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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 PhD student Forum 2019

ClaudiaSgambato24 January 2019

When was the last time you talked about your research in an informal and/or original way? Last week, UCL IRDR doctoral students had this opportunity when they met for the annual PhD forum, to present their projects to their peers and discuss research and new results.

A total of 26 students from all over the world presented on some of the most recent and interesting topics: from all the possible aspects of seismic hazard, to detailed methods to study tsunami deposits in Indonesia, passing through post-disaster management of toxic waste, and volunteering in Oman. Wouldn’t you be amazed to hear about the effects of climate change on ice sheets and the importance of financing climate change adaptation in small islands? These and many others were the topics discussed by the IRDR PhD students.

First year students were bound to one minute for their presentation and forbidden to use any technical jargon; it might seem like an easy task, but trying to squeeze a four-year project into a minute turned out to be a hard challenge.

Have you ever thought about finally putting your dance lessons into practice? Do you want to show off your great rap skills? Everything is possible for second year PhD students, who had four minutes to present their project without using a computer. Better start writing your rhymes, because the competition is high!

Chiko presented her project on ‘Measuring Vulnerability and Resilience to Disaster Impacts in Indonesian Cities’ (photo by Ilan Kelman)

Back to normal for third year students, who must practice for conferences and the approaching thesis writing. They successfully presented their research in a technical and professional way. Presentations included topics such as earthquake forecasting, Emergency Management Systems, informality in disaster governance, community vulnerability to Tropical cyclones in Mauritius, and many others.

Justine is reading his tweet on ‘Effectiveness of Nigeria’s disaster management system with respect to building collapses, human stampedes and electric power failures’(photo by Ilan Kelman).

Finally, fourth year students had to demonstrate their communication skills, using one of the most used social platforms to disseminate science: Twitter. Using a maximum of 280 characters, students demonstrated their capacity to synthesize their innovative results.

The PhD forum is one of the many opportunities that IRDR offers to help students test their ability to communicate science to a diversified audience and encourage critical analysis and innovation.

Visit the page ttps://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/people/phd-students to find out more about IRDR PhD students and their projects.

Earthquake surface measurements reveal new revelations about how faults rupture

Joanna PFaure Walker12 November 2018

PhD student Francesco Iezzi (Birkbeck College), supervised by Prof Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck College) and Dr Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), has published a paper that could revolutionalise how geologists and seismic hazard modellers use long established scaling relationships between fault lengths and surface rupture parameters.

The paper is freely available to all and can be found here.

What new observations have been made?

For five earthquakes studied, the surface fault slip (the amount the fault surface moved during the earthquake) and the throw (the vertical component of the slip) was higher where there was a bend along the length of the fault.

Following the central Italy August and October 2017 earthquakes that ruptured the ground surface, we made detailed high spatial resolution measurements of surface fault displacement along the length of the surface fault ruptures. A study of the amount of vertical and horizontal displacement that occurred along the length of the fault revealed that the throw and slip that occurred during the earthquakes increased where there are bends in the fault. This result is critical and has not been identified before for individual earthquakes.

Damage in Amatrice from the August 2016 Earthquake. Photograph take during EEFIT fieldwork by Dr Joanna Faure Walker.

Why does this occur?

We hypothesis that this occurs in order to maintain the horizontal strain (change in length relative to the original length) across a fault during an earthquake and the long-term horizontal strain-rate that accumulates from multiple earthquakes over thousands of years.

Are there other examples of this?

We then went back and studied other examples earthquakes where there was enough information to determine whether a similar pattern of higher throw and slip could be seen across bends in the fault. In the three further events studied in USA Basin and Range, Greece, and Mexico, we found the same relationship. So it seems this phenomenon occurs worldwide in normal (extensional) faults.

This was the first time that the change in vertical component of slip during an earthquake has been shown to be predictable. However, the observed relationship of increased throw across fault bends has been identified previously in long-term displacements that have accumulated over 15 thousand years as a result of multiple earthquakes in Italy (Faure Walker et al., 2009, Wilkinson et al., 2015). Before now, it was not known whether this increase was caused by there being more earthquakes across the bends or more movement during individual events.  We now know that there can be more slip during individual events, however we do not know whether this is the only mechanism for creating a long-term higher throw-rate across the bends.

