Session Summaries

Monday, July 9th

What Happened in 2017? Putting a Year of Extremes in Context

Summary by: Génesis Álvares Rosario, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras

In 2017, disasters in the United States exceeded $300 billion, largely from the impact of 16 extreme climatic events. These disasters were discussed from a transdisciplinary perspective in the opening plenary of the 2018 Natural Hazards Workshop. The panelists used cases such as Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, as well as the wildfires in California, to put the impacts of the 2017 disasters into context. During these events, new climatic and loss records were set. Beyond climatic changes, panelists talked about the increasing exposure and vulnerabilities that should be considered in the analyses of disasters. Examples discussed by the panel included the development and political history of Puerto Rico; financial crises; lack of infrastructure maintenance; and the challenges of bureaucracies in efficiently and timely managing public funds before, during, and after a disaster. Another example is the lack of resources and lack of a long-term vision from governments and citizens in planning for the unexpected. Having acknowledged the diverse disaster risks, lessons learned included taking account of social ties; promoting political will; and building government, private sector, and community relationships that drive political decisions to invest and implement resilience and mitigation strategies that transform vulnerable conditions.

In spite of the rich discussion that emerged, there were questions from the panelists that still remain.

The plenary began with a presentation that gave a snapshot about the severity of 2017 disasters in the United States. Adam Smith, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, presented a cost analysis of the extreme weather events that impacted the period of 1980-2017. There has been an increase of events, damages, and cumulative costs. The National Centers for Environmental Information provide maps and economic data by population and filters to examine how severity of the events and vulnerability conditions impact differentially in the disasters.

The plenary continued with the contextualization of three major disasters in 2017. One of them was related to the wildfire season in the United States. Penny Luehring, of the U.S. Forest Service, brought to attention the potential that a disaster can develop another disaster; for example, the debris flows after a fire that can impact communities downstream. The second case was Hurricane Harvey in Houston discussed from a political perspective. Stephen Costello, of City of Houston, emphasized the underlying causes of the disaster, such as the lack of investment in enhancing urban infrastructure and inefficient bureaucracy that puts limitations in the provision of public assistance. The third case was the experience of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico. As Costello, Jenniffer Santos, of the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, emphasized the underlying causes of the disaster, such as the problem with development and the colonial political relationship of the Island with United States.

Overall, the speakers emphasized the importance of the connection between the preexistent conditions of vulnerability and the effects of extreme weather events. Finally, the plenary ended with a reflection about opportunities to enhance resilience, such as: promote political will and changes in policies and clarify what is meant by resilience at both the community and political level. Several questions from the audience remained, however: Are we at the age of normative disaster? Are people going to reconstitute themselves even if they don’t have the resources?

To expand on the discussion of what happened in 2017 in regards to extreme events, you can access the following resources:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations National Centers for Environmental Information U.S. Forest Service: National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy World Economic Forum Texas Monthly

Moonshots: Ideas to change the world of hazards and disasters

Recorder’s Name: Muritala Adegoke, Morgan State University

At the opening of this session, the moderator puts forward a question to the panelists and the audience: What is the moonshot for hazards and disasters research 2018? Specifically, what is the biggest exploratory groundbreaking idea or direction for the hazards and disasters research community?

Firstly, to launch a moon shot, the ideal must be grounded with data and facts. According to Justin Theal, of the Pew Charitable Trusts, made a case that the studies conducted by Pew Trusts in June 2018 show the rising costs of natural disaster assistance and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have had eight of its most expensive years on record for the last decade between 2007 and 2016. However, there are no comprehensive data to support the efforts made by state and local governments. Similarly, policy and decision-making without adequate information and relevant data could have consequences, such as rising costs, which are currently an issue, and a missed opportunity to effectively distribute resources that will impact vulnerable communities.

Secondly, there is a concern that there isn’t sufficient attention given to analyses and data collection. Scott Miles, of the University of Washington, explained why there is a need for a new specialty: “disaster science.” Scholars from various backgrounds, ranging from the social sciences to engineering, geography, and economy, have researched into disasters. “Disaster science” would focus on how to solve disaster-related problems and create a culture that will strive toward solving such problems.

Thirdly, Shannon Burke, of the American Planning Association, stated that the role of planners should be acknowledged and implemented in policy and decision-making; there should be a comprehensive approach towards an implementation strategy or recovery approach to projects. Planners have the ability to transform communities and build resilience to disasters. However, discussions on policy change are often entangled because of a lack of political will to change the status quo from what it currently is to what it should be. There is a need for a culture shift at the legislative level in a sustained investment to keep communities prepared for disasters. Finally, Tricia Wachtendorf, of the University of Delaware, explained why disaster research should not limit efforts to what is already known; rather, it should focus on how to solve disaster problems effectively and efficiently. How do we recognize that disaster is imminent? With considerable thinking that disasters are within the social system, how can society be set on the right course, and how can we choose to collectively answer these pressing questions around human survival?

