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Archive for June, 2019

New paper on segmented normal fault systems

Joanna PFaure Walker19 June 2019

Publication of: Occurrence of partial and total coseismic ruptures of segmented normal fault systems: Insights from the Central Apennines, Italy by Iezzi et al. (2019)

Francesco Iezzi (PhD student, Birkbeck) together with Prof Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck), Dr Joanna Faure Walker (IRDR) and Ioannis Papanikolaou (Agricultural University of Athens) have published a detailed study of the long-term displacements across the fault responsible for the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake, Italy, and the surrounding faults. This reveals that the different faults are behaving together so that the displacement across the system of faults looks similar to if it were one larger fault on ten thousand and million year timescales. This finding can help provide clues regarding the relative local seismic hazard between the different fault segments. The study also provides evidence that the vertical displacement (throw) across a fault increases across fault bends, a result that has been demonstrated in previous papers by the research group (e.g. Faure Walker et al., 2009; Wilkinson et al., 2015, Iezzi et al., 2018). The Iezzi et al. (2019) paper discusses the synchronised and geometrically controlled activity rates on the studied faults in terms of the propensity for floating earthquakes, multi-fault earthquakes, and seismic hazard.

 

Photograph of damage following the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, taken by Joanna Faure Walker while accompanying the EEFIT mission.

Could Arctic disasters create diplomacy?

Saqar ' MAl Zaabi12 June 2019

Post written by Patrizia Isabelle Duda, PhD researcher at UCL IRDR

Fancy lodgings with outdoor Jacuzzis, brand-name clothing outlets, a Thai massage centre, restaurants offering haute cuisine, a supermarket that displays all manner of fresh food and electronics items—one would have thought that I landed in a First World urban setting. But the Norwegian-governed settlement of Longyearbyen on the Arctic Svalbard archipelago is anything but that.

Longyearbyen’s main street with fancy restaurants and hotels during Svalbard’s dark winter season – Copyright Patrizia Isabelle Duda 2019

Rather, it is a small settlement north of the Arctic Circle, the size of a thumbprint viewed from on high – plunked down in the midst of a valley, surrounded by mountain ranges and a vast road-less expanse of rock, snow, and glacial ice that is prone to avalanches, landslides, flooding and extreme weather conditions. The archipelago is roamed by polar bears, geographically isolated from the Norwegian mainland that governs it (it is halfway between Norway and the North Pole), and reliant on good weather conditions to access it. Thus, Svalbard is especially vulnerable to disasters, from which response mechanisms, no matter how well planned, may not always deliver.

The landscape of Longyearbyen – Copyright Ilan Kelman 2009

 

A photo of Longyearbyen taken on a winter climb to a mountain top nearby in -47 °C – Copyright Patrizia Isabelle Duda 2019

As far as disasters go, there is a gamut of factors besides its remote location and its dicey weather that impinge on Svalbard’s ability to respond. A lack of communication between its settlements is problematic. Its possible overreliance on national response structures which must both be able to react with adequate resources within narrow time frames, as well as have the political will to do so, further compounds the precarious situation. In addition, the present restricted ability of Svalbard’s small hospital to treat more than minor-level injuries, necessitates an over-reliance on aeromedical evacuation to the mainland.  Thus, the capacity for major trauma scenarios is missing.

Given both the existing gaps as well as clear developing and future challenges, it is critical that we take stock of Svalbard’s emergency preparedness and response capacity and develop robust policies that are adapted to the local realities on the island. This means that not only search-and-rescue capacities are needed, which it seems Svalbard has well understood (albeit these are and can only be imperfect); but that improved governance on a much wider scale is urgently required. It must be remembered that disaster efforts do not always happen formally. Both when formal disaster efforts fail, but also when they do not, informality is often a key element of disaster preparedness and response.  In Svalbard’s particular case, this means cooperation and coordination between the two main players on the island—formally, Norway and Russia, and informally, Norwegians and Russians—for efforts both to prevent disasters, as well as to address them when they happen.

