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In Conversation: UCL-IRDR 11th Annual Conference, Part Three

Joshua Anthony23 February 2022

If you missed it, last summer UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) and the Warning Research Centre hosted an online conference exploring Why Warnings Matter. A varied day’s activities full of stimulating discussion with questions from the audience, the IRDR’s 11th Annual Conference has left much to be reflected upon—as well as launching the UCL Warning Research Centre.

This blog is part three of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings.  Today we get a glimpse of Dr Oliver Morgan and Dr Gail Carson in conversation with Andrew Revkin, discussing global public health in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips, who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme. Any mistakes or misrepresentation of the participants’ words are the author’s own.


Part Three.

“In Conversation”

with Dr Oliver Morgan, WHO, Dr Gail Carson, GOARN,

and Andrew Revkin


Oliver Morgan is the Director of the Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment Department in the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

Gail Carson is Director of Network Development at the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium.

Andrew Revkin, moderating this session, is an environmental journalist and is the founding director of the Initiative on Communication and Sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Key points of the session

The session started off with a question being posed to the presenters that asked what was keeping them up at night that was a threat or opportunity that was not being assessed properly. Their main fears were seeing high proportions of disease and death in children alongside the manifestation of under-resourced countries being last in dealing with major risks. The key example of this would be vaccine disparity. A pattern that is consistent across the globe with systems having bias to those who are more capable. Communities that are affected by infectious diseases and other events are often the poorest and most disadvantaged, so they therefore struggle to recover, the impact is long lasting and generational. With COVID-19 we are going to see this in a societal and educational context. Another main challenge is to keep up with a lot of the information that’s been being generated. So, the more we learn, the more interconnected we are, the more information there is about what’s happening in the world. However, in many ways we can get overloaded with that information, and it’s circulating in different media through different communications channels. From this we have to determine what information is of major concern and how to effectively deal with it.

There are so many competing priorities it’s incredibly hard to prioritise action. We need international networks to collaborate effectively so we can be effective at the ground level and listen to local people’s priorities, needs and frustrations to build trust and capacity to recover from events. When working at ground level it is also vital to have teams with people from multiple disciplinary backgrounds. This allows us to take into account all aspects of a community’s needs and generate successful collaboration and coordination.

To achieve this, we also must invest in infrastructure that facilitates transdisciplinary work. Pandemic responses are always difficult as they are typically controlled at a community level all of which are incredibly unique and variable. We must recognise and embrace the diversity of information and peoples’ different circumstances that is gathered from unique public health systems. By combining this information with the use of our social media channels we can shift public health away from an era of traditional surveillance to one that uses and embraces collaborative intelligence. This is where we take information from different parts of our society and different levels of science, to understand what the risks are, and to assess them. By having that engagement upfront, you have a much better way of interacting with your communities when you need to. The lack of community engagement was a huge issue in the UK in its response to COVID-19.

If we’re taking a much more expansive and holistic approach to understanding risk, then our workforce needs to change. We need to value different skill sets, whether they’re from the more community-based skill sets, sciences with a more community-based focus, or whether they’re data science skill sets. One of the grand challenges, therefore, that we now face in public health is that in the contemporary, larger, and interconnected world, we don’t have a contemporary workforce that successfully interacts with all of those different parts of our society. With COVID-19 we can learn some of these lessons, make those investments, and communicate with our governments about what those investments should be. We must think about younger people who are coming into their professional lives, and we need to have a much more broader approach to public health.

We have become sideloaded into specialties in our work. We need to have an interdisciplinary conversation. Collaboration is vital—working together and listening to each other. We need to be better organised to enhance communication and that organisation must be bottom up, middle, and top down. Citizen engagement is therefore key to all of this.


Questions and Answers


If you had an unlimited budget, what two things would you spend on to make things better?

Oliver

The more open we are with communication and passing information, the more benefits there are. That’s what I would change. I think those benefits far outweigh any perceived disbenefits from open information and I think that it’s not a financial thing, it’s more of a change in our collective mindset that is actually for our collective benefit. Whether that’s in environmental space, or health space or any other space, in the longer term this is going to be much more beneficial for all of us. The global-good view on public health is something that we should really embrace coming out of the pandemic.

Gail

I would probably try and pull in the experience on IP [intellectual property] and data rights. Not just IP, but the associated data rights. It would help to make sure that those who are less fortunate than some of us in the West can have access to supplies and treatments. Whether it’s accessing therapeutics or vaccines etc. a lot quicker. Obviously, there are issues with the manufacturing capability and all the supply chain issues that have to go with that. But if I was to choose one thing it would be for the lower middle income countries securing IP and data rights.

Are you guys excited about the future of public health due to the increased interest from governments due to COVID-19 or do you think it’s a false dawn?

Oliver

It is hugely exciting and very promising looking forward. There has been a huge increase in public health literacy. Citizen science is a vital positive step, that pushes all of us to engage in issues in a much better way.

 

Next up and the final blog of this series is the second panel discussion from the conference proceedings: Warnings for Organisations. Subscribe to be in the know!


Don’t forget, last time we presented the keynote speech from Mami Mizutori, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/ucl-irdr-11th-annual-conference-why-warnings-matter-and-ucl-warning-research-centre

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


Please email us for any further information at IRDR-comms@ucl.ac.uk

Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), University College London (UCL)

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom (UK)

UCL IRDR 11th Annual Conference: Why Warnings Matter, and the UCL Warning Research Centre Launch, Part One

Joshua Anthony3 November 2021

Following a challenging year of managing natural hazards, including COVID-19, this one-day online event provided thought-provoking talks, interactive discussions and online networking opportunities on why warnings matter. In addition, the UCL Warning Research Centre as part of the Department of Science and Technology Studies was launched. The event explored the role, design, use, and evaluation of warnings for different hazards from different stakeholder perspectives to examine how effective people-centered warning systems can be developed and help to be prepared for both the expected and unexpected. The event was hosted by the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and the Warning Research Centre.

