IRDR Panel Discussion on “Disability and Disasters”

By Rosanna Smith, on 13 March 2014

The IRDR’s Panel Discussion on “Disability and Disasters” on 12th March was billed as a discussion of human rights, addressing an issue that may be unpopular, but that must be addressed whenever we consider how we plan for, manage, and cope with disasters, since disabled people make up 15% of the world’s population.

In addressing this issue, panellist Dr Maria Kett from UCL’s Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre highlighted that disabled people are not asking for prioritisation, rather they are asking for equity. Panellist Silvio Sagramolo, Director of the Info-Handicap Association, Luxembourg, re-iterated that disaster risk management for people with disabilities is a matter of human rights, but raised the issue that it is very difficult to keep track of disabled people and their needs, since the types of disability, the people themselves and their needs are so diverse. We must, he claimed, accept that ‘human diversity is a reality’.

In looking at practical ways to improve the plight of disabled people during disasters, Mechtilde Fuhrer of the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) section of the Council of Europe stated that EUR-OPA were compiling a catalogue of good practice and called upon all people involved in this area to contribute to the catalogue. Panellist Ilan Kelman, of UCL’s IRDR and Institute for Global Health, stated that we needed to follow the doctrine ‘nothing about us, without us’. That is, we should listen to the narratives of disabled people and those directly involved in their care and support when discussing and deciding what can be done for them in disaster planning and management.

IRDR Panel Discussing "Disability and Disasters"

Highlights of questions and points raised from the audience included:

David Jones, a commanding officer from Rescue Global (an NGO that supports first responders during emergencies), highlighted that the issues raised in this field of disability and disasters were common to disasters in general, but that the short-comings in disaster planning and management were exacerbated by the presence of disabilities. He also claimed that many emergency services do plan for dealing with people with disabilities, but often are too stretched to implement these plans during the emergency situation. Panel Chair Prof David Alexander (UCL IRDR) suggested that this discrepancy between plans and response might arise from disaster planning often being conducted by different bodies to those who manage the actual crisis. Panellist Maria Kett added that this is why local NGOs must be included in the disaster response.

A representative from Handicap International raised the issue that the Hyogo Framework for Action has very poor representation of disabled people.

A representative from the Organisation of Blind Afro-Caribbeans highlighted that we need to consider the diversity of people with disabilities, and suggested that disaster planners and managers should pro-actively seek people with disabilities to contribute to planning for disability and disasters. Whilst the panellists agreed that we needed to consider the diversity of disabled people, Silvio Sagramolo highlighted that those with disabilities did not always have the experience to contribute to discussions on disaster planning and management.

Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR) followed up on earlier points raised about the difficulties in assisting disabled people during emergencies when more resources are needed to help disabled people, resources that are often limited during a crisis. She asked how we might better plan before disasters so that this cost gap between saving able bodied and disabled people during disasters is narrowed. David Jones (Global Rescue) suggested that it is a failure of planning when the cost gap is so wide. Panellist Maria Kett suggested that we should not consider being disabled or not in such an ‘either or’ way, but rather we should consider whole communities of people who must be helped during disasters, and that these communities are diverse and include people with a range of disabilities.

Panel Chair David Alexander then pondered, is it really a planning problem, or is this actually an attitude problem, or even a perception problem? Food for thought on a complicated and important issue in disaster risk reduction.

Chilean Volcano Field Work

By Amy L Chadderton, on 10 February 2014

In 2008 Chaitén Volcano in Chile reawakened spectacularly after what was thought to be over 5000 years of slumber. In early May 2008 the residents of nearby Chaitén town received just 24 hours warning of the imminent eruption in the form of earthquakes strong enough to knock objects from shelves. Residents of the small town, known as the Gateway to Patagonia, one of Chile’s most spectacular and remote regions, evacuated themselves from their vulnerable position at the mouth of the Chaitén River, directly downstream of the volcano.

