UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Public engagement 2022–23

A key aim of the IRDR is to engage in public debate on issues in risk and disaster reduction, creating a space for academic discourse in the public policy and political arenas, and raising the profile of UCL. To achieve this, we organise discussion meetings, lectures, symposia and conferences open to the UCL community and the general public, cumulating in our Annual Conference. As well as our event series, we organise workshops with local communities as part of our research projects, participate in external public engagement events, and our academics feature in the media

We look forward to an exciting events programme in 2023–24, starting with ‘Gender and Sexual Minorities in Disaster Risk Reduction’, ‘Risk, Sustainability and Green Finance,’ and ‘Modern Slavery in the UK’.

Events in 2022–23

The 2023 Annual Conference – on the theme of 'Risk Without Borders' – saw Professor Stefan Dercon from the Blavatkin School of Government, Oxford and former Chief Economist of DFID give the keynote speech and Judge Mykola Gnatovskyy, European Court of Human Rights, in conversation with Dr Yulia Ioffe. Panel discussions on data and scientific work across borders included experts from the British Geological Survey, University of Twente, The Economist, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Tohoku and Bristol universities, as well as IRDR and UCL academics.

Our Humanitarian Summit – 'Doing Even More with Even Less' –  organised by Dr Lisa Guppy, welcomed Claudia Wells, International Hub Director, Development Initiatives, as the keynote speaker. A policy and frameworks panel discussion and an in conversation session included experts from University of Tromsø, Norway, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Elrha, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and UCL.

We also welcomed sector experts onto campus as part of our free, public Monthly Seminar series. Speakers included Paul Ingram from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge, who gave an introduction to the latest research on the global effects of nuclear war; Tom Sheldon from the Science Media Centre on communicating science research; and international members of the GRRIPP project who led a discussion on gender, climate change and sustainable development. As part of this series, we were also fortunate to have inaugural lectures from two new members of staff. Prof Fatemeh Jalayer spoke on engaging communities in multi-risk governance and Prof Mark Pelling on engaging with the political spaces of adaptation and risk management.

In December, we held the first IRDR debate, in partnership with visiting academic Chris Needham-Bennett from consultancy Needhams 1834, on the festive question of whether the risks of Christmas outweigh the benefits. The topic prompted speakers to discuss an array of topics including climate change, migration, community resilience, hazard, warnings and emergency response, as well as an array of more comical topics in the spirit of the theme. You can read the subsequent blog post about the event on the IRDR website.

a man trying a food sample at a stand
Alongside the annual and monthly events, we held anniversary events for the Centre for Gender and Disaster and the Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencieswhich included a fermented food tasting (right); the Warning Research Centre held its first conference, 'Creating effective warnings for all'; project-based activities such as the GRRIPP network events that welcomed project partners from across the globe; a research showcase on antimicrobial resistance; and expert-led masterclasses, on topics such as rapid flood mapping and damage assessment by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal.

Most IRDR events are free to attend and open to the public. Many are recorded and available on the IRDR YouTube channel.

Catch up now:

Widening participation and outreach

Part of ensuring department community remains diverse is making sure our academic programmes are available, and appeal to, a wide range of academically excellent students. As part of UCL’s broader widening participation (WP) remit, the IRDR hosts online taster events, bespoke school visits and careers events. This year we hosted secondary school pupils from East London at the UCL East campus for a summer school held in partnership with the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Ilan Kelman lecturing to a room of students
Academic staff are regularly approached to talk to young people abut risk and disaster reduction. Over the past year, Prof Ilan Kelman, has presented at numerous secondary schools in London and Oxford on his book Disaster by Choice, encouraging the students to pursue scientific careers that contribute to a safer society. He was also invited to speak at the Royal Geographic Society in March 2023 on 'Creating Disaster'. 

People standing in front of a plane
Research fellow Laura Peters developed an experimental summer field course in Disaster Risk Reduction for Wildland Fires in the Pacific Northwest (US) for the Geography program at Oregon State University. In addition to classroom instruction, students attended a large complex active fire in Oregon for four days for an immersive learning experience with an all-risk incident management team. They observed and learned first-hand how long-term, complex incidents are coordinated, managed, and communicated by “last responders” during a crisis where resources are limited and all options have trade-offs.

In December, Communications and Digital Content Manager Sarah Jeal won a UCL Widening Participation Community of Practice award for Schools and Community Outreach in recognition of her role in expanding the department’s WP activities.

Media engagement

The IRDR maintains a high-profile media strategy, providing both immediate comment during disasters, and features for documentaries and magazines.

The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February meant IRDR experts were in demand, with Prof Joanna Faure Walker appearing in global outlets such as the BBC (UK and international), Financial Times, World Bank, NewsWeek, Euronews, Reuters, The Financial Express, Science Media Centre, Wellington Weekly News, Zee News, AviationSource News, Sky NEWS, Talk TV, and CNBC-TV, amongst others.

Other media appearances included an interview with Dr Yulia Ioffe on Ukraine’s investigation of Belarus’ suspected role in the transfer or children; Prof Ilan Kelman on reducing lives lost to extreme weather; Prof Joanna Faure Walker on the Morocco Earthquake; Dr Philip Cunliffe on the influence of chatgpt; Dr Gianluca Pescaroli on how financial institutions prepared for winter power shortages; and Prof Joanna Faure Walker on how to reconstruct after disaster strikes, amongst many others.

Dr Mohammad Shamsudduha's research on farmers replumbing groundwater in Bangladesh was picked up globally by US radio channel Science Friday; The Business Standard, Bangladesh; Daily Star, New Scientist, and Yahoo Finance (see Research section for more details).

Media case study: Can music inspire more people to care about climate change?

Sarah Dryhurst
In March 2023, Senior Research Fellow Dr Sarah Dryhurst was interviewed by the LA Times about TEMPO, a project to explore the role of music in climate change decision making.   

In 2022, seismologist Dr Lucy Jones created the TEMPO project to find ways of using music to inspire action on climate change. Emotions play a crucial role in our perception of risk and motivation to act, yet many feel a sense of hopelessness in their ability to take effective actions on climate change. TEMPO aims to change this emotional climate by using the power of music. By evoking feelings of hope and collective agency music has the potential to inspire and motivate more effective climate action. 

Funded by the US-Japan foundation, TEMPO brings together Japanese and American climate scientists, social scientists and musicians. Using insights from psychology, data from climate scientists and the creative talents of composers, TEMPO aims to develop music, performances and collective participatory experiences to inspire the action we need on climate change. 

Two podcasts on the project are available: LA Times episode and the Tempo project podcast.