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Launch event for the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE)

Saqar ' MAl Zaabi8 November 2018

Blog post by Dr. Caroline Wood

The UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction held an evening event on Thursday 1st November 2018 to celebrate the launch of its newest transdisciplinary venture: the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE). The event was attended by more than 120 people, including UCL senior managements, academics, researchers, students, industry specialists, entrepreneurs and policymakers from across a broad range of sectors and specialisms.

The evening started with a welcome address by Professor David Price (UCL Vice Provost for Research) outlining UCL’s Grand Challenges concept of bringing together academic expertise across disciplines to address the issues facing the society and the planet. Professor Peter Sammonds (Director of the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction) gave an overview of the IRDR vision and highlighted how the new Centre forms a vital part of the UCL Faculty for Maths and Physical Sciences strategic 5-year development plan.

The Keynote Speaker Professor Virginia Murray (Head of Global Disaster Risk Reduction, Public Health England) kicked off the evening talks with an eye-opening keynote on global response to disasters and emergencies and the potential for science and digital health technologies to contribute. She illustrated her talk with reference to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030); a tool developed to structure response and protect nations when disasters occur, and stressed the importance of improving accessibility and availability to key data.

The evening continued with Dr. Patty Kostkova (Director of the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies) outlining the history and vision of the Centre. She emphasised the Centre’s central mission to break down the limits of current health care systems’ capacity and communities’ resilience to improving health and wellbeing at national and international levels. A key part of the Centre’s research agenda will be to explore how use of digital technologies and improving access to data can build the ‘bridge’ between efficient emergency response, emergency activities and improved healthcare systems capacity and routine surveillance. The Centre will also seek to change the current dynamic of knowledge transfer and exchange between academia and policy, directly responding to the main global public health challenges identified by policy but also proactively bringing challenges to policy agendas.

With representation spanning five UCL faculties, involving multiple disciplines and chaired by Professor Ibrahim Abubakar (Director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, Faculty of Population Health Sciences), a panel then discussed the challenges faced by the global public health and potential ways in which digital technologies and community engagement could seek to address them. Professor Julio Davila (UCL Development Planning Unit, Faculty of the Built Environment) proposed that key challenges stem from the world’s continuing ambition to urbanise and from rapid increases in urban sprawl on a global level. He argued that improving infrastructure for capacity building is therefore crucial to efficient global public health response to disasters and emergencies.

Professor Kate Jones (UCL Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research, Faculty of Life Sciences) stressed that we need to better realise the state of our global ecosystems and the decreasing environmental diversity. Professor Jones proposed that digital technologies incorporating real-time prediction and big data would enable us to more fully understand links between ecosystem decline and human health. Major challenges surrounding data sharing, ownership and translation between sectors, organisations and disciplines were raised as significant barriers to more efficient ways of working by Professor Muki Haklay (UCL Extreme Citizen Science, Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences) and Dr. Patty Kostkova (UCL IRDR dPHE) stressing the opportunity to enhance big data-driven predictive disease analytics with routine surveillance data collected via mobile technology. Professor Haklay posited that citizen science has a large role to play in ensuring provision of digital tools direct to communities to improve data collection and guide usage of data for better public health response.

Professor Abubakar brought the panel to a close by stressing that it would be a crime not to exploit opportunities for addressing global public health using innovative digital technologies – especially given their growing global penetration, even in low to middle income countries (LMIC). He highlighted the importance of the IRDR Centre for dPHE’s role in bringing different disciplines and sectors together to address the bigger public health challenges and assess how to effectively drive innovation to global change. The role of human computer interaction science, behavioural science and education were specifically mentioned as being key disciplines in helping global public health to better understand how people interact with digital technologies and addressing how best to encourage uptake in communities. Initiatives expanding dPHE to more UCL Faculties beyond the core five represented at the panel were agreed at the event.

Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice Provost for Health) gave the closing address for the event reiterating cross Faculty and the UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences’ (SLMS) support for the new Centre and its importance in maintaining UCL’s role as a leader in improving global public health. A celebratory drinks and networking event showcasing several of the Centre’s collaborative research projects then took place in the Roberts Building Foyer.