Eruption at Chaitén Volcano, May 2008 (Carlos Gutierrez)

Eruption at Chaitén Volcano, May 2008 (Carlos Gutierrez)

The eruption began explosively after all residents had safely departed the town and continued effusively for the next 2 years. What made this eruption particularly significant and thrust this small forgotten corner of the world into the global limelight was its extremely sudden onset coupled with the fact that rhyolitic eruptions are so rare that this eruption was the first to be observed in over 100 years. This rarity meant that it was an extremely appealing case study to focus my PhD research on, and an even more appealing place from which to collect experimental samples. This fascination is what led to myself and 6 colleagues, including Professor Peter Sammonds (UCL) and Dr Hugh Tuffen (Lancaster University), to set out on New Years Eve 2013 on the mammoth journey to Southern Chile to visit this incredible volcano.

After four flights, the last of which was in a 9-seater aeroplane that landed on a landing strip that doubled as a main road when flights weren’t expected, and two days, we finally made it to the trailhead of the hike up to the crater rim of Chaitén Volcano.

Professor Peter Sammonds, Amy Chadderton, Dr Hugh Tuffen setting off to Chaiten dome

Setting off up the volcano

This relatively short yet steep hike up the flank of the volcano took us up through the blast zone, an area of once-dense forest that was destroyed by pyroclastic flows generated from the eruption. An encouraging sign of recovery on these slopes was the re-colonisation of vegetation where previously only sporadic trees stripped of all foliage and bark remained standing.

Vegetation regrowth in blast zone

Vegetation regrowth in blast zone

Reaching the crater rim and seeing Chaitén’s 400m lava dome come into view was an awe-inspiring sight. Its imposing size and impressive slopes made for some unforgettable first impressions from the rim. We set up camp on the crater rim as the sun was setting and took in the spectacular scenery.

 

 

Despite my enthusiasm for the field trip, I must admit that the descent into the crater the following day was not my favourite activity. The 50m scramble down the perilous near-vertical unconsolidated slope was a challenge, but the end location definitely made the journey worth it. Gazing up at the dome from the crater floor allowed us to fully appreciate its true magnitude.

 

Most of the dome’s lower slopes are covered in scree, but small intact outcrops offered us tantalizing glimpses into the make-up of the dome itself. It was from one of these outcrops on the earliest lobe of the eruption that I collected my largest sample of rhyolite. Weighing in at 26kg it proved a challenge to transport but hopefully will provide an excellent insight into how this rhyolitic dome formed. Littering the crater floor we also found a plethora of incredibly interesting samples. I collected 3 more large blocks of sample material from the crater floor, including a 7kg piece of an obsidian volcanic bomb. As we could only collect what we could carry we had to be selective, however, and several large volcanic bombs had to be admired and recorded but alas left where we found them. With the help of Hugh and Peter and two trips down the volcano I managed to collect 55kg of sample material from Chaitén Volcano, making it a very successful field trip indeed!

Chaitén Lava Dome

Chaitén Lava Dome

The samples collected from Chaitén will enable me to better understand the dynamics of the 2008 eruption via laboratory analogue experiments. I will measure the permeability of cored samples under volcanic conditions simulated in the lab in order to help determine how gas escapes from the volcano during eruptions. Gas escape greatly influences the dynamics of the eruption and ultimately how dangerous a volcano can be.

EEFIT Report published about the Recovery Two Years after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 22 January 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 20.44.47A report has been published (December 2013) by the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT) outlining key lessons following 2 years of recovery after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear incident, based on the mission to Japan findings in June 2013. The consequences of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami made this event the most expensive natural disaster recorded in the world to date. The observations of the report are relevant to the engineering community as well as those involved in coastal protection structures, tsunami hazard and risk assessment, the nuclear industry, post-disaster housing, urban planning, disaster mitigation, response and recovery, the insurance industry and catastrophe modelling. EEFIT is a team of practicing and academic built environment professionals, who visit the sites of major disasters to bring back prevalent lessons for the engineering and disaster management community worldwide.