Cascading Diasters: Interactions, Interdependencies, and Impacts

Summary by: Liza Kurtz, Arizona State University

This session coalesced around the broad question, "What environmental and social conditions produce cascading disasters, and how do they, in turn, ultimately influence what society can deal with and what it cannot?” Many terms related to cascading disasters are employed in various disciplines and professions, but whether it’s called a secondary hazard, compounding event, cascading failure, or complex disaster, these events offer challenges to traditional disaster management. While some features of a cascading disaster are shared by single-hazards, cascading disasters intensify the effects of connectivity and interdependency through complex system interactions, leading to multiple natural or technological system failures. Interconnected systems are increasing in number and complexity through globalization, expanding supply chain networks, greater geographic mobility of individuals, and precarious natural environments. This interdependence has created a “new normal” where almost all disasters involve cascades on some level—whether institutions and researchers recognize them as such or not. Their effects are felt beyond the immediate disaster site as lifeline infrastructures fail, residents are displaced, and trade networks are disrupted.

Cascading disasters are difficult to manage for several reasons. First, system complexity creates mitigation tradeoffs: decoupling components can reduce efficiency and usability in daily operations but increase system robustness and resiliency to hazards. Second, institutions do not always recognize cascading challenges in time to halt the domino effect, even when mitigation is possible, because of the historical focus on single-hazard disasters. Last, cascading disasters cross institutional boundaries, forcing independent sectors and actors into a high-consequence, high-pressure emergency response situation. For-profit companies or agencies with a stake in infrastructure security may present additional coordination challenges as these actors are incentivized not to share proprietary information. Despite these potential barriers, however, the session clearly called for additional research into cascading disasters across disciplinary divides and greater cooperation between researchers, planners, mitigation and response specialists, and relevant industries when considering cascading risks. Risk assessment and a holistic perspective are fundamental to preparedness and planning for cascading disasters, or, as the moderator Susan Cutter, of University of South Carolina, phrased it, “How can you anticipate the phenomena when you don’t know the system?”

Risk(y) Business: Persuading Investors to Fund Resilience

Summary by: Jaimlyn Sypniewski, Texas A&M University—Galveston

This session focused on the question: “How can the public sector, investment, and capital markets be encouraged to invest in risk reduction and resilience building activities.” The panelists agreed that the importance of this question cannot be over emphasized. Studies may provide scientific answers, but without application, they have little practical value. Waiting for a disaster to ignite interest in funding is no longer acceptable. A constant and robust demand to develop resilient communities before a disaster is being created through advancements in analytics, higher standards, and innovative financing approaches to bridge the resilience gap.

Creating demand for resilience investment after a disaster is easy; however, emphasizing demand for investment prior to a disaster is more challenging. Most models rely on historical data that might not fully capture changes in the frequency and magnitude of risks, particularly under the varying conditions of climate change. As a result, there is a lack of appreciation for how at-risk we currently are.

Developing catastrophe models that use accurate, current, and transparent data to predict risk indices for extreme climate events will reduce the occurrence of disasters we are unprepared for. Catastrophe modeling fills data gaps and identifies the frequency and severity of storms, earthquakes, and other events before they occur, providing more widely available, reliable, and robust risk predictions.

Increasing demand for resilience involves educating those who are at risk. Information is available that supports investment in resilient infrastructure by demonstrating improved physical performance during disasters, increased market performance, and a reduction in insurance costs. Moreover, future savings on insurance brings mitigation into reach, particularly for low-income populations that are the least likely to be insured and the least able to afford the cost of damages.

Creating consistent resilience funding requires shifting from reactive to proactive behaviors. People need to understand that investing in resilience will save them money in the long-term. However, an upfront investment in resilience carries costs. A series of proactive and strategic short-term investments can help move society toward resilience and a culture of preparedness. Both the money and desire to invest in resilience exists. We need to change the demand from funding after a disaster to funding resilient housing and infrastructure before a disaster. This requires transparent data and increasing education of the public.

Cultural Competence: Initiatives to Reduce Disaster Vulnerability

Summary by: Rashon Lane, University of California, San Francisco

This session addressed cultural competence initiatives aimed at reducing disaster vulnerability by providing an overview of select activities being implemented in disaster research and practice. This session addressed cultural competence in various settings (e.g. higher education and emergency management) and across various levels for government (e.g. tribal, local, state, and federal).

Successes and challenges for implementation were shared and questions about how to measure the impact of cultural competence arose. Panelists discussed power structures that increase vulnerability across social categories (i.e. gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.). Since marginalized populations are more likely to be negatively impacted from disasters, practitioners and researchers must attend to the policies and organizational factors that impact disadvantaged population groups. Because the challenges in improving cultural competence in disaster situations exist at local, state, and national levels, as well as across international settings, there is not a single framework, risk assessment, or community engagement strategy that works for all population groups. Panelists shared their activities and recommendations based on their own work among particular population groups, including the Navajo, Latinos in Oregon, and historically black colleges and universities in the United States.

