It is well known that disaster scenes are a fertile breeding ground for opportunistic criminal activity. I’m not talking about desperate people who break into stores for essential food, water or medical equipment, but organised or deliberately thought out crime, often targetting the victims of a disaster. Such wrongdoings include fraud, identity theft, defrauding charities and reconstruction efforts, looting and stealing.
Of course, the most despicable crimes are those that prey directly on the victims – whether this be theft of their remaining possessions, siphoning off money earmarked for recovery, exploitation of vulnerable people in return for the aid which is their due or, most sickeningly of all, human trafficking, especially that of children.
On page 22 we look at how Interpol is trying to help with such crimes on an international level.
It is true that contingency planning in most countries generally places a high priority on post disaster law and order provision – sometimes more so than on other areas of recovery and reconstruction – often incorporating worst-case enforcement scenarios.
But is it enough to rely on plans, or the assumption that enforcement agencies will be fully operational after a major disaster?
Perhaps those who could be affected – including children – should be inculcated with awareness of post-disaster crime before a disaster, just as other aspects of safety and emergency preparedness are currently emphasised and promoted.
Disasters often bring the best out in people, but we should always be prepared for the worst – and give the victims the best fighting chance of recovery.