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UCL events news and reviews


Risk and resilience in Japan after the Fukushima disaster

Oli Usher22 November 2013

Fukushima Daiichi reactor 2. Credit: TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi reactor 2. Credit: TEPCO

There is no amount of concrete that could have kept people safe from the 2011 Japanese tsunami – and in any case, the height of the wave could never have been predicted. But learning the right lessons from past disasters, along with a helping hand from technology, could help keep us safer in the future.

That was the message delivered by Prof Peter Sammonds (UCL Institute of Risk & Disaster Reduction) in Tuesday’s Lunch Hour Lecture.

Japan is, in many ways, an ideal place to learn from in the field of natural disasters. A prosperous, well-governed and highly educated nation, it also has a long history of dealing with natural hazards, particularly earthquakes and tsunamis. The successes and failures of disaster management in Japan over the past century offer a rich vein of data for researchers like him to mine.

The key lesson, he argued, is to understand the complexity of disasters and how one calamitous event can cascade in fundamentally unpredictable ways.


The way we cope with disasters is a disaster

Oli Usher10 October 2013

A careful listener at David Alexander’s inaugural lecture, ‘Around the world in 80 disasters’ (7 October), might have been excused a hint of cognitive dissonance – his tone was consistently humourous throughout, but the thrust of his argument was no joke. The way humans deal with disasters, and the way many academics study them, he argued, is deeply misguided.


The L’Aquila earthquake killed more women than men

Like many researchers into disaster risk, Prof Alexander, knows the exact moment he became interested in the discipline, because it was triggered by him surviving a natural disaster. Unlike most, however, he can pinpoint it – perhaps with a little spurious accuracy – down to the nearest tenth of a second.

Not long after receiving his PhD in Geography from UCL, the young researcher was travelling on a train in Southern Italy on the evening on 23 November 1980. At 7:34pm (“and fifty-eight point two seconds”, he adds) the earth shook, the carriages swayed, and the train ground to a halt in a dark and chaotic Pompeii station. Almost 3,000 people were killed that evening, in the most deadly earthquake Europe has seen in almost a century.

Thirty-three years later, after a career in disaster risk that has taken him to Italy, the US and Switzerland, David Alexander is back at UCL.