One proposition that was offered to increase culturally competent strategies involved empowering local community members to challenge current resilience frameworks that uphold neoliberal paradigms that assume marginalized communities have similar experiences to communities with higher resources prior, during, and after a disaster, and as such, that they have similar opportunities to “bounce back.” To this end, and to address cultural competence, disaster practitioners and scholars can take the lack of social, political, and economic capital available to vulnerable communities in to account when working in the preparedness and recovery stages of disasters. Moreover, in assessing our progress in cultural competence during and after disasters, measures that we don’t typically use to address cultural and social factors should be integrated across time and location to better understand and monitor efforts in addressing cultural competence.

Mitigation Saves: Next Steps in Policy Investment Summary

Session by: Isaiah Higgs, East Carolina University

The session was a follow up to and an examination of the 2017-released Natural Hazards Mitigation Saves: Interim Report, which updated previous estimates that indicated that for every $1 spent on federal mitigation efforts, the nation saves $4 in potential disaster losses to a new figure of $6 saved for every dollar spent. This report was highly praised and its information was used in many studies involving mitigation and risk reduction. It examined the cost and benefits of mitigation practices within hazardous communities. The panelists discussed the promotion of funding mitigation through public and private-sector investments. Each panelist provided insight on their own perspectives and knowledge of the benefits of mitigation. The purpose of the panel discussion was to highlight the different cases of mitigation savings and what this report means for public and private investments while also questioning how to inform better mitigation decisions. Overall, the panel discussion focused on themes regarding the closing of the investment gap, investment knowledge, and how to align stakeholder interest. Some believed that with the closing of the knowledge gap comes legal actions placed towards people accountable for the hazardous regions while others believed the closing of the knowledge gap would be held by the individuals who occupy those communities versus who invest in those communities. More questions involving who is actually being economically saved and how they are affected by disasters were brought to the forefront. Other questions included “how is the affluent middle class being affected?” and “are there barriers for non-economic cost?” Overall, the questions focused more on the individuals that physically at risk. Some panelist pondered on what individuals perceive as risk and if making individuals aware of the risk is enough to save them physically and economically.

Another takeaway from this panel discussion was that there should be more research on the understandings of the affected citizens’ role in recovery by closing the knowledge gap of the different expertise that different agencies have about risk reduction to natural disasters. The most prominent recurring theme of this panel discussion was not the answers to the questions set forth, but the recognition of the lack of knowledge individuals, researchers, investors, and agencies have towards the efficacy mitigation saves towards the people who need this information the most, whoever those people may be.

Walking the Talk: Risk Communications to Inspire Actions

Summary by: Dontá Council, Old Dominion University

Risk communication in natural hazards has made several advances, but also faces challenges in an increasing complex environment. Panelists discussed several highlights and successes of risk communication strategies. The most popular forms of risk communication strategies were social media and short text messages. Social media mediums such as Twitter and Facebook have been increasingly popular in engaging and warning individuals of all natural hazards. A huge success was cited from panelist Jeannette Sutton. Weather alerts via cell phones will increase in information from the traditional limit of 140 characters. This will allow for more detailed information to be disseminated during emergencies to those who face eminent threats.

A common challenge among the panelists was that, although social media and text messaging have become popular, they do not always reach the vulnerable populations. This disconnect may exacerbate inequalities in emergency preparedness and response. Another challenge faced of risk communication is validating information such as crowdsourcing via social media. Bots and other anonymous distributors can skew the detection of areas of concern and how others may interpret incorrect information. Another challenge that was discussed is that individual perspectives of risks change in response to apparent risks, gradual risks, and sudden-onset risks. Risk appraisal is rarely objective. This means the subjectivity of perception makes it difficult to address the factors that motivate response. To effectively communicate risks, we must lean on trusted leaders to have a voice in communications. This can be a true challenge when communicated risks do not actualize. That leaves the question, who and what information do we trust when assessing risks?

The panelists challenged both academics and practitioners to begin thinking about how we can develop theory on visual risk communication. Currently, there is a gap between how we use imagery to communicate risks to different audiences. We don’t know we are using images correctly, and the ubiquity of imagery can be challenging, as well.

Better Outcomes: Strategies to Improve Health and Well-Being

Summary by: Miriam Commodore–Mensah, University of Nebraska at Omaha

In this session, the discussion was centered around one main question: how do we align research questions and policy applications to save lives, reduce injury, and improve mental health outcomes? One big idea that was expressed by all of the panelists was that research questions and policies should focus on the priorities of the community. Researchers must not only focus on the academic aspect of their research but also should also focus on how their research can impact the lives of people, and at the same time, provide knowledge. Researchers must communicate with the community in order to assess their needs and, through these assessments, generate questions that can be applied or practiced by the people.

An idea generated during the discussion was that research and policies should focus on critical infrastructures of the health sector. Tracking people to identify the long-term effects of disasters on health is another way to save lives and collect accurate data for research.

Implementation science was also another key aspect that was mentioned at the panel—research should involve the study of methods to promote research findings and evidence-based practices. Research should be used as a tool to develop a performance-based framework, which can then be implemented by communities. All panelists emphasized on the fact that researchers and policy-makers can use a multi-disciplinary approach to develop evidence-based practices and apply them to disaster preparedness plans and disaster mitigation practices of local health departments. Panelists also talked about how building and modeling accurate maps is essential for disaster preparedness and mitigation plans. Research questions and policies should be centered on these main ideas: engaging people in regular disaster preparedness practices; helping people recover from disaster; knowing populations’ levels of resilience; and knowing how susceptible people or victims are in terms of health status.