What does this mean for earthquake science?

This paper suggests that slip during an earthquake will change where there is a bend along the length of the fault and this change can be quantified and predicted using the proposed theory. This means that close to the fault, earthquakes may be more damaging near a bend in the fault. This finding suggests that we cannot use fault scaling relationships between fault length and expected slip in earthquakes without consideration of fault geometry. This paper can also explain much of the scatter seen in existing plots of maximum surface slip against fault length because when collecting the data as input for such relationships, consideration was not given about whether the measurements were taken across fault bends or not.

These changes in slip along faults in individual earthquakes related to the fault geometry should be included in probabilistic seismic hazard assessments (PSHA).

What other research in the IRDR relates to this?

This work contributes to the IRDR and colleagues’ work on investigating fault behaviour to improve our understanding of earthquake hazard. Recent papers have demonstrated the importance of including detailed fault geometry and slip-rates in seismic hazard calculations (Faure Walker et al., 2018) and Coulomb stress transfer calculations (Mildon et al., 2016, 2017).

Iezzi et al (2018), Coseismic Throw Variation Across Along‐Strike Bends on Active Normal Faults: Implications for Displacement Versus Length Scaling of Earthquake Ruptures, Journal of Geophysical Research, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JB016732 

More data needed for better earthquake hazard and risk calculations

Joanna PFaure Walker6 November 2018

New research demonstrates the importance of having detailed measurements at multiple sites along a fault of how fast the fault is moving and how the surface orientation of the fault changes. To access the full paper click here.

Why do we need fault measurements?

Measurements of fault slip rate and the geometry of the fault (it’s 3d orientation) can be used to calculate earthquake recurrence intervals to give probabilities of how likely earthquakes of different magnitudes are to occur. We also need these measurements to model how much ground shaking there will be at given locations. Hazard maps of expected ground shaking can be used to inform building codes and identify where buildings including homes and schools might need retrofitting to improve their resistance to earthquake shaking.

There are other methods available for creating earthquake hazard maps, such as using historical records of earthquake shaking. However, these records unlikely go back far enough in time to capture all faults capable of hosting large earthquakes because some faults will not have hosted earthquake within the time period covered by such records. Therefore, the hazard from some faults would be missing in hazard maps based solely on historical seismicity leading to underestimations in earthquake hazard.

What new insights have been revealed in the research publication?

The paper, entitled “Variable fault geometry suggests detailed fault slip rate profiles and geometries are needed for fault-based probabilistic seismic hazard assessment (PSHA)” demonstrates that relying on only one or a few measurements of how fast the fault is moving along a fault and projecting these measurements along the entire fault may lead to underestimating the uncertainty in the earthquake hazard calculations. Crucially, there may be locations where the hazard is underestimated, meaning people could be at more risk than suggested by simpler models (the converse is also possible). Therefore, earthquake hazard assessments based on fault parameters need to either use detailed measurements including measurements of how fast the fault is moving at multiple sites along the fault or to incorporate how the lack of such data increases the uncertainty in calculated earthquake hazard assessments.

Why are detailed measurements not being already used?

In many regions it is difficult to constrain the fault slip rate (how much the fault has moved in a given time) or throw rate (vertical component of slip rate) along a fault at even one location, let alone several. However, there are regions where this is possible so as more data is collected, this detail should help to improve earthquake hazard assessments both in those regions and worldwide.

Where can I find out more?

Faure Walker J., Visini F., Roberts G., Galasso C., McCaffrey K., and Mildon Z., (2018) Variable fault geometry suggests detailed fault slip rate profiles and geometries are needed for fault-based probabilistic seismic hazard assessment (PSHA), Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, doi: 10.1785/0120180137

The Fault2SHA Working Group is an ESC (European Seismological Commission) group of researchers in both universities and civil protection authorities collaborating to increase incorporation of fault data in seismic hazard assessments and to improve our understanding of how such data should be used.

