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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


2020 Virtual IRDR Spring Academy

By Lucy K Buck, on 21 May 2020

The annual IRDR Spring Academy is usually held at a beautiful country house. Here all the members of the IRDR gather to catch up with each other, find out what others are working on, brainstorm future work, discuss possible collaborations and attempt Ilan’s infamous pub quiz.

This year was a little different. With members of staff and PhD students signing in online from their living rooms the Spring Academy was off to a slightly different start than usual.

This years theme was ‘trending’ with trends in disasters, communication, experimental work and field work being discussed.

Five main trends identified were:

  1. Are there more or worse disasters? This depends on how disasters are recorded, measured and communicated. There was a reported decrease in volcanic eruptions between 1939 and 1944 – was this due to less eruptions or a distracted media?
  2. People’s behaviour. Panic, fatigue due to false alarms, looting, rioting etc are reported to be rare at a local level but disaster capitalism by corporations and individuals not directly effected tends to be more common.
  3. Observations and reporting can create perceived trends which do not exist in actuality.
  4. How disasters are communicated and how this influences decision makers. The rise of populism and reactionary policies based on public opinion rather than science is happening globally.
  5. How can this be corrected? In particular when the misinformation comes from someone in a position of authority and trust. This is crucial and we, as researchers, must be careful. Especially ensuring we get the basics right; there is no such thing as a natural disaster, people may not agree that they are victims and may not want to be described that way or an accident may not be entirely unintentional.

At the IRDR we aim to create the trends, not follow them.

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