At the end of the discussion, panelists mentioned lack of data as a common problem researchers face and two suggestions were made on how to help solve it. It was suggested that in the absence of data, monitoring of non-governmental organization activities could be of great help. Finally, it is important for researchers to share data and findings.

Off the Radar: Getting Low-Attention Disasters the Focus and Resources They Need

Summary by: Lily Bui, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The central question for this session was: “In light of recent catastrophic environmental extremes, how can we ensure that communities that experience “low-attention” disasters get the resources and support they need?”

The session began with defining a low-attention disaster (LAD). Moderator Nancy Beers, of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, defined LADs as disasters in which one has to explain “where it happened, what happened, and why we should go there.” More often than not, LADs include events such as floods, (nationally) undeclared disasters, or multi-unit fires.

The panelists discussed how LADs differ from high-attention disasters in two critical ways: money and media attention. Because media attention often translates into donations and relief, finding new ways to bring attention to LADs is critical. Kevin King, of the Mennonite Disaster Service, suggested that communities affected by LADs can organize around a vision for attracting donations and fundraising, for telling the story about how LADs impact their community, and for building relationships. Another strategy for non-governmental organizations (NGO) working in LADs is to simply do what is possible to add capacity. King shared that he and his team at Mennonite Disaster Services had once helped farmers suffering from drought transport hay from Canada to the Dakotas.

The panel also discussed how vulnerable populations might be more resilient to disasters because they live with disasters on a daily basis, some of which are LADs. Marccus Hendricks, of the University of Maryland, shared his mother’s story: after being flooded twice, she removed the carpet from their home, polished their cement flooring, marked the water line on the wall, and removed the drywall. The next time the house flooded, there wasn’t as much damage. This is an example of how people can adapt when they have experienced disaster frequently.

Finally, the moderator asked the panelists to think about some “big ideas” to add capacity to communities that experience LADs:

  • “What if you could fund a news source for low-attention disasters, i.e. a Center for Disaster Recovery News?” King suggested a potential repository for positive success stories as well as the perils of low attention disasters.
  • “Fast cash injections can do more than we think. We might think that financing response and recovery is very expensive, but “$600 can go a long way.” Beers suggested this as a strategy for getting financial aid to communities affected by LADs more quickly.

Still, a few questions remained. For example:

  • How can mitigation take on a bigger role for LADs? Can mitigation be done even earlier with easier and more manageable deliverables as opposed to long-term large-scale planning/recovery?
  • What about droughts? This is the “least sexy” of all disasters, but droughts severely affect communities.

Resources mentioned:

Meyer, M. A., & Hendricks, M. D. (2018). Using Photography to Assess Housing Damage and Rebuilding Progress for Disaster Recovery Planning. Journal of the American Planning Association, 84(2), 127-144.

Plan for Justice: Transforming the Disaster Recovery Environment

Summary by: Lan Nguyen, University of Washington

In this session, panelists where asked three questions: 1) What has been your experience working in post-disaster recovery and what major changes have you seen in recovery over the course of your career?; 2) What opportunities and challenges have you experienced in balancing the perspectives of various community-based, government, and private sector stakeholders in a just and equitable manner?; and 3) What lessons have we adequately learned in the U.S post-disaster recovery context? And what lessons haven’t we learned in the recovery world?

Panelists in this session had decades of experience with housing, economic development, and the role of government during disaster recovery. They agreed that disaster planning has changed very little during their tenure. There are examples of innovation in local programs, such as neighborhood planning, continuity planning, and empowerment of advocacy organizations; however, more support from outside resources needs to be devoted to enhancing local decision-making and capacity building. Some audience members pushed back on local control of the recovery process due to corruption and panelists agree that more federal oversight would be helpful these situations.

Racial and economic segregation in America has pushed certain people to live in hazardous areas and in low quality homes which increases vulnerability to disasters. When people experience housing instability, everything else in their life is unstable. The panelists suggested that distribution of recovery assistance should be focused on equitable outcomes to facilitate whole community recovery and resilience. Moreover, more empirical research on housing recovery programs, such as the Home Buyout Program, should be conducted to understand resident experience and outcomes in the programs and should identify best practices for local administrative agencies.

Nationally, the panelists agree that the development of the National Disaster Recovery Framework was a good step in promoting effective disaster recovery but said that the framework needs to be implemented. The same problems are reoccurring because disasters are treated as rare events; the government is reactive and not proactive. There has been limited improvement on allocation of disaster relief funds or a systematic way of thinking about it. For example, this year, the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery budget is larger than the regular Community Development Block Grant budget. We continue to spend more money but are not more resilient.

Transforming the disaster recovery environment involves empowering local decision-making and capacity building that is supported by outside resources. Preparedness, mitigation, response, and pre-disaster recovery planning can help facilitate more equitable and just recovery outcomes post-disaster. Planning for justice begins on blue-sky days when there is no emergency.