Induced earthquakes – how and when they have occurred, and why should anyone care

Joanna PFaure Walker27 September 2018

Despite the high volume of material out there about induced earthquakes, it can be hard to separate fact from opinion. To help explain what induced seismicity is, how it is caused and what the risks are, a group of researchers from UCL Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction have published “Addressing the risks of induced seismicity in subsurface energy operations”.

What causes “induced seismicity”? Induced earthquakes, those mainly caused by human action, can invoke strong feelings towards the processes that cause them, the most widely known among these is hydraulic fracturing (less favourably known as “fracking”). But hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction is not the only cause of induced earthquakes – several industrial activities are capable of inducing or triggering earthquakes, including mining, dams, conventional oil and gas operations, groundwater extraction, CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS), underground waste fluid disposal and the creation of geothermal energy systems. Rightly or wrongly, negative public perception and local public opposition to induced seismicity has led to numerous international projections having been suspended, delayed or curtailed.

How does industrial operation induce earthquakes? The Earth’s crust is believed to be in a state where it is critically stressed and only small stress changes in the right direction can cause an earthquake. Industrial action can alter the stress field in the most shallow part of the Earth’s crust, inducing a seismic event.

Are these events getting more likely? The number of documented cases of man-made earthquakes in different industrial activities is rapidly increasing: In 2017 alone, there were two reported record-breaking magnitude induced seismic events. One of the more well-known areas of induced seismicity is in the United States: The notable increase in seismicity within the last decade in the previously seismically quiet State of Oklahoma has been widely attributed to large scale waste water injection wells connected to the hydrocarbon production industry.

How big are induced earthquakes? Most induced earthquakes are low in magnitude (typically less than magnitude 4). However, even these small events are capable of causing structural damage to properties and evoking widespread fear and anxiety. We say most are small, but there are some examples where large magnitude earthquakes have been alleged to be caused by human activities. For example, in China in 2008, a dam was built that filled a reservoir behind it. A short time later, a magnitude 8 earthquake occurred in the region. Some scientists proposed this large earthquake was caused by the mass loading of the water in the dam and its penetration into rock, affecting the subsurface pressure in an underlying fault line and possibly setting off a series of ruptures that led to the earthquake.

So what is being done about it? Minimising seismic risk should be a high priority for industrial operators. All fluid injection processes should require detailed seismic hazard assessments for imaging and characterising faults prior to operations, with dedicated monitoring systems in addition to existing national seismic monitoring facilities. For assessing the risks, monitoring the operations, and designing mitigation strategies using predictive models that can characterise the spatiotemporal evolution of induced seismicity would be extremely helpful. Examples of best practice approaches show that maintaining a transparent dialogue between operator and the public, while adhering to the regulatory processes can allow safe operations in an atmosphere of public acceptance.

Where can I find out more? With all the controversy around such events, we need to understand what are the risks of induced earthquakes and how can we model them. In the published article in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, Richard Porter, Alberto Atriolo, Haroun Mahgerefteh and Joanna Faure Walker provide a review of several alleged induced seismicity case studies that have occurred in the last 15 years covering a variety of causal mechanisms. We discuss issues relating to public perception and procedures and strategies that could be implemented to help prevent and mitigate future occurrences.

The above work was funded by Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Grant/Award Number: 640979

Report of the 43rd Natural Hazards Workshop, Colorado

RebekahYore30 July 2018

Blog post by Justine Uyimleshi and Emmanuel Agbo

 

The natural hazard workshop is an annual event organised by the Natural Hazard Centre in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder around the field of disaster management and emergency response to trigger interactions and contributions from different experts in the field of disaster management and humanitarian responses. This year’s workshop, which was held in Omni Interlocken Hotel Boulder, Broomfield Colorado, from 8 – 11 July 2018 attracted over five hundred participants including disaster managers, emergency response personnel, practitioners and academia from around the world with different expertise in interactive sessions around pertinent issues that globally result in loss of lives, property damage, loss of economic values and human displacement. As a part of the IRDR strategy for promoting continuous research around disaster risk reduction (DRR) and expansion of networks in strengthening collaborations with other disaster management and emergency response entities across the world, the Institute through its research assistance funding provided support for two of its PhD researchers, Justine Uyimleshi and Emmanuel Agbo, to take part in this international event. Our participation in the workshop availed us the opportunity of interaction amid experts with different knowledge about disasters and present our research to the international communities.