The team visiting Japan included Prof David Alexander and Dr Joanna Faure Walker from the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.

The report is freely downloadable from the EEFIT website: http://www.istructe.org/resources-centre/technical-topic-areas/eefit/eefit-reports

Disasters: No Quick Fix, No Money

By Rosanna Smith, on 16 December 2013

One can’t help feeling a little bewildered by the news of yet another global catastrophe, another ‘biggest’, ‘worst’, ‘deadliest’. The Philippines is struggling through the immediate aftermath of the worst storm since records began, and getting the attention it deserves. Here’s hoping that attention brings with it the sense to think ahead.

My bewilderment lingers, however, because another ‘worst’, ‘deadliest’ that’s nearly 4 years past is still a disaster zone. Haiti’s monstrous earthquake wasn’t the strongest in recorded history, but by far the deadliest natural disaster in such a concentrated area. What went wrong and can the Philippines do it better?

Sr. Yannick in Fort National local slum small

Sister Yannick in Fort National local slum

There have been some notable examples of good reconstruction since the earthquake. But these are the exception rather than the rule. Of the 9.3 billion USD promised to Haiti, most never made it there, and less still has been invested in permanent reconstruction project.

More common uses of aid money include temporary structures and emergency shelters that have, in many cases, redefined the infrastructure of a poorly planned city for the worse.  The over-arching focus of response has been on meeting basic human needs within the remit of donor budgets, project management capabilities and time frames. Permanent, sustainable reconstruction can rarely happen within these constraints. So, those going about reconstruction planning the right way frequently find themselves without the funds to continue. And Haiti remains, like so many other places, stuck in a cycle of vulnerability to disasters – economic, social and environmental.

Sisters working on reconstruction plan with Thinking Development designers and local teachers

Sisters working on reconstruction plan with Thinking Development designers and local teachers

Our site is a fine case study for this phenomenon – despite the best efforts of its exceptionally resourceful and dedicated managers, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. While tents and temporary toilets came in time for ‘back to school’ after the disaster, the only longer-term support offering was demolition works here, and hangers (strong shelters with open walls) there. Thinking Development was borne out of this vacuum of sustainable development planning support.

When we started the project, it seemed obvious that ours was a project that would qualify for some of the billions destined for permanent reconstruction. It was, after all, an essential disaster recovery service: a school. It was one of the biggest school sites in Port-au-Prince; and it served some of the city’s most disadvantaged children. It had experienced, honest managers, and it had uncontested land tenure – a rare commodity in post-disaster Haiti.

Girls Studying in UNICEF hangers small

Girls studying in UNICEF hangers

Yet, even 6 months after the disaster, the only discussion that could be had with aid agencies was about ‘how many hangers you need?’ or ‘I’ve got this 1-storey shelter or nothing’. As a Haitian service provider, you couldn’t help but be tempted by temporary solutions when your alternative is tents. But this cannot be the position that we’re putting disaster sufferers in. After a few months of trying to figure out how to get this school connected to the resources it needed and failing, we decided to do it ourselves.

We’re now crowd-funding for the funding base we need to get this project rolling. If you’re a kindred believer in sustainable development and disaster response, please watch it, think about it, share it and donate. It’s a project that has to happen.

Linda & Sr. Yannick discuss masterplan Small

Linda and Sister Yannick discuss the school masterplan

You can find more information at bit.ly/TDGirls. Hashtag: #ThinkingGirls

Author: Linda O’Halloran, Managing Director of Thinking Development and Executive Board Member of the UCL IRDR.