Framing Disaster: Concepts and Jargon in Disaster Research

Recorder: Abdulhadi AL Ruwaithi, University of Delaware

At the beginning of the session, the panel was offered two main questions: 1) how can the researchers ensure that their research has concrete value useful for a variety of people?; and 2) how can the disaster research community bring knowledge to the people who need it?

The panel answered the two questions accentuating different points. First, they agreed that jargon decreases the usability of research in practice and impacts the communication process between disaster research and communities affected by disasters. Then, they discussed the origin of that problem as stemming from two elements: publication norms and cultural differences, such as language differences. Some panelists argued that publication requirements and the organizational culture of disaster research institutes and centers motivate the use of concepts and jargons by valuing the work published in scientific article form above the work disseminated with simple language and in other forms (e.g. pamphlets and videos) for community use. Other panelists emphasized the variations between the West, where many disaster research scholars come from, and the East, where many vulnerable communities are located. So, it is a matter of the impact resulted from the variations in cultures and languages, as well as the difference between who creates the information and who needs it.

Solutions discussed by the panel can be summarized as follows:

  • Initiating translation centers where findings and recommendations are extracted from academic research and translated into the language of those who may benefit from them.
  • Using a multi-communication method and adopting effective communication mediums (e.g. video).
  • Focusing on the mutual learning process with two-way communication between communities and researchers.
  • Building trust with local communities through long-term field work (e.g. community-based participatory research).

In conclusion, several panelists and audience members emphasized that while creating concepts is necessary for research progress, the physical presence of the researchers inside an affected community is necessary for communicating and applying the gained knowledge.

Overall, issues about how disaster researchers can reach out to disaster-affected communities with their research findings/recommendations were interestingly addressed; however, questions remained. For example, is shifting the academic institutes’ focus toward more appreciating of work disseminated with simple language for the use of the public a plausible solution?

Tuesday, July 10

What Keeps You Up at Night? Vulnerability and Disasters Yet to Come

Summary by: Kijin Seong, Texas A&M University

This session delved into what the community would go through after natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, pandemics, and hurricanes. Sharing hands-on experiences from New York, Seattle, Port Gibson, Baton Rouge, and Puerto Rico, the speakers focused on how the systems and emergency responses could benefit every citizen and how we can overcome vulnerability in disaster recovery and preparedness.

Edward Gabriel emphasized humanity in disaster responses as well as the role of researchers for producing practical output in policymaking. His experiences in New York City taught him that disaster responses should be positive to result in better outcomes. Jacqueline Patterson spoke about human and civil rights for marginalized people who are at an elevated risk for impacts and system failure. She addressed how the disaster recovery system in the United States has been disproportionately formed by economic status, political power, gender, education, and race. In addition, she asked who could respond to that. Barb Graff talked about her experiences as an emergency manager for the City of Seattle and how it has been preparing for earthquakes by retrofitting unreinforced masonry buildings occupied by residents, including the marginalized people. Finally, John Sutter shared a micro-scale story from his in-depth interviews and observations in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and asked the audience how we could better communicate with local people to consider their lives.

In the discussion session, there was consensus that (1) participating in local exercises is important to see how physical and conceptual structures operate in real world; (2) objective observers should be engaged in the process to change the situation; (3) resources and information should be fairly prioritized; and (4) people should be aware of multiple influences that might come into play. There have been questions about how the professionals should communicate with local people to convey the messages about community needs to the policymakers. Patterson pointed out the importance of working with all people and actively engaging the local community at a micro-level. Graff also mentioned that we should keep pressure on the local and broader levels of government because the policies they make inevitably have disproportionate impacts on communities.

Putting Knowledge to Work: Using Hazards Information to Reduce Loss

Summary by: Kai Wu, Texas A&M University

We’ve got a lot of information of hazards, the key challenge is how to link the information to people, and how to integrate it for hazard reduction. This session discusses the broader definition of disaster loss and risk assessment process.

The definition of loss firms up with hazard and vulnerability paradigms; people identify loss from their own perspective. It is mostly identified by economic impact and loss to the community. We calculate the physical loss such as building damage, utility loss, and infrastructure cost because we lack an understanding of human loss. The panelists stated that the negative impacts associated with climate change should be counted in, as well as the human loss and sentimental attachments. Besides these individual losses, the panelists also encouraged researchers to look into the loss of tradition, linkages between people and between people and society, emotion, self-identification, etc., even though they are difficult to capture by data collection.

Another big concept in this session is risk assessment. There’re two major opinions of data collection and sharing: some believe risk assessments should be done by higher-level organizations that have more resources, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They have more data sources, skillsets and ability than local-level organizations, so they should share data access with local governments to help them build mitigation plans to use for other hazard reduction purposes. On the other hand, some researchers have concerns about data accuracy and resolution, so they suggest a bottom-up approach for data collection. Local institutions have more knowledge of their communities, neighborhoods, and places, so it would improve the efficiency of data collection, accuracy, and resolution.

During the session, the panelists also shared their hazard research experience with the audience: the wildfire risk assumption, the significant lack of wildfire data compared to flooding, the natural hazard risk data platform on a household level, etc. Overall, this session inspired the audience with a systematic understanding of disaster loss and risk assessment.

