No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Development of Disasters

In 1976 - two years before publishing his book Man-made Disasters -, sociologist Barry A. Turner published an article with a sequence model for the analysis of the origins of disasters. It consists of six stages:

Stage I - Notionally Normal Stage:

This is the starting point where people hold certain beliefs and assumptions about their environment and its hazards. These beliefs shape their actions and decisions.

Stage II - Incubation Period:

During this phase, latent factors, errors, and deviations accumulate. These issues may be overlooked or go unnoticed, creating a complex network of potential failures.

Stage III - Precipitating Event:

The disaster begins with an unexpected and often unpredictable event. This event gains attention due to its unexpected nature and immediate impact, forcing people to acknowledge a need for a new interpretation of the situation.

Stage IV - Onset of Direct Consequences:

Following the precipitating event, the direct consequences of the failure become evident. These consequences vary in intensity and scope, and they often lead to immediate chaos and confusion.

Stage V - Rescue and Salvage:

During this stage, participants in the disaster must quickly redefine the situation to understand the major failure. This is a critical phase where individuals attempt to make sense of unprecedented events.

Stage VI - Cultural Restoration:

After the immediate effects subside, a more comprehensive assessment of the incident can take place. This involves reviewing the events leading up to the disaster, identifying latent factors, and reinterpreting existing beliefs and assumptions.

For example: before a mining accident where 31 men were killed in an underground explosion, the presence of methane, unnoticed before the explosion, transformed the interpretation of events leading up to the disaster. Complacency regarding ventilation practices and acceptance of poor pit practices were tied to the mistaken belief that there was virtually no firedamp in the pit.

Turner highlights the importance of recognizing latent factors and errors within an organization's culture and practices. Understanding the sequence of events leading to a disaster can provide valuable insights for preventing such incidents in the future.


Turner, B.A. (1976), The Development of Disasters - A Sequence Model for the Analysis of the Origins of Disasters, in: The Sociological Review, Vol. 24, Issue 4, pp. 753-774.