 

 

 

Roots of earthquake-prone faults brought to light

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 25 November 2013

Earthquakes affect many highly populated areas around the world so understanding what controls the distribution and frequency of them is a top priority for the earth science and disaster risk reduction communities. Often, however, the controlling factors remain elusive because scientists have limited information about what happens deep down in the Earth’s crust where earthquakes initiate. A recent Nature Geoscience article (Cowie et al. (2013) published online on 3rd November, 2013) has shed light on the problem, and has shown how phenomena on the surface can be linked to the movement of rocks in the deep crust.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fieldtrip on Organising Post Disaster Reconstruction

By Fatemeh Arefian, on 28 June 2013

Even though it is important to understand how reconstruction programmes are organised in order to reduce future disaster risks, there is a gap in theory in that it lacks a conceptual model or analytical framework for understanding and analysing the reality of organising post-disaster reconstruction programmes. I am addressing this gap in theory my PhD research by employing organisation theory in parallel with disaster studies in order to understand organisation design and implementation of the multi-organisational reconstruction programmes, which are participatory, and also aim to contribute to future disaster risk reduction.

In May 2013 I conducted some fieldwork to research the case study of the housing reconstruction programme in Bam (Iran) after the destructive earthquake on 26th December 2003, which killed more than 30,000 people (one third of the population), and destroyed 85% of the buildings. Case study research is an important part of my PhD research. The housing programme in Bam was participatory and gathered many different organisations together from all around the country in order to rebuild 32,000 houses. Having already undertaken pilot interviews, this fieldtrip was mainly aimed at undertaking in-depth interviews with knowledgeable and key people in the organisations involved, at both national and local levels, as well as other organisations related to the programme. During the course of this 34-day fieldtrip I undertook 51 in-depth qualitative interviews, which took a total of around 92 hours.

The challenge of interviewing key people from many different organisations was to track down and access them. As a participant observer at the time of the programme, I personally knew some of the interviewees, but not many of them. Also, the official reconstruction period was a long time ago (3 years, from 2004 to 2006). Some of the interviewees had since moved to other organisations, some had retired since then and some are now high-level managers, making it difficult to arrange interviews. Fortunately my still existing professional/academic network in the country was very supportive and made many more interviews possible that would have been difficult without them.

Local people also were among my interviewees’ list. I wanted to know the life history of the reconstruction of their homes and their experiences. I also wanted to know how the programme was working for different groups of people. The challenge here was to avoid the use of any jargon. The hospitality of the local people of Bam is unforgettable.

locals

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with local people in Bam

During the fieldtrip I heard about the practical questions, which must be answered quickly in such chaotic situation of aftermath, and I observed how different answers create different results and experiences.

It was interesting to understand the importance of the accumulated practice-based knowledge, from post-war (Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988) reconstruction and beyond, in the country. There is a continuum of the experiences of using a range of approaches, and the Bam experience should be positioned within this continuum.

The fieldwork also shed light on the importance of the urban development context, and the influence of existing practices, trends and issues on the formation and implementation of the reconstruction programme. The reconstruction programme in Bam was seen as an opportunity by many organisations to address the existing urban development issues.

This fieldtrip was a milestone in the process of my research. I learned about the formation, and how it worked and evolved from different participant organisations’ perspectives and experiences. It was exciting to understand the emerging themes, overlapping/verifying themes and making sense of the big picture.

I would like to thank the UCL IRDR for financially supporting this fieldtrip.

______________________________________________________

Blog post by Fatemah Arefian, who is a PhD student in the UCL Development Planning Unit and a member of the UCL IRDR

 

 

Two NGOs set up by the young people of Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 7 June 2013

Dr Joanna Faure Walker visited Rikuzentakata, one of the worst affected towns in the Iwate Prefecture, as part of the Great East Japan Earthquake EEFIT return mission. While there, she and her associates met with two NGOs: ‘Save Takata’ and ‘Sakura Line’ that were set up following the disaster.