Presenting our research

The workshop was full of several concurrent sessions that created opportunities for vast interaction around social media and disasters, data and partnership need for improved disaster response, cascading disasters, institutional settings, community impact and recovery from disasters, Health and wellbeing of disaster respondents, among others which enriched our understanding of the different thematic areas of disaster management. Most interestingly, the workshop further availed us the opportunity during the researcher’s meeting to moderate sessions of paper presentations as efforts in promoting the IRDR commitment in global events.  Also, of great attention from the workshop was our meeting with Jim Murphy, project director, Civil/Water Resource Engineering, DC Metro Area. Jim in admiration of our presence in the workshop and presentation during the workshop sessions demonstrated a benevolent act towards us and offered us a tour to the wild fire and flood devastating sites in Broomfield.

On this tour, we were able to see the available response facilities, and measures that are in place to quell the likely impact from future occurrence of these hazards. Finally, we extended the exploration of Colorado to the Gold hill town, where the coal exploit took place and the city mountains, which are part of the historical features of Colorado. Resulting from our experience of this workshop, we wish to express our profound appreciation to the IRDR for their continuous support. The workshop was greatly an event worth attending.

A Short Tale of Fieldwork

ClaudiaSgambato26 July 2018

Fieldwork represents a fundamental part of my PhD research, and, as a geologist, it is also my favourite part of the job. In June 2018, I flew to Italy for the first of many fieldtrips, with Joanna Faure Walker, my primary supervisor. Together we worked for five days to conduct detailed mapping of and data collection from the Auletta fault, located in Campania, Southern Italy.

The Italian Apennines are undergoing a southwest-northeast extension, associated with earthquakes of moderate and large magnitudes, occurring on active normal faults. The exact location of these faults and rates of movement across them represents an important factor for the seismic hazard.

The fault studied is located in the Vallo di Diano, one of the extensional intramontane basins that characterise this sector of the Southern Apennines; the basin, filled by river and lake fan and slope deposits, is bordered on the East side by a major fault system, terminating to the North with the 3 km long fault strand that was the object of this study.

The Auletta fault scarp seen about half way up the slope as a grey line that offsets the topography, where my fieldwork was focussed. This fault scarp crosses the Cretaceous carbonates of Mt. San Giacomo for about 3km (photograph credit: Claudia Sgambato).

Many large magnitude earthquakes have struck the Southern Apennines in the past 1000 years, with an average of one event every 50 years. For instance, in 1694, a M=6.9 event with epicentre in Irpinia caused about 6000 casualties; in the same area, in 1980, a M=6.9 earthquake caused about 3000 deaths. Some events had damage consistent with them possibly occurring on the Auletta fault, like the two events in 1561 (M=6.7) that caused 600 casualties. Moreover, there is a debate on the location and nature of the structure responsible for one of the strongest earthquakes in the area, which occurred in 1857 in the Northern Vallo di Diano and Val d’Agri, causing between 10,000 – 20,000 casualties.

The main aim of my fieldwork on this trip was to collect detailed data along the fault scarp of the fault geometry (strike and dip), together with offset and slip direction data, to understand how these vary along what we consider the termination, or tip, of the fault. In fact, my research project investigates how the geometry of both individual faults and fault arrays in the Central and Southern Apennines influences the seismic hazard. All these data collected in the field, such as the fault orientation, length, strike and dip, slip to length ratios, will be used to study what controls the variability in slip-rates along the faults and how the fault geometry and faults interaction can affect earthquake recurrence intervals.

Joanna is taking measurements of the strike and dip of the fault (photograph credit: Claudia Sgambato).

