Debating cascading and interconnected risk at UCL-IRDR

Natural hazards, pandemics and climate change require society to build an increased understanding of how to improve resilience and reduce the risk of disasters. There are common themes cutting across research in natural, environmental, health and technological hazards and these were the subject of the UCL IRDR 9th Annual Conference that took place on 19 June 2019.

The University College London (UCL) Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction is a world leading centre for research and teaching in this discipline. The Annual Conference brought together UCL and guest experts for a day of thought-provoking talks and discussions about the latest research and issues in cascading and interconnected risk.

Savina Carluccio participated on behalf of the Resilience Shift, presenting work from the initiative during the wide-ranging poster presentations. You can see the poster here on slideshade as embedded below, or download a pdf here Resilience Shift Poster June 2019.

See the abstracts of all poster presentations here.

Savina noted that the poster session was very interesting and well attended. “There was considerable interest in the Resilience Shift poster and I had stimulating exchanges with researchers who are working on themes that are very aligned with our work”, she said.

 

Highlights from the event

The event aimed to give the varied audience a better understanding of the multidisciplinary components of cascading and interconnected risk through a combination of talks, panel discussion, conversation, and poster presentations.

Savina commented, “The morning sessions highlighted the issues around emergency preparedness and put a lot of emphasis on resilience being context driven and people centred. Countries that have already experienced natural disasters and severe disruption to service tend to be more resilient to events while it was suggested that countries with advanced economies like the United Kingdom would struggle. A strong case was made for better preparedness, through improved situation awareness and more exercises”.

After a welcome by Professor Peter Sammonds, the opening session focused was chaired by Professor David Alexander, and entitled ‘Thinking the worst: complex, cascading and extreme disasters’. Speakers included Fiona Twycross, London, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Professor Liz Varga, Professor of Complex Systems, UCL, Agnes Jung, Training and Exercise Manager, NHS-E, and Gareth Jones, Senior Operational Risk Specialist, Bank of England.

Gareth Jones spoke about how it is difficult to fully grasp the characteristics of cascading risks, such as interconnectedness, complexity and systemic issues, and that we need more research on quantifying impacts and scenario analyses, and on planning and design resilience into the system.”

This session explored some of the challenges posed by the complexity of modern life in the face of hazards and threats that may cause serious harm or disruption. It discussed complexity in the management of hazards, risks, threats and disasters, including cyber risks, infrastructure failures, compound hazards, and the complex consequences of terrorism or extreme events with natural causes. Scenario planning was also discussed, and this is one of the approaches used by the Resilience Shift in its partnership with the Earth Ex tool delivered by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council (EIS Council).

The EIS Council’s (among his many roles) Lord Toby Harris delivered the keynote lecture: ‘Hoping for the Best is not a Sufficient Response if we are Expecting the Worse’. Lord Harris of Haringey was interviewed recently by the Resilience Shift on his concerns about a general lack of resilience for ‘black sky’ type disasters and the use of scenarios.

Savina said, “The afternoon provided more technical sessions on multi-hazard assessment and modelling of interconnected hazards in the built environment, with a very high quality of content and presentations”.

The need for multi-hazard and interconnected hazard risk assessment, education, and warning is increasingly being recognised. For example, an aim of The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction 2015-2030 is to increase the availability of multi-hazard risk information and early warning systems. Talks in this session, chaired by Dr Joanna Faure Walker, focused on interconnected and multi-hazard early warning systems, building vulnerability assessment, and modelling. Speakers included Professor Dina D’Ayala, Head of Civil Engineering, UCL, and Co-director of the EPICentre research centre, Hugo Winter, Environment and Natural Hazards R&D manager at the EDF Energy R&D UK Centre, and Dr Robert Muir-Wood, RMS Head of Research.

Jorieke Vyncke, leader of the Missing Maps project at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), was interviewed by Connie St. Louis on the opportunities and challenges of drones, for example, the lack of regulations, public mistrust due to military use, etc.

Savina also interviewed José Manuel Mendes of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, on the relevance of critical infrastructure resilience for his work, and his perspective of the conference.

The work of the University College London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction includes a trans-disciplinary PhD research centre, integrative masters teaching, a programme of public events and partnerships with humanitarian, financial, research and civil protection organisations.

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