Okamoto Shoma  and his mother Keiko Shoma in the Save Takata office

Okamoto Shoma and his
mother Keiko Shoma in the
Save Takata office,
Rikuzentakata

In March 2011, Okamoto Shoma was a twenty-year-old architecture student in Tokyo who had grown up in Rikuzentakata. Following the tsunami, Okamoto and some class mates from Tokyo spent one and a half days driving to Rikuzentakata with recovery supplies and gasoline.  Communications were down so Okamoto could not contact his mother, Keiko, whose house in Rikuzentakata had been destroyed by the tsunami. Fortunately he found her in an evacuation centre.

During the first month after the disaster, there were many requests from those outside the region about the residents’ safety and to make donations. Okamoto and his classmates formed Save Takata to help with coordination of the relief work; public services provided large-scale food and services, but additional help was needed to get smaller donations and reach small groups that needed assistance. It currently has a number of activities to help Rikuzentakata and its residents:

  1. Acting as a conduit and passive coordinator for people in Tokyo who want to donate money and expertise (examples include teaching and entertainment such as dance shows).
  2. Making up-to-date maps of Rikuzentakata permanent and temporary structures showing shop locations and distributing them to residents.  (Initially conditions were changing rapidly so maps were updated every two months, going forward they will be updated every six months.)
  3. Promoting Rikuzentakata products and selling them in Tokyo and other big cities. (In 2011, 200,000 volunteers went to Rikuzentakata and in 2012 there were 130,000; Save Takata hopes to use this network)
  4. Providing internet services and I.T. training for small businesses.
  5. Informing residents and businesses about which relevant schemes are available to help them from around the country. (A particularly popular donation – especially amongst the elderly population – were small Buddha statues for people’s temporary homes.)
  6. Coordinating entertainment events such as festivals for children.  (Keiko explained that although two years after the event the housing situation has become stable, people are bored and need community activities.)
  7. Renting a house for visiting volunteers; this house also acts as a meeting place and hub for activities for young people.

The Prefectural Government has made arrangements to employ people and dispatch them into jobs in NGOs; three of Save Takata’s eight full-time staff are with this scheme. Save Takata also has 2 part-time staff and 30 volunteer members. All staff originally volunteered their time, but now some salaries are being paid.  In the early stages they relied on donations from private companies, however now they need to apply for support from both the private and public sectors.  The organization is trying to transform from being a voluntary organization to having an increased amount of self-funding from the activities it organizes.

Save Takata’s future plans include producing a manual comprising the lessons learnt from setting up and running a NGO in a post disaster situation and being a NGO coordinator in potential future disasters as they recognize in a large disaster it is important to have good communication, coordination and organization between the different parties in the recovery process.

Okamoto is now also helping Sakura Line  – the NGO that shares an office with Save Takata in a one-year-old temporary shopping centre – that was started by Hashizume Takumi.

Temporary shopping centre housing Save Takata and Sakura Line

Temporary shopping centre housing
the offices of
Save Takata and Sakura Line

Hashizume, who acted as a volunteer fireman helping people evacuate and closing the tsunami gate, escaped to high ground with only a few minutes to spare before the tsunami arrived.  The disaster killed over fifty of his family and friends. Hashizume saw on television that historical tsunami had reached sacred places within cities in the region; he was angered when he saw there was a stone in Hinota marking where a historical tsunami had reached with a message instructing not to build houses lower than it. Hashizume feels it is his duty to pass on the message to future generations so decided to start Sakura Line, a project to create a continuous line of trees marking the border of the 2011 tsunami inundation.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.  The local government is currently raising the ground level to 12m above sea level  before reconstructing the town.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part
of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is
where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.
The local government is currently raising the
ground level to 12m above sea level before
reconstructing the town.

The first trees were planted near the Judo Temple and other sites around Rikuzentakata. So far they have planted 520 trees.   If completed, the line will extend beyond the city to become 170km long comprising 17,000 cherry trees. It is anticipated that it will take many years to finish. These trees live for about 100yrs so it is hoped that future generations will care for the trees and keep the line going. I hope his project receives the support it needs and acts as a successful reminder to future generations to help reduce the risk from future tsunami.