These are the questions I pondered together with a team of nine researchers from London, Moscow and around Norway who assembled in Longyearbyen to launch our new project. Generously funded by the Norwegian Research Council, we initiated a 2-year investigation into disaster diplomacy’s potential to foster cooperation (or not) between Svalbard’s Norwegian and Russian stakeholders in their formal and informal responses to disasters. To this end, the project will be looking at three hypothetical disaster scenarios: an oil spill emergency, a crisis involving radiation release from a ship, and a disease outbreak in (Russian) Barentsburg—the second of the only two permanently inhabited settlements on Svalbard.

View of Longyearbyen – Copyright Ilan Kelman 2019

The importance of this project is startingly clear. Moving on from its early days as a coal-mining settlement, Svalbard is now home (albeit a transient one) to a growing population of scientists and tourists. Moreover, this group of islands is currently being re-imagined and re-developed into an Arctic Ocean emergency management hub.  This new hub will act like a magnet, drawing yet more scientists, tourists and job-seekers to an island of roughly 2600 inhabitants, requiring quickly built new infrastructure to support these activities. Coupled with the effects of the already changing environment, Svalbard’s vulnerable settlements, not to mention, the whole region and its ecosystems, are further at risk.

Additionally, some fear that it may also spark a new round of disputes and conflicts between Norway and Russia, (and looking out on the broader horizon, between other nations that have stakes in the Arctic region). Transnational cooperation will be more crucial than ever in tackling the already compromised possible disaster responses. Thus, from a different perspective, this emerging reality might, at least in theory, pave the way for greater diplomatic and practical collaboration on disaster issues and may, by extension, improve many aspects of relations between these two countries that share vested interests in Svalbard.

It is clear from research on disaster diplomacy in other global settings that this second idealistic and much more hopeful perspective is not supported by actual results. Disaster diplomacy has not yet been shown to lead to better relations between countries. But can these findings be applied to Svalbard, and to the Arctic in general, an area which is held to be ‘off the charts’ in so many spheres? As researchers, we hear the often-recited mantra that Arctic players have already come up with uniquely successful and often unprecedented cooperation schemes. Thus, could the Arctic prove to be an exception in the universe of unsuccessful disaster diplomacy case studies? And might the various factors that were present in the particular Arctic situation be extrapolated and applied in disaster conditions elsewhere in the world?

“Welcome” – Copyright Ilan Kelman 2019

I ask myself these questions, as I gaze out past the high-end stores and entertainment centres, to the beautiful but forbidding mountain range just behind them, looking off into the polar-night sky. Svalbard is fragile, vulnerable to disaster, and may well become even more exposed to danger.  But might it not also hold the seeds to plant future opportunities for cooperation and improvement in international relations? Or, will the research results elsewhere in the world be confirmed? Our team hopes that our research will be able to begin to answer some of these questions.

Health, Risk Disaster (HeaRD) UK-Japan Network: Some observations and reflections

Saqar ' MAl Zaabi10 June 2019

Post written by Dr. Amira Osman, UCL – IRDR

I attended a research symposium, which was part of Health, Risk Disaster (HeaRD) UK-Japan Network held in Japan from April 15-17, 2019 and organised by the University of Edinburgh and Fukushima Medical University https://ghpu.sps.ed.ac.uk/heard/. Participants included researchers and students from the UK and Japan as well as practitioners, notably medical staff from Japan. The variety of topics discussed in the presentations and talks reflected the  participants’ diverse areas of expertise.

Fukushima Daiichi disaster                

On the 11th of March 2011, Japan was struck by an earthquake that triggered a tsunami and a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This triple disaster came to be known as the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The damage to the nuclear power plant led to the release of radioactive materials. More than 15,000 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced as a result of this devastating event. Land and animals also experienced an unprecedented damage, notably due to high radiation. The aim of this symposium was to explore the various social, environmental and economic dimensions of Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

The symposium

The symposium included a two-day workshop and visits to disaster sites.  The workshop took place at Fukushima Medical Hospital and Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital. It covered a number of topics from maternity and child health, community studies and broader social issues linked to health, radiation-related issues (Fukushima-specific), and vulnerability and disadvantage following a disaster. A Slack workplace was also created for the participants to continue networking, uploading their research activities/papers and informing each other about funding opportunities and relevant events.