Further coverage of the event can be accessed via the dPHE Twitter account @UCL_dPHE or via the hashtag: #dPHELaunch. Recording of the event including the panel discussion will be available to view week beginning Nov 19th. Images with thanks to Dr. Ilan Kelman.

 

About the UCL Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies

The UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies brings together experts from UCL and external stakeholders to lead on interdisciplinary research, training and policy advice to improve global public health through use of digital technologies and data systems.

Recent health emergencies – including the SARS, Zika and Ebola outbreaks, and the Haiti and Nepal earthquakes – have unnecessarily taken thousands lives and cost the global economy billions. These events have shown the limits of current health systems’ capacity and communities resilience to respond to emergencies at local, national and international levels.

The dPHE seeks to:

  • Strengthen response to public health challenges and emergencies
  • Lead cutting-edge research into mobile technologies, data science and policy
  • Harness expertise across sectors to strengthen national and international collaboration
  • Cultivate the next generation of experts through evidence-based teaching and training

Established in 2018 as part of the UCL Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences five-year strategic plan, the vision is to develop the dPHE into a renowned and world-leading Centre in digital public health in emergencies to improve global capacity, preparedness and response to health emergencies.

Contact:  irdr.dphe@ucl.ac.uk

Office location:  Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, Wilkins South Wing – 2nd Floor, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

@UCL_dPHE

Disaster Science is one of five key themes for partnership between UCL and Tohoku University

Joanna PFaure Walker21 October 2018

UCL and Tohoku University signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Thursday 11th October 2018 as part of the kickoff partnership event. President Arthur and President Ohno stated their commitment to continuing research exchange, following the agreement of the previous five years.

President Arthur and President Ohno sign memorandum of understanding Photo source: https://www.tohoku.ac.jp/japanese/2018/10/news20181018-02.html

Workshops for five key themes were held on the 11th and 12th October as part of the event that saw 50 delegates come to UCL from Tohoku University. The five themes were disaster science, data science, neuroscience, higher education and material science and spintronics.

The disaster science delegation (From left to right) Prof. Shinichi Kuriyama Dr Katerina Stavrianaki Dr Ilan Kelman Ms Anna Shinka Dr Tiziana Rossetto Dr Joanan Faure Walker Dr David Robinson Assist. Prof. Shuji Seto Prof Maureen Fordham Ms Miwako Kitamura Prof David Alexander Assoc. Prof. Anawat Suppasri

The disaster science delegation comprised representatives from UCL IRDR, Tohoku University IRIDes (International Research Institute for Disaster Science), and UCL EPICentre. The workshop has helped form new collaboration opportunities building on the existing relationship between these research institutions. Our collaboration cincludes joint publications in earthquake stress transfer (e.g. Mildon et al., 2016), disaster fatalities (Suppasri et al., 2016), and temporary housing (e.g. Naylor et al., 2018). We look forward to the next five years of working with all our colleagues at IRIDeS to enhance the field of disaster science.

Discussions during the disaster science workshop Photo source: https://www.tohoku.ac.jp/japanese/2018/10/news20181018-02.html

The disaster science workshop included the following talks, which prompted discussions of further questions we would like to research together:

  • Assist. Prof. Shuji Seto (IRIDeS)
    • New Research Project on the Fatality Process in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake for Survival Study from Tsunami Disaster
  • Dr Ilan Kelman (UCL IRDR)
    • Disaster, Health, and Islands
  • Prof. Shinichi Kuriyama (IRIDeS)
    • Challenge of Public Health to Disaster – Using Public Health Approach and Artificial Intelligence Techniques
  • Prof Maureen Fordman (UCL IRDR)
    • Gender and Disasters
  • Ms Miwako Kitamura (IRIDeS)
    • Gender problems as seen from the oral history of the bereaved families of the deceased Tsunami in Otsuchi Town, during the Great East Japan Earthquake
  • Ms Anna Shinka (IRIDeS)
    • A questionnaire study on disaster folklore and evacuation behavior for human casualty reduction – Case of Kesennnuma City, Miyagi Prefecture.
  • Prof Tiziana Rossetto (UCL EPICentre)
    • Building response under sequential earthquakes and tsunami
  • Assoc. Prof. Anawat Suppasri (IRIDeS)
    • Building damage assessment considering lateral resistance and loss estimation using an economic model “Input-Output table”
  • Prof David Alexander (UCL IRDR)
    • A framework for Cascading Disasters
  • Dr Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR)
    • Disaster Warning, Evacuation and Shelter