 

 

For more information on these projects see http://www.savetakata.org/en/ and http://www.sakura-line311.org/.

Dr Joanna Faure Walker was funded by EPSRC through EEFIT (http://www.eefit.org.uk). A new EEFIT report about observations made on the most recent trip in June 2013 will be available soon. The IRDR Special Report 2013-01 provides details about the observed damage and recovery of the Great East Japan Earthquake at and Tsunami in October 2012 (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/rdr/publications/IRDR-Special-Report-UK-Japan-Workshop) and the EEFIT Report provides observations from May-June 2011 (http://www.istructe.org/webtest/files/1d/1d158684-b77b-4856-99f8-2522fa25533b.pdf).

Arctic Field Training in Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

By Stanislav Pavlov, on 29 April 2013

Arctic sea ice cover has had a high profile in the media over the last few years. There has been a growing interest in the region from across the scientific community, such as oceanographers and marine engineers in particular. The Arctic ice cover has reduced, allowing increasing access to the natural resource base in the arctic and has the potential to open new shipping routes.

As part of my PhD project researching the risks of Arctic offshore operations we were invited to participate in a field training course organized by the University Centre of Svalbard (UNIS) in Svalbard – far in the Arctic north. Together with Prof. Peter Sammonds we left the relative luminosity and warmth of London to arrive in Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town at 78°North, during the peak of the polar night season.

Field training in the afternoon with Longyearbyen town in the background

Field training in the afternoon with Longyearbyen town in the background

Over the course of one week we practiced skills, both indoors and in the field, essential for work in the Arctic region. These included first aid, sea and emergency rescue, rifle training, crevasse and avalanche rescue etc.  Activities that would otherwise seem relatively mundane were much more difficult to accomplish in the freezing cold. Tasks such as setting up camp or equipment, were made much more difficult by several layers of clothing and necessitated efficient team effort. The wind and visibility were key unpredictable variables that would change the conditions in a very short space of time.

It was refreshing to see many participants in the safety course, highlighting the number of scientists who are working on understanding the arctic environment. The equipment given to participants in field experiments was excellent and the rescue service in Svalbard was second to none.

During our stay we understood the importance of the skills needed to operate in this fragile and ever changing environment. In addition we were in an excellent position to observe and absorb the unusual Arctic environment. In particular we were surprised to find that the ice cover did not extend to the main part of the island, and was only partially covering the northeasterly corner of the island. This was not surprising as the ice cover has been at its lowest levels in past few years.

It was easy to see that with the lower levels of ice cover, an increasing exploration of these areas will be very likely in the near future. As with any oil exploration there are many risks involved in the operations. The key for our research at IRDR is to research the associated risks involved in such activities. So far there have not been any major incidents in the Artic seas, but with ever increasing activity in the region the understanding of the risks is vital in preventing and dealing with any possible future disasters.

Svalbard Rescue Services demonstrating a rescue operation with a Super Puma helicopter

Svalbard Rescue Services demonstrating a rescue operation with a Super Puma helicopter

Our visit to the Arctic was an amazing experience and the completion of the safety course will allow us to participate in future fieldwork projects within Svalbard and obtain valuable field data to further our understanding of the Arctic sea ice.

Tohoku University Research Visit and Japan Field Mission: March 2013

By Amy L Chadderton, on 26 April 2013

In March 2011, a Mw 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Tohoku in northeast Japan. This earthquake triggered one of the largest tsunamis Japan has ever seen and devastated much of the coast. Three months after this historic event, EEFIT (the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team) began their Tohoku field mission. On the anniversary of this disastrous event, exactly 2 years after the fateful earthquake, BIS (UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills) funded myself and fellow PhD student Melodie Vanderpuye to undertake a brief follow-up mission to preliminarily scope the progress that has been made in rebuilding devastated areas. The week-long mission to Japan involved strengthening UK-Japan links via participation in the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project, and the undertaking of a 2-day field mission to tsunami-impacted areas.