Root causes: Social Inequality and Vulnerability in Disaster

Summary by: Covel McDermot, University of Delaware

The big question at the center of this discussion, which looked for answers to reduce disaster risk, was “How do we continue to address the needs of vulnerable populations in emergencies, while also working more systemically to reduce social, economic, and health disparities?” The panelists called for effective mainstream institutions and policies that are inclusive that will target bias, stigmas, language jargons and identity paradox in social workspaces; necessary to remove systematic barriers.

The panelists were of the view that staff in mainstream institutions and organizations need to change their misconceptions about elderly people and people living with disabilities, who are sometimes viewed as unproductive, needing of special accommodations, and at higher risk of spreading disease. They advocated for changes in policies and tools that are:

  • Friendlier and more accommodating to people with disabilities
  • Include vulnerable people at the table (e.g., at conferences/ workshops, policy formulation and decision making)
  • Integrate homelessness into disaster planning
  • Build an inclusive emergency management system
  • Homeless toolkit
  • Increase access of homes to homeless people
  • Implement mandatory equity training programs targeting vulnerable people. For instance, the City of Berkeley Community Resilience Center, which provides disaster preparedness outreach and training to address the needs of vulnerable populations in emergencies, has such a program.

The latter action would allow for redesigning of vacant positions in mainstream institutions to focus on outreach that effectively reaches marginalized communities, improve interactions with underserved communities, make vulnerable people feeling welcome, and employ people who can connect and build a relationship with vulnerable or marginalized people in the social workspace.

Many of the roadblocks to progress were caused by economic irregularity, funding for vulnerable populations, and the vocabulary of choice (e.g., using jargon) brought about by governments and scientists. Some of the ideas that emerged were the need to include human ecology, leverage tribal and indigenous disaster storytelling techniques, and implement citizen science programs that effectively communicate climate, hazards, and disaster risk to vulnerable populations and underserved communities. The takeaway message was that vulnerable people are resilient people and should be at the table during the planning process to share their expertise, experiences and needs.

Equitable and Resilient Design: Past and Present Infrastructure Challenges

Summary by: Katie Kirsch, Texas A&M University

Following introductions, panelists discussed exemplary communities that have excelled in their efforts to achieve equitable and resilient infrastructure using the development of superior standards and/or implementation processes. Novel approaches included the application of climate change projections in hazard mitigation planning, retrofitting public infrastructure in response to projected seismic activity, and flexible building codes that account for future hazards, among others. The communities described were largely proactive in evaluating hazard risks and implementing cost-effective mitigation strategies tailored to local needs and capacities.

Panelists identified obsolete, rigid, and inconsistent building codes, lengthy and burdensome permitting review processes, and maladapted community-level project prioritization as key issues in attaining infrastructure resilience. Existing barriers were subsequently discussed, with the sparsity of accessible and accurate hazard risk models and floodplain maps being of paramount concern. Cited hindrances to the effective use of available resources included infrequent revisions to reflect new developments, over-reliance on risk boundaries, and public knowledge of model interpretation. Funding for hazard mitigation projects was also identified as a significant challenge to resilience. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to place greater emphasis on hazard mitigation by reorganizing its resilience program and streamlining the release of pre-disaster mitigation funds, stringent benefit-cost analysis thresholds for public assistance may be difficult to achieve at present.

Opportunities to address the established need for resilient infrastructure with policy were reviewed. These included incentivizing insurers and developers to incorporate hazard risk reduction measures when rebuilding or repairing damaged structures, implementing proportional pervious surface requirements and tax incentives for zero-impact runoff, and incorporating greater flexibility in building codes to account for future hazard scenarios.

Participants recognized the importance of social and economic structures in achieving infrastructural resilience. While examples of equitable infrastructure were cited, inequities between affluent and marginalized communities due to differentially efficacious drainage systems in Houston, Texas, were also described. A consensus was reached that achieving equitable and resilient infrastructure design necessitates a multi-scale, collaborative, and community-centered approach that leverages local knowledge, policy, and research.

Focusing Events: Leveraging Resources for Preparedness and Mitigation in At-Risk Communities

Summary by: Emily Sullivan, Texas A&M University

The most difficult part of a journey is taking the first step. As we work to enhance hazard mitigation, response, and recovery, our field needs to take the first, actionable step. While it is unlikely that communities will ever be able to break the damage-rebuild-damage cycle that is so often seen in disaster management, there are existing tools communities can leverage and opportunities for innovation that can limit the impacts of that cycle.

Sharing what has not worked alongside our successful case studies will enhance future mitigation efforts. Determining if one mitigation strategy has multiple benefits can strengthen existing tactics. If we focus on the basics of disaster prevention and recovery, better data can be collected to more accurately inform the public and practitioners to create stronger communities.

The hazards community should focus on blending research and practice. Fundamental challenges to effective recovery and mitigation include holding communities accountable for local choices, developing land use strategies that compliment recovery/mitigation goals, building local capability and capacity, and navigating opportunities that present themselves only after damaging events. Proactive thinking and using tools developed through research can make such challenges more manageable. The hazard management community has not yet found a way to consistently connect what we know is good practice to what is actually implemented on the ground.

