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Keri Stephens

University of Texas at Austin

Breakout Room 2.


Cascading disasters; equity; infrastructure; stories

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

A huge gap in our understanding centers on how cascading and compounding disasters impact our current practices around disaster preparation; response; and recovery. For example; whether it is fires followed by floods or repetitive flooding; these disaster complexities are often overlooked or treated as individual events. Furthermore; COVID-19 opened our eyes to what happens when face-to-face actions become potential liabilities—for emergency responders as well as citizens. We must find ways to capture data that represent complex disaster scenarios and use models and simulations to better predict and respond in the future. Engagements directly with communities across the US and Japan are central to capturing human dimensions and understanding complex disaster systems. An understanding of the community’s experiences before; during; and after extreme weather events and their impact on infrastructure; told directly by community members; government agencies; and service providers (e.g.; electricity; water; transportation); would help identify critical resilience gaps. It is essential to focus on equity and vulnerability and identify where the US and Japan have shared concerns as well as provide opportunities for researchers from both counties to learn from one another. Including equity and vulnerability in our analyses are important as we develop further understanding around compounding and cascading disasters.

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?

Depending on the research questions we ask; different forms of data are needed. For example; both the US and Japan share concerns around basic services—like electricity and water—and how they are impacted by disasters. If our questions center on ensuring basic services during compounding and cascading disasters; these forms of data are helpful: (1) Data on basic services before; during; and after a disaster: Electricity: coverage spatially and temporally resolved. Water: coverage and quality spatially and temporally resolved. (2) Data on response plans from service provision companies; and their adherence to extreme weather events. (3) Response behavior by community members upon similar weather events; to understand which solutions could be considered fairly scalable across regions; and which ones might need considerable appropriation efforts. (4) Data on the needs typically sought by communities upon disruption caused by disasters – spatially and temporally resolved. One of the biggest challenges with data needed to address human-centered disaster questions focus on how to integrate multiple forms of data; specifically quantitative data along with meaningful; local experiences and stories that are often captured qualitatively; is that it is easy to dismiss the value of stories and local experiences; but they are essential if we want to develop solutions that will solve the real problems people have. Having a research infrastructure that can accommodate disparate forms of data is essential; but difficult to develop in a user-friendly way.

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

US-Japan collaborations will be most successful if we take a learning approach. Specifically; we need mechanisms to help us capture best practices in both countries around shared interests. Our team’s experience working in a US-Japan collaboration is that scholars in each country reference different literature; and finding ways to share knowledge and theories is an important first step if we are to then move to more advanced practices like sharing data. There are also important cultural differences that need to be acknowledged; and sometimes those cultural differences can provide insight into practices that might work beyond a national border. There are also important governmental and structural differences between our counties; and our research has revealed that they directly affect the human dimensions of disasters. Yet; instead of viewing those as barriers to collaboration; we instead should look for relevance in those differences and see how we might both learn new ways that could work in our own countries. This is especially important as our collaborations focus on compounding; cascading; and repetitive disasters. Some of our collaborators have more experience handling specific types of disasters and weather events than other collaborating partners; by combining our expertise we are well positioned to begin addressing these complex disaster needs. Our shared concerns around aging populations and the urban/rural divides could be an ideal place to focus our questions because we can speak to meaningful;  vulnerable populations in both countries.

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