Our week in Japan began with a fascinating 3 days at the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and the ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project at Tohoku University, Sendai. The conference brought together a wide range of expertise from both the scientific and engineering communities and provided an interdisciplinary forum for the sharing and discussing of ideas.

Figure 1

The conference was not only informative, providing a brilliant insight into the issues I will be encountering during my PhD, but allowed relationships to be forged between industry representatives and the academic world.  During our time at the conference meetings were also held with the IRIDeS (International Research Institute of Disaster Science) representative Prof Fumihiko Imamura to discuss the agenda for the upcoming conference at UCL in November 2013, which marks the anniversary of the 150 year relationship between UCL and Japan.

Attending the conference we saw first-hand Japan’s praiseworthy desire to nurture international relationships between industry and academia. The hospitality at Tohoku University was second to non and we were looked after extremely well. The conference banquet at the end of the first day was a particular highlight, even if we were swaying slightly with exhaustion from our 12 hour flight and full conference day without any sleep!

After an enlightening 3 days at the conference it was Melodie and I’s turn to go it alone and explore Japan for ourselves in order to follow up on the EEFIT report compiled 2 years earlier. We also wanted to experience first-hand the impact of such a large magnitude, both in power and impact, event. We hired a car to give us the freedom we needed to explore the planned sites. The field mission began in Sendai and took a coastal route where possible, as certain roads still have not been rebuilt after the tsunami, as far north as Ofunato. With a slight nervous excitement regarding what we were going to find, we set off on Friday 15th March heading north towards the Miyagi Prefecture coastline, one of the worst hit sections of coast in Japan.

Heavily damaged railway station at Nobiru.

Railway station at Nobiru.

We were immediately struck by the impact of the tsunami at one of our first stops, Nobiru, a small town east of Matsushima. Nobiru showed no signs of redevelopment apart from a few individual residential homes. The tsunami destroyed the town’s railway station, twisting the tracks and overhead power lines and heavily damaging the station building and surrounding shops. The coastal road is still diverted due to unrepaired damage. It appears that due to the town’s lack of industrial prowess and significant strategic importance, redevelopment has not been a priority and the whole area is mostly abandoned. A similar situation was also observed at Wakabayashi on the coast of Sendai. This is an area of near-total devastation. The only new building within this entire area was a temporary structure housing a 7 Eleven convenience store. Wakabayashi was our final site on the last day of our field mission but despite the evidence of destruction we had observed over the previous 2 days, this final site really made the impact of the tsunami hit home. The utter hopelessness and vulnerability of Wakabayashi’s position coupled with the footprints of homes

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

where living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms were still visible really made us think about the impact of this event on individual families. It is very easy to quote statistics on damage to concrete and steel, and even death toll statistics can become quite meaningless and devoid of emotion when repeated so frequently, but on the ground, stood at the front door of what was once a happy family home, now a mere footprint on the earth, really compounded our belief that something needs to be done to prevent this devastation from occurring to future generations. A memorial stands on the shoreline at Wakabayashi, dedicated to all of the victims of the tsunami.

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Sites where the outlook was more positive were Onagawa and Shizugawa Bay, which in contrast to Nobiru and Wakabayashi, showed clear signs of progress but had not quite reached the rebuilding stage of recovery. In Onagawa one indicator of the destruction the 16 metre inundation wave wrought on the bay has turned into an unlikely tourist attraction. A 3-storey steel framed, reinforced concrete building was overturned by the force of the water during the tsunami but remained intact. As images of the building have circled the globe and visitors to the area go out of their way to visit the site, the ruin is now being deliberately preserved as a monument and reminder of the power nature can wield. A car park has been cordoned off and a temporary ‘Rebuild Shop’ has sprung up to help raise funds for the redevelopment of the area.