On the 23rd of June, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction welcomed researchers, students, practitioners, policymakers, the media and the general public to a day of thought-provoking discussions on why warnings matter, and how we can do better at warnings both prior and during crises for all hazard types. Our in-house and guest experts presented a global perspective on the latest research and analysis through talks, interactive discussions and in conversation. We explored multi-dimensional aspects of warnings, considering their physical, social, economic, environmental, institutional, political, cultural and gendered dimensions, and the challenges involved in making warnings successful to mitigate against losses.

This blog is part one of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme.


Part One.

Panel Discussion 1: Warning Systems ‒ Exceptional versus expected events


 

The presenters for this session were Dr. Mickey Glantz, University of Colorado, Dr. Daniel Straub, Technical University of Munich, and Rebekah Yore, UCL. The session was moderated by Dr. Joanna Faure Walker, UCL.

Summaries of each presenters’ arguments are as follows:

Mickey Glantz

Not everyone considers a warning a warning. There are 5 key factors to warning hesitancy: complacency, convenience, confidence, low levels of trust, calculation of individual engagement. We don’t research the risks, collective responsibility is lacking as people focus on themselves. Emotional responses are common, not rational. There are also two types of people in hazard scenarios: risk averse people and risk takers.

Early warning systems are a chain. To make them more effective the lead time needs more attention. We need to create more lead time in order to get the warning to people earlier and through the system quicker.

Forecast hesitancy also plays a key role in effective early warning systems. We discount previous disasters we don’t learn from them, therefore we reinstate old vulnerabilities.

Readiness is also missing, society doesn’t have resources for long term preparedness.

Daniel Straub

Calculating the effectiveness of warning systems. If people think it’s a false alarm they won’t comply. This then creates a child who cries wolf scenario for future hazard warnings. We must find the right balance between detection rate and false alarm rate.

It is challenging and near impossible to quantify effectiveness but can still help the study of warning systems.

Rebekah Yore

It is important to identify the vulnerable population when deploying early warning systems. Failure in one element of the warning system can cause failure for the entire system.

Her research focuses on 3 case studies, all islands that are used to hazards: Japan 2011- Tsunami, Philippines 2013- typhoon and Dominica 2017- Hurricane. In all case studies not one warning system reached everyone, therefore these places need multiple types of warning. Some of the issues with the current warning systems were that interestingly modern smartphone warnings did not reach people. There was also mixed messaging from different agencies and government sources leading to room for interpretation from locals. Furthermore, issues such as poverty were not taken into account.

Finally, it must be noted that Individual and group risk perceptions are always changing and are dynamic.

This discussion was then followed by an address to questions from the audience, which are summarised thus:

How do we deal with both false alarms but also misinformation particularly in the context of social media or governments giving misinformation? How can we include groups who are not familiar with local warning systems like tourists or newcomers?

Mickey Glantz

Tourists have never seen a false alarm so unlikely to be affected in the same way in a real event by locals who have faced false alarms. Use of drills is helpful because one of the issues that comes up in the social sciences is that we all recognise that warnings need to be built into our everyday lives. We need to practice them as a way of living rather than just facing them when a hazard approaches. What has become practice then takes over and people are able to respond really quite calmly and really quite cohesively as Mickey thinks drills are a really good mechanism for embedding some key practices that help to familiarise through everyday life with some lifesaving rules.

What can we do to protect assets and livelihoods in the context of warnings?

Rebekah Yore

It is something that requires more research. Preparation mechanisms such as micro insurance for example are very important. So it may be that a mechanism that allows people to put things out and places structures in place before it occurs can help to protect some of those assets and livelihoods. Whether this means the ability to be able to pack things up and leave a location, or ability to be able to move, or an ability to be able to put certain protective measures in place. Maybe not save everything but save something or save enough.

Mickey Glantz

We don’t understand probabilities. We don’t understand nature. Many people don’t really understand the risks in their area. These perceptions become reality, if our perceptions are wrong the actions we take based on them have real consequences. So we tend to look at disasters as in many cases one and done.  But that’s not reality.

In one sentence what change do you think needs to occur to help with warning for exceptional events in an environment that does have expected events?

Daniel Straub

Understanding things through quantification is also to make use of all the data that we can now collect. The social sciences have a better understanding and also have models of factors that make a difference, and it would be useful for social science to do more with quantification in their research.

Rebekah Yore

Addressing structural inequality and addressing why people are disadvantaged and why other people aren’t. I think let’s just put our money where our mouth is; preparation is key.

Mickey Glantz

We have to put more emphasis on readiness and preparedness. People can get ready more easily than they can get prepared because they don’t have the resources. So, warnings are very important to them, I feel we have to push readiness as tactical responses to warnings and threats, as well as long term preparedness which seems to fall to governments and larger organisations. Readiness is for me and preparedness is for the community to deal with.

Next up in this blog series will be notes on “Warnings and the launch of the Warning Research Centre”, keynote speech from Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori.


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/ucl-irdr-11th-annual-conference-why-warnings-matter-and-ucl-warning-research-centre

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


Please email us for any further information at IRDR-comms@ucl.ac.uk

Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), University College London (UCL)

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom (UK)