Learning from Others' Disasters? A Comparative Study of SARS/MERS and COVID-19 Responses in Five Polities

Int J Disaster Risk Reduct. 2022 May:74:102913. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2022.102913. Epub 2022 Mar 25.


The ability to successfully manage disasters is a function of the extent to which lessons are learned from prior experience. We focus on the extent to which lessons from SARS/MERS have been learned and implemented during the first wave of COVID-19, and the extent to which the source affects governance learning: from a polity's own experience in previous episodes of the same disaster type; from the experience of other polities with regard to the same disaster type; or by cross-hazard learning - transferring lessons learned from experience with other types of disasters. To assess which types of governance learning occurred we analyze the experience of four East Asian polities that were previously affected by SARS/MERS: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong-Kong. Their experience is compared with that of Israel. Having faced other emergencies but not a pandemic, Israel could have potentially learned from its experience with other emergencies, or from the experience of others with regard to pandemics before the onset of COVID-19. We find that governance learning occurred in the polities that experienced either SARS or MERS, but not cross-hazard or cross-polity learning. The consequences in the 5 polities at the end of the first six months of Covid-19, reflected by the numbers of infected and deaths, on one hand, and by the level of disruption to normal life, on the other, verifies these findings. Research insights point to the importance of modifying governance structures to establish effective emergency institutions and necessary legislation as critical preparation for future unknown emergencies.