NHK, the largest broadcaster in Japan, reported the workshop with a focus on Miwako Kitamura and the UCL Gender and Disaster Centre:  NHK report (in Japanese)

Disaster Risk Reduction Communication: challenges and chances

JacopoSpatafora18 August 2015

Audience5Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a rising field, growing in scientific production and relevance. DRR aims to identify causes and trends of hazards impacting human lives, in order to reduce their intensity, reduce the possibility of occurrence and tackle the resulting effects.
A key action of DRR is to share knowledge, so that the people can take adequate measures to prevent the consequences. Part of this field involves communicating with the exposed communities at risk of damages and losses, to understand their expertise and requirements. Effectively communicating DRR research to affected communities is one of the biggest challenges faced by researchers. Ineffective or missing communication leads DRR to fail one of its goals, condemning a fundamental body of knowledge to be underutilised or simply ignored. It is necessary to improve communication and fill this critical gap, in order to reduce disaster risk.

This topic shaped the debates at the Third Academic Summit and the 5th IRDR conference, held at UCL on 24th and 25th June 2015. Institutions’ representatives, DRR researchers, lecturers and practitioners had the chance to share their experience and compare their points of view at the two events, discussing current examples and future developments of DRR.
Specifically, the debates tried to answer the following questions:
– What are the most effective methods of communication for DRR?
– Which are the current trends of disaster prevention, management and recovery?
– Is academic work becoming more relevant for practitioners?
– How can students contribute to apply and improve DRR?

Throughout the two days, sharing information about natural hazards, conflicts and epidemics was repeatedly marked as a priority, in order to make the exposed communities aware of the related impacts that disasters can cause.
At the Annual Conference, Ben Lishman’s session about the Arctic Risks and Michael von Bertele’s management of the Ebola Crisis widely proved the importance of good communication, arousing high interest and participation from the attendees.
The visual communication
of data is an emerging area of interest for DRR researcher. At the Annual Conference, Ben Stuart showed the visual impact given by the combination of assembled data and graphic design, while Vanessa Banks (BGS), Richard Wall (UCL Hazard Centre) and Richard Teeuw (University of Portsmouth) offered a wide range of GIS tools and relative applications to cope with natural disasters and improve financial and business services. Digital mapping and graphic design are paving the way for a stronger and deeper intervention in the field, where the exposure to risk occurs. The latest softwares can highlight the most dangerous areas and assemble data towards an effective visual impact.

However, the use of updated tools does not mean that DRR is always appropriately explained. The shared experience from the speakers showed that there is a great comprehension of the disaster cycle in all its phases. However, it remarked also a static approach, only able to produce results within the academic environment. This contrast between research and action emerged through the debate “Training, teaching and exercising challenges” at the Academic Summit led by Gordon Macdonald (ICPEM), Dr Fredrik Bynander (CRISMART) and David Jones (Rescue Global). Mr Macdonald spoke about the need of ‘translating’ the academic language into the practitioners’ one, Dr Bynander stressed the relevant applications of scientific production for the National Defence’s activities, while Mr Jones clearly stated the necessity of the scientific research to start considering real-life issues and the practitioners’ activities.
The main points that emerged from these conferences are:
– The complexity and fertility of the most different scenarios, threatened by hazards but also studied more and more in depth.
– A strong necessity to reconsider how DRR communicates itself, for a better and common goal pursued by all those involved.
– A persistent communication gap between academics and practitioners. Both groups need to work together to bridge this gap.

The conclusion of the IRDR Conference saw the presentation of research projects by the MSc and PhD students of IRDR and other attendees. The posters’ topics spanned from physical science and engineering to the social sciences, combining detailed explanations and comprehensible graphics. However, their common trait was a strong application to risk-related issues, improving the performance of the tools and the quality of future researches.
The students’ point of view and interventions are gaining more and more relevance within the contemporary debate around the theory and practice of DRR. Part of this successful trend is given by their ability to build cross-cutting competences, to take the scientific production in the ‘real world’, and to report their field-based experiences into the universities.
Overall, productive discussions and clashing views were appreciated by the attendees, which generated the sensation of an informal discussion environment. UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction has been able to collect expertise from different fields, offering an arena for a multifaceted comparison.