Our typical day in the field started with an early breakfast, to avoid the heat and to reach the fault scarp at an elevation of 750m, as soon as possible. Then we walked along the scarp, taking measurements of strike and dip and slip vector, and where possible, measuring the throw using a meter ruler, which requires lying on the ground and sliding through the slope for about 100m.

You would think that the best part of fieldwork is the immersion in nature, with the fresh breeze and the warm sun of an early summer in Italy. Indeed, growing up in southern Italy means I have many such memories. But, there is the other side of the coin: imagine starting a day by facing some steep, slippery, muddy, slopes, covered in thistles, the kind that grows taller than you! Then later in the day, while working in the sun, suddenly heavy clouds cover the sky and rain, loud long-lasting thunders, and all the things you don’t expect from an Italian summer, happen, every day over those five days. And while you are trying to save your precious maps and notebook from the pouring rain, your legs and arms experience all kinds of thorns and stings. Well, this is fieldwork! The joy of working in the best “office” in the world, and all the (mis)adventures that come with it.

Negotiating through the thistles on my way up to the fault scarp – the Vallo Di Diano in the background – my “office” view (Photograph credit: Joanna Faure Walker).

Even if this field trip wasn’t exactly as expected, I learned a lot thanks to Joanna. We had a fun time, enjoying the stunning views, and more importantly, we brought back some interesting data that will keep me busy while I am already organising my next trip.

Happy to have escaped the thunderstorm, after anticipating its coming and climbing to the top (Photograph credit: Joanna Faure Walker).

Pressure Cooker in Mexico City

Lucy KBuck5 July 2018

On the 14th May 2018 I found myself in a room in the beautiful Palacio de Mineria in Meixco City. Me and 34 other young researchers from various different disciplines were there to be part of the first 24-hour Pressure Cooker, organised by the Water Youth Network as part of the Understanding Risk Conference. We were to be split into groups to work on case studies looking at either hazards either in Izapalapa, Meixco City or Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan. The aim was to develop a risk communication strategy for hazards, such as flooding, subsidence and fracturing, that these areas suffer from.

And this is where it became clear why we were in Mexico. Mexico suffers from geological (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, subsidence, fracturing and landslides), hydrological (flooding and drought), meteorological (hurricanes) and anthropological (over fishing, pollution, over exploitation of resources, over population) hazards. In fact, the area that my group was given, Izapalapa, suffers from both extreme flooding and water shortages, and often people’s houses are flooded but they have no drinking water. Of course many of these are interconnected, compounding the problem (shortage of drinking water -> over extraction of ground water -> subsidence -> flooding).

Iztapalapa, con el poder de la gente – with the power of the people

 

Iztapalapa

With a population of roughly 1.8 million Iztapalapa is the most populous and fastest growing district of Mexico City. It is also the poorest with most of the population living in substandard conditions, often without running water and electricity. However, the area has a very strong sense of community and a high literacy rate, only 4% of the population over the age of six is illiterate. This is a community that is very well aware of the problems the district faces but has very little knowledge about how they can have a meaningful impact in reducing these risks.

Go Team 1!

 

The Challenge

We had 24 hours to come up with a viable communication plan to help reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of this community. With support from experts in communication, urban planning and relevant hazards, as well as representatives from the local Government. As well as the different specialities represented by our team (my team included a geophysicist, an urban planning, a psychologist and more!) we had the best chance to come up with a meaningful solution.

We decided the best strategy was to engage kids, getting them involved and helping solve the problem themselves.

We discovered that Mexico City had run a test pilot scheme where people would use a rain catcher to provide grey water for the house, reducing pressure on aquifers and the leaking water infrastructure and in the long term reduce subsidence and flooding risk. We decided to extend this to children. Teaching them how to make their own water catchers, which also lets them to contribute to the household and cut bills. Along with this we introduced our ‘Water Ambassador’ group where we would teach children about the importance of water conservation, this came with a badge once you built your own water catcher and helped conserve water in your home, and the ‘Guardians of the Drain’ which also came with a badge and organised teams of older children/teens to clean waste from the drainage systems to help stop flash flooding from these systems overflowing (this would obviously come with safety lessons).