Left: 2011 EEFIT report image of Building D; Right: Recent mission image of Building D

Left: 2011 EEFIT image of Building D; Right: 2013 image.

After a refreshing night in a Japanese style hotel room, complete with slippers, Tatami Mats and a wonderful bento meal, we set out for Ofunato. On entering the town from the south, the redevelopment and rebuilding efforts of the town became apparent. The road (Route 45) appeared newly laid and lining it were newly constructed buildings housing a range of businesses from small enterprises to larger chain stores. The overall impression of Ofunato was one of progress.

Preserved tree at Takata-Matsubara

Takata-Matsubara

Despite the speedy recovery of certain areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami, there is still a long way to go before the Tohoku coastline of Japan can be classified as recovered from this momentous event. Some may argue that it never can fully recover from such an earth-shattering occurrence. Hope, however, can be seen in the miraculous survival of a singular tree on the shoreline of Takata-Matsubara. Where once 70,000 pine trees stood along a 2 km stretch of beach, one tree was left standing after the 2011 tsunami. This ‘miracle pine’ has captured the hearts of the Japanese people and it is now being preserved as an enduring symbol that hope is not lost and life can be protected.

Throughout our enlightening week in Japan, lots of things were learnt, many sights were seen and much rice was eaten. We all came away with a far greater appreciation of what challenges Japan, and indeed the world, are facing relating to our vulnerability to natural disasters. In addition to this deeper understanding however, Melodie and I also learnt that our transferable skills extend to the operation of an entirely Japanese Sat Nav; the personal achievement of our successful navigation around the coast and arrival back at the car hire shop a mere 10 minutes before the drop off time was, we felt, quite a triumph!

We would like to thank, once again, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for funding the expedition; their support is gratefully acknowledged.

Fieldwork in Abruzzo: Four years on from L’Aquila

By Luke Wedmore, on 19 April 2013

With the 4-year anniversary of the devastating L’Aquila earthquake occurring in the middle of my first PhD fieldtrip to Italy, the importance of studying active faults in the Abruzzo region remained at the front of my thoughts throughout my trip. The aim of the trip was to use Laser scanning (LiDAR) and ground penetrating radar (GPR) to increase our understanding of the active earthquake faults in the area. The group comprised Dr. Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), Dr. Ken McCaffrey (Durham University) and Dr. Laura Gregory (University of Leeds).

Dr. Ken McCaffrey (Durham University) using LiDAR to scan active normal faults in Abruzzo

Dr. Ken McCaffrey (Durham University) using LiDAR to scan active normal faults in Abruzzo

The first week was spent collecting GPR and LiDAR data along active faults, while the second week was spent hunting for potential future data collection sites. The active normal faults in this area can be seen in the landscape due to the existence of prominent limestone bedrock fault scarps on the side of steep mountains. However, such fault scarps are not present everywhere; for example, part of the fault responsible for the 1915 Avezzano earthquake that killed over 30,000 people crosses the Fucino plain. The Fucino basin is a former lake bed that was drained in the 1800’s. Consequently, the fault scarp has been obscured by erosion from the lake and more recently by intensive farming. LiDAR scans of sites along the fault trace within the plain ensure that we have a 3D digital image of the current state of the fault.

LiDAR scanning on the Fucino Plain

During the course of the two-week trip I visited 10 active faults across the region of Abruzzo and collected large quantities of data to process over the coming months. Visiting the faults for the first time was invaluable to my understanding of the earthquake hazard and overall seismic risk that people in the area are subject to.  Observing spectacular villages that cling to the sides of mountains located in the hanging walls of active faults and larger towns in the basins below highlighted the potentially devastating impact earthquakes in the area could have.  The results of my work will feed into a larger NERC funded study which aims to determine the time since each active fault last produced an earthquake; being a first year PhD student, this is a fantastic opportunity for me and I am looking forward to contributing to such an innovative and exciting project.