Enschede cries – Restoring ontological security after a fireworks disaster

Warner, Jeroen


The article claims that to those affected, disaster is an existential experience. For them, it is an unexpected existential ‘event’ clearly separating a ‘before’ from an ‘after’. In the academic disaster domain however the ‘disaster as event’ is being eroded both by complexity approaches and critical approaches, which both, if for different reasons, consider disaster ‘normal’. By the example of the Enschede, the Netherlands, urban fireworks explosion of 2000 I argue that we should not only celebrate community resilience but take much more seriously how disasters may paralyse and traumatize individuals and communities. The application of Giddens' ‘ontological security’ to urban disaster foregrounds the importance for the disaster-affected population of regaining a sense of continuity and trust in the living and regulatory environment. Retaining (cultural) memory, also mediated through the arts, supports long-term rehabilitation. In the case under scrutiny, the municipal government indeed proved responsive to a desire to preserve disaster memory rather than just look ahead, yet unresolved forensic puzzles and lack of accountability may have slowed psychological closure.