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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Archive for May, 2012

Forum for International Research Collaboration at The Great East Japan Earthquake Memorial Day

By Rosanna Smith, on 1 May 2012

Hello, and welcome to the UCL Risk and Disaster Reduction Blog. I’m afraid this first post, about my attendance at a forum for international research collaboration and a related international disaster research symposium to mark the 1st anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami that occurred on 11th March 2011, is a little late in coming. I hope that you will still find it interesting.


During the recovery from the great earthquake and tsunami disaster in Tohoku, many of the disaster scientists and other senior academics of Tohoku university realised that there were many important lessons to be learned from this disaster, and that they wanted to share these lessons with the international community, not only within Japan and its disaster hit region. To this end, Tohoku will launch a new International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) in May.  In this new research institute, they will pursue research into the science and sociology of natural disasters and their impacts with the aim to improve forecasts and warnings, whilst also contributing to on-going recovery and reconstruction efforts.  A key part of their mission statement is to build upon disaster management lessons from around the world and to share the lessons they have learnt with international partners and collaborators. Therefore, they decided to host a forum for international research collaboration on the anniversary of the great earthquake and tsunami disaster, ahead of the launch of their new research institute. I was honoured to be invited to this event, as the representative for the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.


The forum began with solemn statements of remembrance for the lives lost in the earthquake and tsunami from representatives of Tohoku University and UNISDR. Professor Arata Hirakawa, leader of the research group on disaster prevention and management at Tohoku University, then introduced the new International Research Institute of Disaster Science to the Forum participants. Finally, the President of Tohoku University and the invited guests signed a joint statement for international research collaboration, in which all the signatories pledged to explore the possibility of pursuing wider cooperation with the aims to:

  1.     Conduct joint post-disaster investigations and research and to compile the data and information from recent disasters into a common system
  2.     Share the lessons learned from experiences and analysis through collaborative works
  3.      Perform joint risk assessments and quick evaluations of damage following disasters
  4.     Improve disaster forecasting and warning as well as hazard zonation mapping and emergency communication systems for information exchange that remain functional during disasters
  5.     Jointly develop scientific knowledge and mitigation technologies leading to such disaster reduction measures


The Joint statement was signed by representatives from the following institutions:

  1. Tohoku University, Japan
  2. Nagoya University, Japan
  3. University of California, Los Angeles, USA
  4. University of New South Wales, Australia
  5. Tsinghua University and Sichuan University, China
  6. Kyoto University, Japan
  7. University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
  8. Harvard University, USA
  9. University of Tokyo, Japan
  10.  University of Florence, Italy
  11. German Aerospace Center, Germany
  12.  University College London (IRDR), UK
  13.  Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
  14.  Kobe University, Japan
  15.  Fukushima University, Japan
  16.  Niigata University, Japan


Each signatory made a brief statement about their institution and its commitment to this collaborative effort. I hope that the signing of this statement will be a first step towards a fruitful collaboration between IRIDeS in Tohoku and the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, with the exchange of researchers, students, and knowledge between our 2 research institutes, which have such similar goals. This forum was followed by a symposium where research findings following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were presented, and I met with many researchers who were keen to engage in international research collaboration and excited about the launch of their new research institute.

Signatories of the joint statement for international research collaboration at the Tohoku forum for international research collaboration on 11-Mar 2012

After signing the joint statement, each signatory made a short speech.


I spent my final evening in Japan in Tokyo, before taking a flight to London the following morning. Sitting in the hotel lobby, I felt a rumbling, which was reminiscent of trams going by when I used to live beside a tram-line. Then I remembered there are no trams in Tokyo, and the shaking became a little stronger. As soon as it dawned on me that it was an earthquake, the shaking subsided. Seeing that there was no damage, and the earthquake didn’t seem severe, I set to looking up the details online. The earthquake magnitude was 6.1, located 20km to the east of where I was staying at 10km depth. Though earthquakes of that magnitude can cause a large amount of damage, such as the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake that devastated the city, this one caused no damage at all. Tokyo regularly experiences earthquakes of this size and larger, with buildings designed to withstand this, but who knows how big the next one may be in that region?


On that cheery note, I’ll close the first UCL Risk and Disaster Reduction blog post, but check back soon as we’ll be posting more!


Thanks to Tohoku University, the British Embassy, and UCL IRDR for funding my attendance at this International Forum.


Rosanna Smith, IRDR Deputy Director.