UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


IRDR Debate: Do the Risks of the Festive Season Outweigh the Benefits?

22 November 2022, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Bauble hanging in a Christmas tree

Staff, students and members are invited to grab a mince pie and a mulled mug and join the first IRDR Debate on the thrills – and potential spills – of the festive season.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | Invitation Only






Sarah Jeal – Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Jeremy Bentham Room
Wilkins Main Building, UCL
Gower Street,
United Kingdom

For many, the past couple of years have changed the way we view the festive season. For others, things have remained exactly the same. With costs and coughs on the rise, and brewing environmental and social instability, this house asks, Do the Risks of the Festive Season Outweigh the Benefits? 

Are illuminations irresponsible during an energy crisis or beacons of hope? Is reliance on one type of poultry a risk in the light of recent avian flu outbreaks or underpinning a rural economy? And what happens if excess snowfall derails train travel? Can we plan ahead to ensure we all enjoy a safe and restful holiday season?

Hear experts in a thrilling debate at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction—and have your say—on the 22nd of November.  

Chaired by IRDR Head of Department Professor Joanna Faure Walker, the event will feature arguments from:

  • Dr Chris Needham-Bennett, Managing Director of consultancy Needhams 1834, and visiting professor in the IRDR.
  • Dr Gianluca Pescaroli, Associate Professor in Business Continuity and Organisational Resilience, and Programme Leader for the IRDR's Risk, Disaster and Resilience MSc
  • Dr Lisa Guppy, Lecturer in Global Humanitarian Studies in the IRDR
  • Richard Fitzhugh, Head of Business Resilience, Holcim Group

Once you've decided which side of the house has won you over, enjoy some festive treats at a networking reception, with industry guests, courtesy of business continuity and resilience management consultancy Needhams 1834 Ltd.


6.00–6.15pm: Doors open
6.15–6.20pm: Introduction and welcome
6.20-6.25pm: Opening words from the Chair
6.25–7.10pm: Debate
7.10-7.15pm: Final vote and closing words from chairwoman
7.15 onwards: Networking reception

We are committed to reducing waste, so if you are unable to attend, please cancel your booking as soon as possible.

This event is open to staff, students, IRDR members and alumni and invited guests. 

Event panel

Chair: Professor Joanna Faure Walker, UCL IRDR

Joanna is Professor in Earthquake Geology and Disaster Risk Reduction and the IRDR Head of Department. Earthquake geology and seismic hazard are her main research themes. She studies faults in the Earth's continental crust to better understand the physical processes controlling earthquake locations, timing and generation. She is also interested in disaster resilience, especially topics such as risk perception, warning and shelter. Joanna also has industry experience working for the catastrophe modelling firm RMS and academic consultancy practice for clients such as the World Bank.

Dr Chris Needham-Bennett, Needhams 1834

Chris is the Managing Director of Needhams 1834 Ltd (a London based resilience consultancy) and Visiting Professor at University College London.

Chris had been a debt collector, iron founder, paratrooper and ski instructor before settling down to work for the last 27 years as a risk and resilience consultant with major companies all over the world. He tends to focus on the strategic level issues in large organisations and the provision of stress testing exercises. He has worked with central banks, sovereign wealth funds, most of the top London law firms, the Supreme Court, pathology laboratories, several universities and notably a butter and cheese makers.  Aside from his work he is interested in the comparative lessons of historical responses to major disasters (we do not seem to have learned too much) and evolving existential threats (we do not seem very well prepared). Chris writes extensively for the trade press, on occasions the odd academic article and has presented lectures on risk at UCL, Portsmouth, Kings College and Cranfield. He is available for pub quiz teams for a small fee.

Dr Lisa Guppy, UCL IRDR

Lisa is a lecturer in humanitarian studies in the IRDR.  She has worked across humanitarian, peace and development fields, primarily with United Nations organisations, in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. Her roles have spanned local to global level and experience in humanitarian responses from the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka to drought in the Horn of Africa and ongoing complex emergency in Afghanistan. Most recently she has worked in the Asia Pacific Region, focusing on the environmental and climate dimensions of disasters, displacement and insecurity.

Lisa has particular interest in protracted and chronic crises and the implementation of nexus solutions in fragile humanitarian settings. She also focuses on how more considered water and environmental management can improve resilience and peacebuilding in these places.

Richard Fitzhugh, Holcim

Richard is Head of Resilience at Holcim, Switzerland. He completed his MPhil in parasitology with a specialisation in the lower gut, at which point he decided to move swiftly into the world of resilience. He has been the head of resilience with Rio Tinto, the mining conglomerate and now works with Holcim who operate in 77 countries in the world, Richard has recently returned from Iraq and in the course of his work has travelled to over 30 countries including Mozambique, Australia, South Africa (where his HR manager was shot dead) and a lot of other more dangerous places like France and Wembley. He anticipated the Covid 19 outbreak in 2017 and ran a simulation exercise for an imaginary virus; his resulting precautionary measures to ensure continued operations are estimated to have save several lives, $2BN of revenues and hundreds of jobs. His monitoring and reporting work on the African Ebola outbreaks was adopted for use by the WHO in their own response. He has presented lectures on resilience at UCL. He is a keen but bad rugby and squash player and as a result not all his teeth are his own original ones.

Dr Gianluca Pescaroli, UCL IRDR

Gianluca is Associate Professor in Business Continuity and Organisational Resilience and Programme Leader for the Risk, Disaster and Resilience MSc. HIs research investigates how to build and improve the ability to maintain operations during disruptive events, how to minimise their impacts and how to increase the resilience of the public and private sectors. This includes learning to understand complex challenges such as cascading risks, critical infrastructure failures, cross-sectoral interdependencies, and compound dynamics. HIs teaching and research address the promotion of business continuity and organisational resilience. His work is impact-oriented, and I publish in both the academic literature and strategic documents such as the UNISDR Guidelines on National Risk Assessment.

Organiser: Josh Anthony, UCL IRDR

Josh is a PhD candidate and editor of the IRDR Blog. He studies ancient river systems in the Somerset Levels to understand the natural and anthropogenic drivers of landscape change and the implications for flood risk management. When not defending his geophysics equipment from nosy livestock, you can expect to receive endless emails from him requesting contributions to the blog.

About our sponsor

Needhams 1834 is an industry-leading business continuity and resilience management consultancy. They deliver real impact, value and lasting change for public and private sector clients across the worldwide. Their reputation has been built on the positive results of their work since 1996 and their award-winning consultants are globally recognised. Their managing director was named BCI's European Continuity & Resilience Consultant of the Year 2015. Their services include risk management and business continuity consultancy. Needhams 1834 have previously hosted student interns from the IRDR.