Building a demo rain catcher at 1AM

 

After 24 hours straight of hard work, feeling very tired but gratified, we presented out communication plan to the rest of the participants as well as various experts and local representatives.

The vulnerability of Iztapalapa was highlighted the next day when, on a fieldtrip to the district, a 5.1 earthquake hit the city. Demonstrating how resilience methods can work, the early warning system had meant many homes had been evacuated and no damage or injuries occurred.

However, the most lasting and important outcome of this challenge were the connections and friendships that we all built during the exercise. These relationships are the best foundation on which to develop disaster risk reduction.

Some of the UR family

 

A massive thanks to the Water Youth Network and NERC, without whom this experience would not have been possible. Can’t wait for next time!

IRDR Masters student publishes Early Warning and Temporary Housing Research. This is part of the on-going collaboration between UCL-IRDR and IRIDeS-Tohoku University

Joanna PFaure Walker4 June 2018

Angus Naylor, an IRDR Masters student alumni and Masters Prize Winner, has published the research conducted for his Independent Research Project. The research was carried out as part of his MSc Risk, Disaster and Resilience with me, his project supervisor, and our collaborator at Tohoku University IRIDeS (International Research Institute of Disaster Science), Dr Anawat Suppasri.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, UCL-IRDR and Tohoku University IRIDeS wanted to join forces to learn more about both the fundamental science and impacts of disasters both in Japan and around the world. Naylor’s recently published paper adds to other collaborative outputs from the two institutes: Mildon et al., 2016, investigating Coulomb Stress Transfer within the area of earthquake hazard research; Suppasri et al., 2016 investigating fatality ratios following the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami; and IRDR Special Report 2014-01 on the destruction from Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. The two institutions have met on a number of occasions, and have an upcoming symposium in October 2018.

In 2014, three and half years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed much of Tohoku’s coastline, I led and Dr Anawat Suppasri organised a joint UCL-IRDR and Tohoku University IRIDeS team, visiting residents of six temporary housing complexes in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. While there, we used written questionnaires and informal group interviews to investigate the suitability of early warning systems and the temporary housing among the elderly population affected by this event.

When analysing the results, we found overall that age was not the principal factor in affecting whether a warning was received, but did play a significant role regarding what was known before the warning was received, whether action was taken and how temporary and permanent housing was viewed. The results suggest that although the majority of respondents received some form of warning (81%), no one method of warning reached more than 45% of them, demonstrating the need for multiple forms of early warning system alerts. Furthermore, only half the respondents had prior knowledge of evacuation plans with few attending evacuation drills and there was a general lack of knowledge regarding shelter plans following a disaster. Regarding shelter, it seems that the “lessons learned” from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake were perhaps not so learnt, but rather many of the concerns raised among the elderly in temporary housing echoed the complaints from 16 years earlier: solitary living, too small, not enough heating or sound insulation and a lack of privacy.

An example of Temporary Housing following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami visited during the fieldwork for this study (Photograph: Dr Joanna Faure Walker)

The research supports previous assertions that disasters can increase the relative vulnerabilities of those already amongst the most vulnerable in society. This highlights that in order to increase resilience against future disasters, we need to consider the elderly and other vulnerable groups within the entire Early Warning System process from education to evacuation and for temporary housing in the transitional phase of recovery.

The paper, ‘Suitability of the early warning systems and temporary housing for the elderly population in the immediacy and transitional recovery phase of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami’ published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, can be accessed for free until 26th July here, after this date please click here for standard access.

The authors are grateful for the fieldwork funds which came from The Great British Sasakawa Foundation funding to UCL-IRDR and MEXT’s funding to IRIDeS. The joint UCL-IRDR1 and IRIDeS2 fieldwork team comprised Joanna Faure Walker1, Anawat Suppasri2, David Alexander1, Sebastian Penmellen Boret2, Peter Sammonds1, Rosanna Smith1, and Carine Yi2.

Angus Naylor is currently doing a PhD at Leeds University
Dr Joanna Faure Walker is a Senior Lecturer at UCL IRDR
Dr Anawat Suppasri is an Associate Professor at IRIDeS-Tohoku University