Then, we had the opportunity to visit a number of sites related to the disaster such as a damaged fish farm and empty houses in red zones areas: the areas that were still contaminated and labelled as unsafe for people to live in. We also visited areas that are declared safe for evacuees. There, I had the chance to chat with some of them who welcomed us with great hospitability, and spoke of the joy of recovering and returning home. A visit was also made to  the Fukushima nuclear power plant and its surrounding area. And lastly, we visited a local NGO working with the communities that were affected by the disaster to further understand the role of grassroots organisations in the disaster.

Lessons learnt

Fish farm in Fukushima hit by the tsunami

The sight of damaged areas still makes you think that the disaster had just occurred. This was the case with different sites such as a fish farm near the Fukushima plant,  a nursing home and a farm in Namie town where contaminated cattle (still alive) had white spots on their skin as a result of high radiation. These contaminated cattle escaped the government slaughter of contaminated cattle because the owner who first refused to evacuate, despite the high volume of radiation, stood against the government order to kill his contaminated cattle.

Farm in Namie town, an area affected by the disaster

This was due to three main reasons. First, as a farmer in a family farm he had built some connection with his livestock. Second, the farmer believed that the cattle would eat contaminated grass, therefore contributing to decontamination of the area. Third, his refusing to follow the government order was a way of protesting against the nuclear power plant, which he believed it harms the environment. This experience reveals the complexity of resilience and responses to disasters, and that survivors’ own perceptions on how to deal with disasters and its aftermath need to be considered when applying a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) approach.

The radiation from the nuclear power plant also contaminated the soil. The contaminated soil was kept in black plastic bags to be stored underground in designated areas for thirty years. It was unclear what would happen to this soil after the thirty years have passed.

Dinner at Minamisoma City

Dining in Minamisoma city

A joyful element of the visit to Fukushima, despite my short stay, was getting to know the Japanese people and their culture. This was demonstrated in the welcoming attitude I experienced at the symposium venues, local shops, restaurants, train stations and hotels. Despite the language barriers, it was not that difficult to be understood and/or to understand conversations in Japanese/English when buying train tickets and asking for an adaptor for a laptop at the hotel. Enjoying the delicious Japanese food and conversations with the other workshop participants was one of the highlights of the visit.

UCL IRDR’s dPHE lead a Workshop on Outbreak! Infectious Diseases at the UCL Global Citizenship Programme

AnwarMusah6 June 2019

In the first week of June 2019, UCL IRDR’s Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) participated in the facilitation of an interdisciplinary workshop, the Global Citizenship Programme Outbreak 2019, to engage in with under- and postgraduate students from UCL and beyond.

Dr Patty Kostkova (Associate Professor) and Dr Caroline Wood (Senior Research Fellow & Coordinator) from dPHE and Dr Shanshan Zhou (IRDR Enterprise and Promotions Officer) kicked-off on day seven’s session by delivering a series of interesting lectures on digital public health. Dr Patty Kostkova spoke about the importance of taking advantage of the digital world we live in, and opportunities of utilising reliable data from social media such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and many more, to use as a form of surveillance for accessing information regarding infectious disease outbreaks and the population’s health in general.

Figure 1: Dr Patty Kostkova delivering a lecture on Digital Public Health at the GCP2019

Dr Caroline Wood and Dr Shanshan Zhou engaged in a discussion with prospective students regarding postgraduate opportunities within UCL IRDR’s dPHE. They disseminated its key aims, achievements and the various research projects that is currently in progress – these ranged from .1) use of m-gamification apps in Nigeria (West Africa) to monitor the behavioural change in the patterns of prescribing antibiotics in Nigeria, and 2.) using mobile phone applications as a surveillance tool for ZIKA infected mosquitoes to predict potential outbreaks in Brazil. They took the opportunity to showcase the postgraduate courses hosted by IRDR and dPHE, and the career prospects in digital public health.