Disaster events and recovery are an opportunity to build better and smarter. We need to more precisely define what we mean by resilience and make the concept transformative. We need to consistently be cognizant of who is involved in mitigation and recovery conversations. We need to better use existing policy and legal frameworks while advocating for policy changes. Only if we better understand existing challenges can we best advocate for change.

Historic policies have convinced some people that tax dollars will bail them out after a disaster, but we need to empower communities to take personal accountability and local action. We also need to market adaption positively. Currently disaster recovery and mitigation seem like binary choices: live as you have and risk losing it all or change and cease to exist as you once knew yourself. A series of third choices is needed: changes that lower risks while enhancing community values.

Learning Our Lessons: Integrating Disaster Research and Practice

Summary by: Shanasia Sylman, Harvard University

The panelists and audience members addressed the question of how we can better coordinate post-disaster research and integrate the findings from those efforts into education, training, practice, and policy. The purpose of discussing this question was to elaborate on how lessons learned become lessons applied. Lessons learned are not implemented in isolation but as a collective effort among many stakeholders and specialists, which was exemplified through referenced programs, theories, frameworks, and platforms that attempt to ensure that knowledge gained from disasters is subsequently integrated into practice.

David Abramson, of New York University, posed the question of how researchers develop questions that not only pique their own intellectual curiosity but also have relevance to policy and practice. In addition, how does one match a dataset or a particular finding to the appropriate agency and translate it into a changed policy? Sneha Patel of the New York City Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response shared that her local government agency does its best to work with academic partners whenever possible—e.g. real-time assessments during their Zika response—while understanding that it is difficult to do research with local partners who have shifting priorities in response to ongoing local crises. Aubrey Miller, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, added that who you partner with has an impact on the research produced. He was a proponent of community-based research (as was Christopher Dyer of the University of New Mexico – Gallup). He also brought up additional questions about how we train and empower people and, more tangibly, how we speed up research processes, e.g. using pre-approved IRB protocols, to better keep up with the research need. Lastly, Marie Peppler of the U.S. Geological Survey emphasized that it is important that the right and properly formatted data gets to the right person at the right time to inform decisions.

Through anecdotes, it became clear that practitioners and researchers investigate in disconnected ways, meaning communication is key. Wendy Walsh of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others brought up the role of a translation and the need for dedicated translators. Trained translators can articulate research findings to broader audiences and set in place structures that ensure the needs of policy and decision-makers are being met through ongoing research.

What We Learned: Insights from the 2017 Disaster Season

Recorder: Vanessa Parks, Louisiana State University

In this session, speakers were asked to answer the question: what did the 2017 disaster season teach us that we did not already know? The speakers felt that the lessons learned in 2017 were not new, but rather ones we have relearned time and time again. Though the speakers varied in their training and expertise, common themes emerged during the session.

First, emergency messages are difficult to craft. Emergency managers need to convey the appropriate level of urgency given different geographic locations and disaster types. While discussing the response after the Grizzly Fire in California, Cheryl Miller, of the Diablo Fire Safe Council, explained that they had to craft a message to residents urging them to leave their homes immediately. The message had to convey more urgency than a hurricane message, which might be sent in time for people to pack and evacuate. David Alamia, of Harris County Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Texas, faced a different problem in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Although Houston has twenty-two different watersheds and therefore are at different risks for flooding, all residents received the same messaging. He said that in the future, more precise messages should be sent.

Second, there was consensus that the recovery process (including funding) should be closely monitored. This would ensure that recovery programs are equitably addressing people’s needs, and would provide a roadmap for community leaders to build on past successes and bolster any vulnerable systems and/or populations. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has the potential to be beneficial, but many feel that the funds have not been properly allocated and should be better monitored. Data is another important tool for recovery planning and monitoring. Walter Peacock, of Texas A&M University, stressed that researchers face privacy barriers to accessing data sources related to post-hazard business closures, insurance, and public health, which could be used to monitor recovery.

Finally, we still have a lot to learn. Laura Wolf, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explained that when cities have resilient systems in place, emergency response could capitalize on those systems. However, we are still learning about the hazards we face. Miller, for example, explained that the scientific community is still learning how wildfires interact with wind, and firefighters, who are often trained to respond to structure fires and medical emergencies, are being trained to fight wildfires in some cases.