UCL IRDR at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction – Human Rights and DRR Panel

ZehraZaidi25 March 2015

On Monday 16th March 2015, UCL IRDR hosted a public forum panel discussion on “Human Rights and Disaster Risk Reduction” as a side event of the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai. David Alexander, UCL IRDR Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction, convened the panel to explore whether failure to mitigate disaster risk may be related to a failure to guarantee basic human rights, and if disaster situations can sometimes be used as an opportunity to deny rights. David proposed that whilst the articulation of human rights – as outlined by the UN, EU, and in national conventions and laws – are often ineffective in practice due to loopholes, exclusions and varying interpretations, and although externally imposed rights may clash with local cultures and traditions, there is a need to be more courageous about asserting human rights. Starting from the assumption that human rights are indeed universal, and that they have a direct bearing on disaster risk reduction, he requested that the panel consider (among others) the following questions:

  • Do disasters lead to particular violations of human rights?
  • Is denial or restriction of human rights diagnostic of marginalisation, and how does this make people and communities vulnerable to disasters?
  • To what extent is the freedom and development of women and girls a human rights issue, and how does this bear upon resilience against disaster?
  • Will an improved dialogue on human rights (a more explicit treatment of the question in open public discussion and official agreements) lead to reductions in disaster risk?
  • How universal is the concept of human rights, and does it have a cultural dimension?
  • How does the assertion of fundamental rights fit with the need to assume responsibility for disaster risk reduction?

On considering whether there is a human right to DRR, the first panelist, Richard Olson, Professor and Director of the Extreme Events Institute, Florida International University, posed the question ‘Is there a human right to life-safety?’. He stated that a major driver of loss of life from natural disasters derives from land use and building standards. These are planning issues with long-established solutions for which ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse. Yet many decision makers continue in their behavior of ‘non-decision making’. That is to say, they keep issues that could address the human right to life safety off the agenda, such as improved building code enforcement and land use planning.

The second panelist, Terry Cannon, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), questioned the universality of the concept of human rights, proposing that human rights can be perceived as a colonial imposition of the western world on other cultures. He explored the notion that some nations and cultures may not conform to the western interpretation of the ‘right’ way and questioned the relevance of legally backed rights in changing cultural behaviour. He suggested that human rights as viewed by western capitalist nations may not be appropriate for different political systems at different stages of development, and that the ‘push back’ against an external imposition of rights could in fact make the situation worse.

Virginie Le Masson, Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), also considered the culturally variability and universality of the concept of human rights, through the lens of gender rights. She advocated that although DRR workers do not have the right to impose their cultural values onto the communities where they are engaged, there is a moral obligation inherent to development assistance that compels one to oppose inequality, especially in the context of women’s rights. DRR is premised on the reduction of vulnerability, and this vulnerability frequently arises from inequality and disadvantage. If human rights are an imposition, claimed Le Masson, then so too is DRR.

Panelist Arif Rehman, Vulnerability and Resilience Coordinator at LEAD Pakistan, offered practitioner examples from experiences of DRR in Pakistan. He reported that although human rights are formally guaranteed by the state, the devolution of responsibility for these rights to local governments has resulted in strengthening existing power structures and local elites, rendering the notion of state-guaranteed rights redundant, especially given that many of the most vulnerable people are already beholden to local interest groups such as landowners.

The next panelist, Nanako Shimizu, Associate Professor in the Faculty of International Studies, considered the human rights issues that resulted from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. She claimed that the causes of nuclear health risk issues to the population surrounding the nuclear power plant were, (1) failure of prevention, (2) insufficient or misleading post-accident measures, and (3) lack of awareness within the population to realise their rights in a post-disaster context.