Finally, the team led an interactive session with the students to conduct an outbreak investigation on an infectious illness called ‘Stripy coloured hair’ infection (it’s a weird infectious illness that causes… stripy hair. Apparently, it can only be cured by consuming lemons). The students were split into groups of six and tasked with developing a mobile phone application that can be used as a medium for data collection and, in turn, serve as a tool for surveillance and early warning for preventing the disease. Group 4 (see figure 2) presented their app proposal called “Stripy Lemon” and were selected winners by Dr Kostkova and her team as the best application for preventing ‘Stripy colour hair disease’. Well done Group 4!

Figure 2: Dr Patty Kostkova congratulating Group 4 – who came up with the best concept for developing an app for preventing ‘Stripy coloured hair’ infection

Follow all updates and news from the UCL IRDR dPHE via our Twitter account @UCL_dPHE

PRISMH Workshop & Stakeholders Forum on Resilience of Schools to Multi-Hazard in the Philippines

RebekahYore4 June 2019

Last month, I was very fortunate to be able to participate in the delivery of a two-day workshop on Structural Mitigation and Increasing Resilience of Schools to Multi-Hazards in Manila, Philippines as part of the Philippines Resilience of Schools to Multi-Hazard (PRISMH) project. I joined the UCL EPICentre team in a visit to project collaborators De La Salle University (Manila) and Xavier University (Cagayan de Oro).

The workshop was based around methods, techniques and data used and collected as part of the actual PRISMH investigation, and introduced participants (attended came from academia, government, the private sector) to the most common deficiencies and failures observed in existing school infrastructure across the Philippines. As the Philippines is a multi-hazard environment, these weaknesses were examined in reference to exposed to various types of natural hazards including earthquake, flood and windstorm. Looking at the wide variety of the building typology and unpredictability of hazard intensity, different methods of data collection and exposure analysis were demonstrated in order to prioritise the most vulnerable structures, susceptible to life threatening damage and economic losses.

The physical integrity of buildings is only part of the story however, and the workshop also introduced knowledge and experience around challenges facing early warning systems, the identification, suitability and access to schools as emergency evacuation shelters and resource distribution hubs, as well as designing and implementing evacuation plans. I was there to represent the work and preliminary findings of Dr Joanna Faure Walker and Dr Alexandra Tsioulou, who emphasise the social importance of schools as centres of community, education institutions, and critically when a hazard risk arises, evacuation centres, emergency (and temporary) shelters, and aid distribution centres. My PhD work in the Philippines focusses on early warnings and temporary shelter in the Philippines, and so this was great way of exploring schools that function as shelters in more detail, as well as building relationships among key public, private and academic stakeholders.

The workshop was followed by a Stakeholders Forum first in Manila, and then in Xavier University in the city of Cagayan de Oro (CdeO), where the fieldwork campaign for PRISMH was conducted. This was my favourite part as it was a chance to report on the initial findings of the project and to engage the people at the heart of this research. It was a wonderful example of taking work back to where it originated, and of delivering real foundations on which people can adapt and build tools and resources that can help well beyond their original scope. The attendees included the Mayor of CdeO, officials from the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (RDRRMC) and the Philippines Department of Education.

See the Xavier University news article here

About the PRISMH Project

Start: 1st April 2017 / End: 30th Sepember 2019

The PRISMH project, led by Prof Dina D’Ayala, Dr Carmine Galasso and Dr Joanna Faure Walker aims to develop an advanced resilience assessment framework for school infrastructure subjected to multiple natural hazards in the Philippines. The project investigates the effectiveness of buildings retrofit measures and social preparedness measures as means of preventing casualties, reducing economic losses and maintaining functionality of the school infrastructure and its role within the community in the event of natural disasters. In particular the project addresses risks from seismic, wind and flood hazards. The resilience assessment protocol will be used by civil protection and school authorities to improve their preparedness and implementation.

Funding Bodies
British Council (Newton Fund Grant Agreement Institutional Links)
Philippines’s Commission on Higher Education (CHED)