and Dr. David Johnston. The full article can be found here.

Disaster Resilience from a Capital Perspective

The DRFH was developed through an analysis of academic literature written on topics at the intersection of disaster science and the tourism sector and includes ideas that find their roots in community resilience, organizational resilience, and sustainable tourism. The literature analyzed included case studies of disasters, for example, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and research developing different aspects of resilience which also apply to the hotel sector.

The DRFH describes six capital groups (economic, social, human, physical, natural, and cultural) and a total of 18 different predictors of disaster resilience. In this context capital refers to resources that can be engaged and combined to help a hotel withstand disastrous events and recover quickly to an operational state (Brown, Orchiston, Rovins, Feldmann-Jensen, & Johnston, 2018).

Below is a brief discussion of each capital group and predictors to help hotel executives understand the many avenues available for building disaster resilience.

Economic Capital

Economic capital is perhaps the most well-known of the capital groups. Financial strength, diverse income streams, and available capital reserves are part of most businesses strategic financial plans. One key idea in this group is considering your staff's financial strength. Staff, a critical resource in withstanding disastrous events, may be unavailable if they do not have the resources to withstand and recover from a disaster. Would even a small event drastically effect your staff's financial situation?

For organizations and individuals, stronger economic conditions before a disaster can minimise the disruptive effects. If their personal situation is stable staff will be available to assist your operation and guests. What are avenues open to you as an employer to help staff become economically resilient? Development of staff economic capital may include financial education opportunities, savings plans, and promotion of insurance to cover personal property.

Social Capital

The way a hotel's team works together is essential for day to day operations but is also key to surviving a disaster. Your team's social cohesion, capacity to work as a group, social network development, and fostering trust are all integral to social capital development. The unpredictable nature of disasters makes it likely that your team members will need to rely on each other in new and different ways. The more they know about each other, and the more trust exists, the better the opportunity to minimize disaster's impact.

Promoting team building across departments can improve your guest service while creating links between departments that will be available in an emergency. Your organization and staffs' connections to the community may also be valuable in a disaster. At a time when communications may be challenged having multiple contacts for information and assistance could play a pivotal role in your hotel's disaster resilience. Another vital network connection is the media. More often media influences tourist decisions with sensational pictures of disasters.

In 2018 the eruption of a volcano on Hawaii disrupted tourism in areas where no risk from volcanic eruption existed. Hotel leaders need to help the media report an accurate picture of the story by providing information quickly when needed.

Human Capital

Developing knowledge, skills, and adaptive capacity before a disaster will allow your staff to understand what to do, how to do it, and what your organization's procedures and policies are in different disaster scenarios. Resilience building in this area includes induction training from an all-hazard perspective, exercises and drills across departments, and leadership building to ensure critical roles are filled regardless of time of day when disaster strikes.

In a 2011 earthquake (New Zealand) staff of a damaged hotel provided alternate exit routes to guests on upper floors allowing all to reach the ground floor safely. Development of human capital gives your staff confidence that they understand protective actions available, your organization's communications policies, leadership continuity, and alternative operational choices based on circumstances.

Physical Capital

The ability of your facility to withstand fires, storms, earthquakes, and other hazards common to your area is often part of the city and state regulations. Additionally, life safety in the face of rising terrorism worldwide has become integrated into many operations. Similarly, technological redundancies and back-ups have become standard for operations in most areas. It is important to evaluate your operation regularly in terms of risks, hazards, and operational policies. Back-up systems put in place 10 years ago may need to be updated based on emerging threats and hazards. Evacuation plans may not be appropriate from an all-hazards perspective and added protective actions might be needed.

Keep in mind that guests do not always understand what actions are appropriate for all hazards. Your facility may be the only place a guest is familiar with and they may depend on your staff to keep them safe and informed.