Support for the Supporters: Caring for First Responders after disaster

Summary by: Matt Henry, Victoria Australia Country Fire Authority

This session addressed the essential role that first responders play in caring for survivors in the aftermath of disasters and the importance of ensuring that these first responders receive appropriate health care and support. It was recognized that first responders are in many cases members of the emergency services sector, but also that they may belong to volunteer organizations and a wide range of non-traditional networks. While there have been improvements in the availability of mental health services and the introduction of resilience building programs to support workers pre- and post-event, there is still a concerning number of stress related illnesses that first responders may experience. Developing a culture within the emergency services sector that encourages workers to access support services has the potential to reduce the incidence of these stress-related issues. The emergency services sector provides psychological support services and conducts regular testing to ensure workers are both physically and mentally healthy. Access to appropriate counseling and support can be difficult for non-traditional first responders since they are often overlooked when support is offered, or might feel they do not need/deserve psychological support. This group may include volunteers, crisis communications staff, media personnel, dispatchers, utility workers, construction workers, and researchers. There are a number of pre-disaster resilience-based programs developed to assist individuals who have been exposed to stressful events to improve their coping mechanisms. These programs can be adapted to suit the needs of different first responder groups. An example of one of these programs is the “responders resilience program” which has consulted with first responders to ascertain their needs pre-and post-event, and developed stress management techniques that can be tailored for individual needs. Continuing research to support practitioners and having clinicians who understand the stress-related factors experienced by first responders can facilitate improved support services. Research data that indicates a proactive approach to reducing stress will improve agency efficiency, and save money in the longer term would help to assist the further development of first responder support services.

Onwards: Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Action

Summary by: Joyce Klein-Rosenthal, Columbia University

Moderator Russ Paulsen challenged panelists to address the connection between disaster research and practice. Panelists were asked to address what this meant to them, to consider the mechanisms for translating research ideas into practice since it “takes a long time to implement big changes,” and to provide examples of learnings incorporated into practice.

Joseph Trainor: Study the process for using knowledge; for bringing science into policy. He challenged the idea that there is a huge gap—currently the development of new knowledge is at a rapid pace, and we may not recognize how much knowledge is already incorporated into policy and norms. For example, the awareness and use of the concept of social vulnerability, discussed earlier by scholars and in National Academies of Sciences and Federal Emergency Management Agency reports, is now being addressed in local disaster response. He notes that we do not document and celebrate these research-practice linkages as much as we could.

Ted Serrant: The consequences of major disasters are complex and touch every part of daily life. Emergency managers do not always capture this complexity when we discuss preparedness and risk reduction. To create a culture of safety, people need to understand the totality of risks, and we need to consider how social and urban systems cope under stress. Disasters are managerial and political failures—start a conversation with the public early, which can prevent or reduce future problems.

Lisa Marie Jackson: Examining how emergency managers and responders learn from mistakes and experience, her department found it important to have internal reflectivity to embed innovation from the past, as well as innovation from citizens. External evaluators did not address the needs of this internal co-learning process.

Pamela Jenkins: We need social science technologists who can translate jargon (expert language) into the words people understand. Until we can do that, we will have mainly incremental successes. Enable person-to-person interactions and collaborative discussion; share success stories.

Ideas for moving forward:

  • As disaster specialists, we need more proactive engagement with policy-makers to counteract “information sequestration.” Academic journals can be difficult for citizens to access, and disaster experts must create ways to meet with decision makers and listen to citizens. Have a values-based discussion with community residents, and listen to understand how people comprehend disasters.

  • Think of your audience—use infographics, videos, and policy briefs; separate theoretical work from more instrumental research. One example used social media for a discussion of hurricane shelters—the conversation would be lost if not posted on Facebook. We tend to focus on failures, and should also replicate more successes, e.g., the use of building code changes to protect against tornadoes was a success, despite opposition. These networking environments can be used to share dialogues.

Wednesday, July 11

How Can We Partner for Change? A Discussion of the HayWired Scenario

Summary by: Flavio Stimilli, University of Camerino

The HayWired Scenario is an impact model of a hypothetical Magnitude 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault in San Francisco Bay—which could be the first big earthquake in U.S. history since the development of the internet—in a densely urbanized and interconnected region. Preparing to cope with and recover from this potential disaster and the cascading effects is essential.

After an introductory video about the scenario, Ken Hudnut described the HayWired Outsmart Disaster initiative, a statewide campaign to enhance community resilience and reduce earthquake risks that capitalizes on the experience of the broad, deep, and long-term partnerships that contributed to the scenario during a full year of intensive work and team effort.

Keith Porter followed with the interrelated U.S. Geological Survey project called [SAAFRR] ( which highlights a needed paradigm shift in building codes that would move from only ensuring life safety by avoiding building collapse to one that reduces damages by raising construction standards. Resilient design saves money, and people are generally disposed to invest a little more in construction or renovation in advance for meaningful advantages in long-term building strength and safety.

Beyond the economic perspective, Anne Wein emphasized how the process of co-creating the scenario with many stakeholders allowed for connections with key actors (e.g., agencies responsible for lifeline infrastructure systems), and meeting with people: transferring knowledge into experience and action can ensure the system will work after the earthquake.

Arietta Chakos agreed that bringing people together for resilience through an engagement and dialogue between local governments, utility providers, nongovernmental organizations, planning directors, and community leaders allows crucial information to be shared and used by people who will then know and plan what to do over the years (in this, media and popular language is important). However, specific public policies and actions are necessary: surveying existing buildings, expanding financing measures for resilience, retrofitting the California Building Code, and convening a Regional Lifeline Council. The Association of Bay Area Governments [Building a Resilient Region initiative] ( is a successful example.

Given the recency of the scenario’s publication, how it will realistically affect community and government action is still an open question, as is how to engage the youth and the possibility for collaborating with allied countries after the earthquake.