UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction


IRDR Newsletter: Jan 2012

19 January 2012

From the Director

Last year proved to be a watershed for disasters and risk reduction. The 11th March Tohoku earthquake and tsunami were a human and economic disaster for Japan. From the sheer scale of damage that could be inflicted on an advanced industrialized country inferences were drawn, rightly or wrongly, about acceptable risks, which led directly to the termination of the German nuclear power programme. With memories still fresh of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there was also recognition for the need to re-assess the UK’s preparedness and resilience, at the highest political levels. Lord Ashdown’s review of the UK’s humanitarian emergency response galvanized action across government. As a consequence, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) was invited to join two bids led by industry to consult to government on risks for radwaste disposal and on transport infrastructure. While the report of the Institution of Structural Engineers’ field mission (EEFIT) assessment of the impact of the Tohoku earthquake, to which the IRDR contributed, is now being drawn on for advice to ministers. Natural hazards also developed as an important research theme and major funding awards are scheduled for 2012, with the UCL involved in a number of bids. UCL and the IRDR are therefore well placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities of 2012.

Our first major public event of the year will be panel discussion on Dickens’s London, which we are organizing with Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English, and an exhibition drawing on UCL’s Special Collections. 19th-century London having undergone rapid change and needing radical solutions to the problems (overcrowding, sanitation) caused by industrialization provides a unique insight into the development of a global megacity.

Dickens’s London: Thursday 15th March 6.00pm The broadcaster and UCL Fellow Mark Lawson will chair a panel comprising Rosemary Ashton, OBE, UCL Quain Professor of English, popular London historian Jerry White and Julian Hunt, FRS, author of London’s Environment. We will also hold an Exhibition, drawing on UCL’s Special Collections featuring Dickens’s links with London, including social reformer and UCL philanthropist, Edwin Chadwick. The approaching Dickens bicentennial we believe provides an opportunity for an examination of Dickens’s London, the improvements in the urban environment and public health since his time and the resonances for global megacities today. Further details and reg istration are given below.

New appointments: We are delighted to start the New Year with the appointment of a new IRDR Deputy Director, Dr Rosanna Smith.Rosanna arrives from the Ludwig Maximilians Universitat Munchen, where she held a prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship for 2 years, researching volcanic hazard. She has an impressive academic track record, including publishing in Nature, and experience in preparing advice for policy-makers at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. We also welcome Frank Furedi as Visiting Professor. Frank, who gave the keynote lecture at our First Annual Conference, is a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and author of On Tolerance (2011) and the Politics of Fear (2005). Two students, Giorgos Michas and Giorgos Papadakis, start full-t ime PhDs on seismic hazard, jointly supervised by Professor Filippos Vallianatos of the Technological Institute of Crete, with whom we have signed an Erasmus co-operation agreement. We will make two offers shortly for one IRDR Lectureship and two Research Fellowships. We interview soon for an IRDR-CAFOD Research Associate. Further appointments are in progress. Stephen Edwards, the former Deputy Director, is still engaged with the IRDR through his position as Development Manager at the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Centre (ABUHC), as UCL Knowledge Transfer and Enterprise Champion for 2012 and as Principal Investigator on the new IRDR-CAFOD-ABUHC Bolivian water risk project.

Finally, I should flag the second IRDR Annual Conference, which will be held on the 21st June, which will feature two themes, 1) Communicating Risk and, 2) Natural Hazards and Critical Infrastructure. We are soliciting contributions. Further details are given below.

We look forward to your continued support in 2012.

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. Dickens's London Our first major public event of the year will be a panel discussion, with audience participation, on Dickens’s London on the evening of Thursday 15th March form 6.00pm. This is open to all UCL staff and students and to members of the public. It will be followed by a drinks reception in the South Cloisters. An Exhibition on UCL and Dickens’s London will run through the day in the South Cloisters.

  • Date: Thursday 15 March from 2.00pm to 8.30pm.
  • Panel discussion: 6.00pm to 7.30pm, Cruciform Building Lecture Theatre 1, University College London, Gower Street.
  • Reception: 7.30pm to 8.30pm, Wilkins Building, South Cloisters.
  • Dickens’s London Exhibition: 2.00pm to 8.30pm, Wilkins Building, South Cloisters.

Further details of the event and the registration form can be found on the Dickens's London page.

2. IRDR Annual Conference, 2012 The IRDR is currently finalising details for our annual conference, which will be held on Thursday 21 June. The conference aims to draw together a varied and dynamic audience from across UCL and beyond to report on, explore and inform research in risk and disaster reduction through thought-provoking lectures and discussions. This year the conference will explore the following themes:

  • Communicating risk
  • Natural hazards and critical infrastructure

We invite poster contributions on the theme of assessing and communicating risk. Anybody wishing to display a poster is asked to contact Rosanna Smith (rosanna.smith@ucl.ac.uk).

Further details and a programme for the days will follow closer to the time.


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1. Katerva award finalists Our TwinSat project for predicting earthquakes with satellites, a collaboration between British and Russian scientists and institutions, which include Alan Smith, Director of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London (UCL), Vitaly Chmyrev of the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Peter Sammonds, Director, UCL IRDR, was a finalist in the prestigious Katerva awards for the “best sustainability initiative on the planet”.

The project was announced in early 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s journey as the first human being in outer space. Slated to launch in 2015, the satellite will be comprised of two co-orbiting spacecraft - a 45kg microsatellite and a 2.5kg nanosatellite - known collectively as TwinSat. Each satellite will carry a suite of science instruments to measure coupling between the lithosphere, atmosphere and ionosphere (LAI). These LAI coupling events are associated with seismic activity and hence, are believed to be precursors to earthquakes.

Visit the Katerva award page for more information.

2. Tohoku earthquake and tsunami EEFIT report The report of the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team EEFIT of the UK Institution of Structural Engineers, The Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami of 11th March 2011, to which the IRDR contributed, has been published.

More details of the visit and the report can be found in the IRDR Publications section.

3. NERC Grant award to Gerald Roberts on earthquake geology Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck Earth Sciences and IRDR) won a £880k NERC grant to investigate “Earthquake hazard from 36Cl exposure dating of elapsed time and Coulomb stress transfer”. The project involves collaborators from UCL (Peter Sammonds), Leeds (Richard Phillips), Durham (Ken McCaffrey), Ulster (John McCloskey, Suleyman Nalbant), SUERC (Stewart Freeman) and partners from Bergen, Cologne, ISPRA (Rome), OGS (Trieste), Chieti and INGV (Rome).

4. Erasmus agreement signed with the Technological Educational Institute of Crete UCL signed an Erasmus co-operation agreement in Life Long Learning with the Technological Educational Institute of Crete in the field of geoscience. This provides an opportunity for postgraduate students to visit Crete for extended periods for research and for staff to visit for 2 weeks.

Please contact the IRDR Director, for further details.

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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