UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction


IRDR newsletter: Oct 2012

27 November 2012

From the Director

We warmly welcome the newly appointed professor for Risk and Disaster Reduction, David Alexander, and the newly appointed lecturer in Risk and Disaster Reduction, Joanna Faure Walker. David, who has made seminal contributions to the discipline of disaster risk reduction, joins us from the Global Risk Forum, Davos.  Joanna joins us from a glamour City firm, Risk Management Solutions (RMS). She holds degrees from Cambridge University and UCL. (Their career details, in brief, can be found on the IRDR website.) We also welcome the new students on our first IRDR taught programme, the Master of Research (MRes) Risk and Disaster Reduction.

Rosanna Smith, the Deputy Director, Joanna and I have just returned from Japan, where the IRDR had organized a joint UK-Japan Workshop on “Disaster Risk Reduction – Learning from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake” with our counterparts from the new Tohoku University International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS). This was generously hosted by the British Embassy in Tokyo. The UK delegation included representatives from other UK universities, financial services and architectural consulting. The workshop discussed the necessity for creating resilient societies as well as resilient infrastructure, in order to recover from disaster. The workshop was followed by a seminar on “Disaster Research in the UK and Collaboration with Japan”, opened by the Ambassador , and addressed by the UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, FRS, his Japanese counterpart, Dr Masuo Aizawa, and the Nobel Laureate, Sir John Sulston, FRS. The emerging theme was the importance of a multi-hazard approach, cross-disciplinary research and translation into practice. This was re-iterated at a high-level Scoping Workshop I attended at the Japan Foreign Ministry, where disaster research was included as a key action for future UK-Japan collaboration. The importance of a multi-hazard approach was strikingly illustrated during our site visit to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. The massive structural damage to three reactors was attributed to hydrogen explosions resulting from the loss of cooling; but if there had not also been a landslide which brought down the power lines, the plant may have survived both the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. (A blog of our Japan visit will go up shortly on the IRDR website.)

The summer saw a major research grant success, where following an IRDR initiative, Richard Chandler (Statistical Sciences) organized a UCL-led consortium which won a £2 million award under the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Probability, Uncertainty and Risk in the Environment (PURE) programme. As well as partners in Statistical Sciences, the IRDR, Earth Sciences and Space & Climate Physics, our consortium includes the universities of Reading, Durham, Edinburgh, Birkbeck, the Met Office and British Geological Survey, and collaborators across the financial services and engineering sectors.

And finally up-and-coming events include, the launch of the 2012-13 IRDR Seminar Series with a seminar by David Alexander on 17th October, the first IRDR Student Forum on 18th October and the IRDR-sponsored International Conference on Urban Change in Iran at UCL (8-9th November). On the 6th December, Thinking Development are holding an IRDR-sponsored screening and exhibition on progress of their Haiti education project. Further details can be found below.

Peter Sammonds
Director, UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction

About the Institute

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Natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, floods and storms destroy lives and damage economies across the globe; pandemics have the potential to bring death and suffering on an unprecedented scale; while climate change may increase the severity of both natural and health disasters.

How society sees risk, how to link understanding of the causative mechanics to statistical approaches, and how to increase resilience and reduce the risk of disasters are common themes cutting across research in natural, environmental, health and technological hazards.

Reducing global risks and disasters presents a colossal challenge that requires coordinated and collaborative action.

UCL is uniquely well-placed to lead research and teaching in risk and disaster reduction, with at least 70 academics across 12 departments and seven faculties involved in world-class research and practice in the field.

To maximise the impact and value of our activities in risk and disaster reduction, and to increase and enhance interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation, we propose to bring together individual areas of expertise, under the umbrella of a UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction, built around established centres across UCL.

We also seek to contribute to the UCL Grand Challenges of Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.


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1. IRDR 2012-13 Seminar Series  will be launched with a seminar by David Alexander at 4.00pm on 17th October, in the Pearson Lecture Theatre, Room G25, speaking on “Mortality Patterns in Earthquakes: the Example of L'Aquila (Italy), 6 April 2009”. Details of the full seminar series can be found here.

2. IRDR Student Forum IRDR Student Forum.  Our first Forum this academic year is the IRDR Student Forum on Thursday 18th October at 4.00pm convened by Rosalie Tostevin. The forum will take the form of presentations by keynote speakers and an open discussion on student engagement with global disaster risk reduction and development initiatives. Representatives from student chapters of Geoscientists for Global Development, Engineers without Borders and Medecins Sans Frontieres will participate. This will be followed by a drinks reception and an open seminar by Simon Day on “Live Today, Die Tomorrow” at 6.00pm in the Garwood Lecture Theatre (South Wing, UCL). For further information please contact Rosalie: rosalie.tostevin.11@ucl.ac.uk.

3. International Conference on Urban Change in Iran The IRDR is sponsoring an international conference on Urban Change in Iran at UCL (8-9th November). The conference’s primary goal is to provide an international forum for analysing the dynamics of urban change and the ways in which this dynamism can be managed. It is also aimed at path-finding future directions by bridging the gap between theory and practice. Of particular interest for the conference are the socio-cultural aspects of urban transformation, the impacts of exposure to natural hazards and the way in which they have been responded to.

4. International Conference on Urban Sustainability and Resilience. The 1st International Conference on Urban Sustainability and Resilience, organized by the UCL Engineering Doctorate Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience will be held on 5th-6th November. Further information can be found at: conference@usar-conference-2012.org

5. Thinking Development Screening and exhibition event
showing progress on their Haiti project to develop a multi-functional educational complex will be held on 6th December, p.m., at UCL. http://www.thinkingdevelopment.org


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1. The new International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, edited by David Alexander, was launched on 29th August. Papers are available to be viewed at and downloaded from the journal’s 'Science Direct' page:

2. The second IRDR Annual Conference, held in June 2012, was a great success and attended by over 120 people. This was a one-day event of thought-provoking lectures and discussions, followed by our summer party. The morning commenced with a specialist session on Risk Communication, a developing research theme for the IRDR, with speakers who included John Tesh from the Cabinet Office and Gordon Woo from Risk Management Solutions (RMS). This was followed by a panel-discussion session on Natural Hazards and Critical Infrastructure, with panellists who included Virginia Murray from the Health Protection Agency and Mark Offord from Sellafield. The keynote lecture in the afternoon was delivered by Professor Christopher Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Development. This was followed by Andy Sti rling, professor of Science and Technology Policy at Sussex University, in conversation with Claire Fox, from the Moral Maze, on “Uncertainty in assessing environmental risks”.

Join the Institute

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1. Become a member of the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction Reducing global risks and disasters presents a colossal challenge that requires coordinated and collaborative action. UCL is uniquely well placed to lead research in risk and disaster reduction, with at least 70 academics across 12 departments and 7 faculties involved in world-class research, teaching and practice in the field.

To become a member of the Institute complete the form at the following link http://www.ucl.ac.uk/rdr/join/


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