Natural Capital

Many tourism destinations rely on the natural environment to attract tourist. That same natural environment that attracts your guests may also threaten the resilience of your facility. Similarly, your facility and the tourist you attract may also play a part in the degradation of the very natural beauty the guests enjoy. Developing natural capital means considering your influence in the local environment and investigating how the natural environment can affect your operation.

The recent closure of Boracay Island in the Philippines is a testament to how damaging unchecked tourism can be to the environment. Hotels can work with communities to ensure the preservation of important natural resources.

Cultural Capital

Recent literature talks about organizational culture and the role culture plays in the success of your enterprise. Organizational culture is a small part of cultural capital. Cultural knowledge and the influence of the local culture on the social system play a role in disaster resilience. Cultural knowledge has been shown to influence mortality rates in disasters.

In Thailand's 2004 tsunami many guests died because they did not understand the warning sign of a sudden change in ocean behavior. Guests are often unfamiliar with the local hazardscape. Staff with an understanding of local hazards are a valuable resource and can often react to sudden events with a reference of previous experience.

                                                                         Figure 1: Building disaster resilience for the hotel sector Brown et al. (2018, p. 70)

Investigating Your Organization's Resilience

When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change...

Integral in the design of the DRFH is the notion that resilience can be built in many different ways and does not inherently require a considerable allocation of resources. The DRFH capitalizes on resources that may be available and just require further development. For example, your hotel may have some social organizations for staff that would grow if they had support from the leadership.

In other cases, resources may be lacking, but development can be phased in as part of wider organizational planning. For example, induction training updates can include a better look at hazards and protective actions for all staff. Inherent in the design is an opportunity to look at an organization in many different ways when considering how to build disaster resilience.

Developing resilience to disaster is an ongoing team effort for organizations. The DRFH provides a starting place to look critically at different aspects of your organization and build resilience into your operation. When a fast moving disruptive event occurs leaders that have invested in building their organizations resilience will be better prepared to meet the challenges and safeguard lives and operations.


Arbon, P., Cusack, L., Gebbie, K., Steenkamp, M., & Anikeeva, O. (2013). How do we measure and build resilience against disaster in communities and households?

Biggs, D., Hall, C. M., & Stoeckl, N. (2012). The resilience of formal and informal tourism enterprises to disasters: reef tourism in Phuket, Thailand. Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

Brown, N. A., Orchiston, C., Rovins, J. E., Feldmann-Jensen, S., & Johnston, D. (2018). An integrative framework for investigating disaster resilience within the hotel sector.

Cutter, S. L., Barnes, L., Berry, M., Burton, C., Evans, E., Tate, E., & Webb, J. (2008). A place-based model for understanding community resilience to natural disasters. Global Environmental Change.

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Mayunga, J. S. (2007). Understanding and applying the concept of community disaster resilience: A capital–based approach.  

Raymond, G. (2018). Hawaiians blame misunderstanding of volcano and doomsday headlines for big drop in tourism.  

Sydnor-Bousso, S., Stafford, K., Tews, M., & Adler, H. (2011). Toward a resilience model for the hospitality and tourism industry. Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism.

Villamor, F. (2018). Idyllic Philippine Resort Island of Boracay is closed to tourists.


Ms. Brown Nancy Brown, PhD brings the practical experience of more than 10 years working with a number of multi-national hotel organizations to her academic speciality, disaster resilience within the hotel sector. Dr. Brown has experience working with hotels in the USA and the Caribbean. Over the last three years Dr. Brown has worked full time developing the Disaster Resilience Framework for Hotels (DRFH) which describes factors of resilience that hotels can leverage to build resilience. This interdisciplinary study combines the relatively new disaster science field with hospitality industry studies and organizational resilience studies. Hotels in New Zealand participated in providing data for testing the DRFH. Originally from Southern California, Dr. Brown earned a Master of Science degree at California State University, Long Beach in Emergency Services Administration and graduated Summa Cum Laude. In pursuit of excellence and empirical knowledge, she recently completed her PhD in Emergency Management at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Nancy Brown can be contacted at 9498745508 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography

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