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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.

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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.

L'Aquila

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.

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Bill’s Hay Festival blog

news editor8 June 2012

Professor Bill McGuire, UCL Earth Sciences

Literary festivals are always fantastic experiences; brimful of excitement, debate, discussion and the simple fun of meeting and interacting with a remarkable diversity of movers, shakers and shapers of society and culture.

The Hay Festival is unquestionably right at the top of the pile and looking down the list of a thousand or so participants, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not so much a question of who is here but who is not.

An eclectic mix
Where else can you – as I did during my visit – chat with crime writer Ian Rankin in the afternoon, joke with Winnie the Witch children’s author – Korky Paul – over dinner, and have breakfast with 2007 Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger?

Fun as this all was, however, I did have a job to do, and was down to speak at lunchtime about my new book: Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes.

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CNN’s Earth’s Frontiers – The Nuclear Debate

Carly Schnabl18 April 2011

Mel Green, UCL alumna, reports on the event hosted by UCL in collaboration with CNN’s Earth’s Frontiers on 11 April to debate the motion: Nuclear energy remains the best option for powering our future.

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