• Israeli trauma experts teach resilience in Houston

    As Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston last August, the trauma didn’t even spare those whose job is to help others cope. One social worker, barricaded on the second floor of her house, watched in horror as water and mud flooded her first floor. Another was stuck in a closet with her dog for twenty-four hours. Many mental-health professionals felt helpless or guilty for their inability to respond to people in need as they usually would. And other professionals, such as educators, did not feel adequately prepared to tend psychological wounds among those they work with. Mental-health professionals from the Israel Trauma Coalition kick off a series of train-the-trainer sessions for about 65 professionals.

  • Disasters are destroying places we hold dear. What we do next will make all the difference.

    When fires, floods and other major disruptions alter natural areas, our first instinct is to restore what’s lost. But moving forward may mean leaving some treasured things behind. On 2 September 2017, a wildfire ignited in the Columbia River Gorge about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon. Quickly, flames spread across the canyon’s south side and ascended the surrounding cliffs, where dry east winds blew them into an inferno. Within three days the Eagle Creek Fire had enveloped more than 20,000 acres and jumped the river to the north rim. With smoke still choking its skies, the community plunged into a debate over how it should respond to this profound loss: try to reconstruct the past, or accept a new reality? Inhabitants of a dynamic world have grappled with this question for eons, but today and in a future where climate change is quickly destabilizing our environments, the changes are becoming more frequent and more consequential. More than ever, policy-makers and land managers are needing to make tough choices about humankind’s role in managing the natural world. Biologist Johanna Varner does not intend to encourage complacency about disasters that arise as a result of human activity, but she points out that our new reality is likely to be a time of great loss, and how we choose to respond to those losses will make a big difference. In the Columbia River Gorge or elsewhere, whether we re-create what goes missing, build something new or leave it alone entirely, our decisions will seed the future.

  • Post-disaster reconstruction divides society

    In 2004, a tsunami devastated much of the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh. An estimated 160,000 people were killed. In the years that followed, aid providers rebuilt homes on the same plots that had been completely destroyed by the tsunami, in order to avoid displacing the residents. In doing so, they were acting in accordance with a humanitarian principle that comes into play after natural disasters, namely to help survivors to return to their previous places of residence whenever possible. Yet in Banda Aceh, many tsunami survivors preferred to move inland instead, leading to a price premium for properties farther from the coast and socio-economic segregation. The unfortunate result is that lower-income residents are now disproportionately exposed to coastal hazards.

  • Two things matter when bouncing back from natural disasters

    Disaster happens. But solid local leadership combined with the right outside partners can mitigate the fallout and save lives. ‘The national actors who are there, whether they are firefighters, first responders, or people working on disaster and emergency preparedness policy — they are the ones who drive the conversation,” says one expert. But the second part of developing resiliency in the face of a disaster, she adds, is having international players acting as a catalyst. “This is central to the actual activities that you’re delivering.”

  • Cities with bad traffic may be more resilient to disruptive events

    New research shows that cities with bad traffic under normal conditions may actually be more efficient at handling adverse events, like accidents and storms. Conversely, some cities with typically low traffic congestion become severely backed-up under the pressure of these disruptive scenarios. Efficiency refers to the average time delay a commuter would face annually due to traffic. Resilience is the ability of road networks to absorb adverse events that fall outside normal daily traffic patterns.

  • New method to assess damage from natural disasters

    Awesome. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. Spectacular. These words aptly describe what is left following any natural disaster, whether it’s an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or any other occurrence where homes, buildings or infrastructure are destroyed and lives are turned upside down. However, these words are not the words the people whose lives have been permanently changed want to hear from anyone in their town assisting with the recovery efforts, or studying the effects of an event, not when it comes to discussing what is left of their homes and businesses, especially while piles of debris line the streets waiting to be cleared. Researchers offer a way to measure debris volume using drones, then develop an information-based model to determine the cost of cleanup.

  • Gulf Coast universities team up to address hurricane resilience

    A new multi-institution research center will focus on helping the Gulf coast do better at preparing for and mitigating the damage and loss of lives from hurricanes and other severe storms. The Hurricane Resilience Research Institute (HuRRI) draws upon the strengths of its seven participating universities, from flood mitigation and hurricane modeling to public policy.

  • Disaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • Risk management strategies to help communities deal with earthquakes

    As much as humanity tries, the attempt to avoid natural disasters sometimes seems almost futile. Be it a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or wildfire, everyone, at some point, will likely be affected by the results of a natural disaster. But the task of the people in each instance of a disaster is to return to a sense of normalcy, to get back to living life as closely to how they had lived before the natural disaster occurred. To do that means dependency on the infrastructure of their community, where the resumption of interrupted electrical power or the water supply is crucial to the recovery efforts. How quickly communities are able to become operational is directly proportional to the strength of the infrastructure in that community and the efficiency of the risk management plan in place designed to deal with such disasters.

  • Evacuating a nuclear disaster area is often a waste of time and money, says study

    Over 110,000 people were moved from their homes following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. Another 50,000 left of their own will, and 85,000 had still not returned four-and-a-half years later. While this might seem like an obvious way of keeping people safe, my colleagues and I have just completed research that shows this kind of mass evacuation is unnecessary, and can even do more harm than good. We calculated that the Fukushima evacuation extended the population’s average life expectancy by less than three months. The reality is that, in most cases, the risk from radiation exposure if tpeople stay in their homes is minimal. It is important that the precedents of Chernobyl and Fukushima do not establish mass relocation as the prime policy choice in the future, because this will benefit nobody.

  • Restoring wireless communications to Puerto Rico and remote, disaster-struck areas

    According to a Federal Communications Commission status report issued last week following a survey of Hurricane Maria damage, nearly 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell sites remain out of service, with many counties operating at less than 25 percent of full service. Daniel Bliss, director of the Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures (WISCA) at Arizona State University, offers insights about building a wireless infrastructure with the capacity to provide immediate, ongoing communications access during emergency situations.

  • Rethinking the role of the private sector in disaster relief

    Natural disasters have filled the news in recent months, occurring so frequently that they seem to intimate apocalypse: wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes. Global damages from disaster continue apace—currently pegged between $250-300 billion per year> But as national and international media coverage of these events recedes, the local effects persist—often for years. Small businesses, which account for the vast majority of enterprises in the U.S. and employ half of the private-sector workforce, are particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes

  • AI, citizen science, disaster response combine to help Hurricane Irma’s victims

    A highly unusual collaboration between information engineers at Oxford, the Zooniverse citizen science platform, and international disaster response organization Rescue Global is enabling a rapid and effective response to Hurricane Irma. The project draws on the power of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform, to work with volunteers and crowd source the data needed to understand Irma’s path of destruction and the damage caused.

  • Examining NYC storm surge infrastructure resilience

    With the recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, which ravaged much of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, from which NYC infrastructure is still recovering, it has become clear that addressing threats to infrastructure is critical to keeping our communities safe, functional, and healthy. Storm surge has emerged as one of the most destructive forces on infrastructure, especially interconnected structures in cities.

  • Designing a post-Harvey Houston for the future

    Being honest about the extent and urgency of the Houston-Galveston region’s flooding problem will not harm the community but will form the basis for recovery, according to a paper by an engineering and environmental expert. “Denying fundamental truths and moving forward with business as usual will be the economic death knell for the Houston region,” Rice University’s Jim Blackburn wrote in a paper highlighting fifteen policies and actions that are meant to initiate a conversation about designing a Houston for the future. “And make no mistake about it — how we respond to this horrible reality will determine the economic future of our region.”