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Dawn Lehman

University of Washington

Breakout Room 1.


multilevel-society structures; community-based needs

How can the human dimensions of disaster impacts be more accurately captured and represented in the analysis, modeling and simulation of disasters?

This is an excellent question. I suggest that we turn to journalism; where the human dimension of any story is central to the data gathering; analysis and writing. If we want to understand the impact of disasters on the community; we must start with the community. I will use the Pulitzer-prize winning work by the Miami Herald on the partial collapse of the CTS building as an example. I was the technical advisor on this project and will confess that my initiation point was to study drawings; photographs and videos (yes; this was important but does not impact the community if conducted in isolation); whereas my collaborator's initiation point (investigative journalist Sarah Blaskey) was the community including residents; neighbors and witnesses. For example; the loss of this building left many residents without a home because of the housing crisis in this region. Before this; I would not have understood the impact of the loss of a single building on the community. What does this mean in terms of founding the technical on the human dimension? First; as engineers we must partner with organizations with experts in the socio-economic side of engineering for disaster mitigation; disaster damage in non-populated regions does not impact society with the magnitude of disaster losses in heavily populated regions. Second; we must model to meet the community needs rather than the technical aspects alone. Finally; we must circle back to the community with the technical information developed through advanced tools to ensure these findings improve community communication and resilience.

What type of data and supporting research infrastructure would be necessary to enable novel, transdisciplinary approaches to answering these and other human-centered disaster questions?

I believe that we need to consider multilevel modeling of the community. My experience (prior to my work with the Miami Herald) is that the human dimension of disaster-resistant engineering is at a very high level; such as census-based data. This is an important level but it is not the only level. Even as an individual; the loss of my house to a catastrophic event is more important to me than the loss of my neighbor's house. And the loss of my neighbor's house is more important to me than losses farther away from my neighborhood. So just like with politics and activism; it might be time for us to recognize that "all disasters are local". What type of data is needed? Local data including the capacity of the community and its members to recover; availability of housing; and critical resources housed within civil infrastructure. The latter is something I have been considering since the global pandemic. In my community; I have found that "brick and mortar" medical and educational resources were needed. (Educational infrastructure is also used for ensuring low-income students have access to meals; so it is not education alone.) However; other communities equally relied on other buildings that housed religious organizations; pharmacies; retirement communities etc. Currently; we treat hospitals and schools as critical infrastructure. But we should not be defining critical infrastructure for the community. We need to turn to the community for those definitions. We need research infrastructure to support multiple-level and community-specific data.

In what ways can US-Japan collaborations advance these questions in new and important ways?

The most important aspect of international collaborations is to learn from other nations. For decades; we have understood the differences in the earthquake-engineering design philosophies of Japan and the US; where the former is more focused on strength and the latter is more focused on ductility/deformability. Over time; experts from each nation have appreciated the insight and knowledge of the other nation. Data sharing and research collaboration has improved engineering in both nations. As we move to a human-centered engineering approach and utilize this collaboration as a basis for advancement; we must start with an understanding and quantification of these two very different societies. The key is to consider what this collaboration brings to research that initiates and centers on the human dimensions of disaster-resistant research. When we consider the new research questions through this collaboration; we are simultaneously considering the differences in society; wealth; politics and family structure in a way we cannot through US-only research.

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