The final panellist, Cassidy Johnson, Senior Lecturer at the UCL Development Planning Unit, considered human rights in the aftermath of an earthquake in Turkey. Immediately after the earthquake, the disaster served as an economic leveler between the rich and poor, all of whom lost homes, family, and livelihoods. However, compensation measures implemented by the state in the recovery phase resulted in aggravating inequality by providing property to past owners and depriving tenants of the right to new housing. Cassidy’s case study highlighted how the continuation of pre-existing property regimes into a post-disaster context can amplify rights inequality.

Much of the discussion at the event centred around the question of whether human rights are an imposition or a necessity in the implementation of an effective and just DRR system. Whilst a few of the audience agreed with Cannon’s view, that human rights should not be externally imposed on other societies, many challenged it. Relating more closely to the issue of DRR within human rights, several audience members highlighted examples where the presence of pre-existing human rights violations left societies more vulnerable to disasters, so there is still much more to debate on this issue.

IRDR Panel Discussion on “Disability and Disasters”

RosannaSmith13 March 2014

The IRDR’s Panel Discussion on “Disability and Disasters” on 12th March was billed as a discussion of human rights, addressing an issue that may be unpopular, but that must be addressed whenever we consider how we plan for, manage, and cope with disasters, since disabled people make up 15% of the world’s population.

In addressing this issue, panellist Dr Maria Kett from UCL’s Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre highlighted that disabled people are not asking for prioritisation, rather they are asking for equity. Panellist Silvio Sagramolo, Director of the Info-Handicap Association, Luxembourg, re-iterated that disaster risk management for people with disabilities is a matter of human rights, but raised the issue that it is very difficult to keep track of disabled people and their needs, since the types of disability, the people themselves and their needs are so diverse. We must, he claimed, accept that ‘human diversity is a reality’.

In looking at practical ways to improve the plight of disabled people during disasters, Mechtilde Fuhrer of the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement (EUR-OPA) section of the Council of Europe stated that EUR-OPA were compiling a catalogue of good practice and called upon all people involved in this area to contribute to the catalogue. Panellist Ilan Kelman, of UCL’s IRDR and Institute for Global Health, stated that we needed to follow the doctrine ‘nothing about us, without us’. That is, we should listen to the narratives of disabled people and those directly involved in their care and support when discussing and deciding what can be done for them in disaster planning and management.

IRDR Panel Discussing "Disability and Disasters"

Highlights of questions and points raised from the audience included:

David Jones, a commanding officer from Rescue Global (an NGO that supports first responders during emergencies), highlighted that the issues raised in this field of disability and disasters were common to disasters in general, but that the short-comings in disaster planning and management were exacerbated by the presence of disabilities. He also claimed that many emergency services do plan for dealing with people with disabilities, but often are too stretched to implement these plans during the emergency situation. Panel Chair Prof David Alexander (UCL IRDR) suggested that this discrepancy between plans and response might arise from disaster planning often being conducted by different bodies to those who manage the actual crisis. Panellist Maria Kett added that this is why local NGOs must be included in the disaster response.

A representative from Handicap International raised the issue that the Hyogo Framework for Action has very poor representation of disabled people.

A representative from the Organisation of Blind Afro-Caribbeans highlighted that we need to consider the diversity of people with disabilities, and suggested that disaster planners and managers should pro-actively seek people with disabilities to contribute to planning for disability and disasters. Whilst the panellists agreed that we needed to consider the diversity of disabled people, Silvio Sagramolo highlighted that those with disabilities did not always have the experience to contribute to discussions on disaster planning and management.

Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR) followed up on earlier points raised about the difficulties in assisting disabled people during emergencies when more resources are needed to help disabled people, resources that are often limited during a crisis. She asked how we might better plan before disasters so that this cost gap between saving able bodied and disabled people during disasters is narrowed. David Jones (Rescue Global) suggested that it is a failure of planning when the cost gap is so wide. Panellist Maria Kett suggested that we should not consider being disabled or not in such an ‘either or’ way, but rather we should consider whole communities of people who must be helped during disasters, and that these communities are diverse and include people with a range of disabilities.

Panel Chair David Alexander then pondered, is it really a planning problem, or is this actually an attitude problem, or even a perception problem? Food for thought on a complicated and important issue in disaster risk reduction.