A criminologically-informed examination of looting behaviour during natural disaster incidents

Charles Gaherity, Philip Birch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to examine looting behaviour during natural disaster incidents. As a consequence, this study considers looting in the context of two case studies: a Tsunami and a Bushfire. The study offers an exploration into the types of and motivations for looting, as well as reflecting on prevention measures.
Design/methodology/approach – The methodological approach of a rapid evidence assessment (REA) is used to examine looting behaviour within the context of two natural disaster incidents, drawing on a thematic analysis, as outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006) to support the presentation of findings.
Findings – The findings of the REA yield three themes. The first theme, Theme 1, focuses on the types of offenders – looters, while Theme 2 focuses on the motivations for offending behaviour – looting. The final theme, Theme 3, presents crime prevention responses: looters and looting. Each theme is further illustrated through a number of sub-themes, and while the two case studies centre on two distinct natural disaster incidents, there are similarities that exist between them offering insights for why looting occurs and consequently how to respond to looting.Research limitations/implications – Previous research has recognised how incidents such as bushfires enable and create opportunity for looting behaviour. Yet, arguably, little has been achieved in successfully preventing such behaviour. This study offers evidence for why looting occurs during natural disaster incidents and considers the prevention measures that can lead to a reduction in this offending into the future. The need for more detailed and primary research into looting during natural disaster incidents is a research implication engendered by the current study.Practical implications – This study considers crime prevention approaches in the form of situational crime prevention and social development crime prevention that have direct relevance on crime prevention policy and practice. The practical implications are worthy of attention from law enforcement agencies and other first/emergency responders.
Social implications – This study seeks to offer evidence for policy and practice initiatives that can increase public safety and reduce further threats to community safety during natural disaster incidents.
Originality/value – After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a concerted effort for swifter and more effective responses to emergency management incidents has occurred. However, the focus of such responses has typically overlooked looting during natural disaster incidents. This study goes some way in addressing that gap in the literature and connects the current scientific knowledge to prevention strategies, informing future policy and practice responses to addressing looting during such incidents. This study provides a stimuli for further research into looters, looting and natural disaster incidents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSafer Communities
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2021


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