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Miwako Kitamura

Tohoku University

Breakout Room 2.


LGBTQ+, Asset Mapping

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

The human dimensions of disaster impacts are essential to disaster risk reductions – some scholars have argued that there are no ‘natural’ disasters. It is the presence of humans that turns natural hazards into disasters. Currently both the academic field of disaster risk reduction and decision making spaces related to DRR are dominated by the physical sciences, especially in Japan. Modelling and simulations often do not consider the complex dynamics of human behaviour. Integrating social science into DRR is an ongoing project, made challenging by the difference in research and analysis methods between the disciplines. Trying to translate and integrate human behaviour into models and simulations needs to be done carefully – models and simulations have power, especially in decision making spaces where they can create an (often false) sense of accuracy and precision. This can be dangerous if decisions are made based on these models, leading to at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive policies. Therefore the types of knowledge that are accepted as valid in these spaces needs to be expanded to include social sciences and alternative knowledges, especially when researching what are considered ‘vulnerable’ populations. In our work we focus on the ways in which LGBTQ+ populations experience disasters, and how a consideration of LGBTQ+ people can be included in DRR policy and practice. This requires rethinking traditional DRR research methods and analysis, especially in Japan where LGBTQ+ individuals and populations have low visibility and where traditional physical sciences are highly valued in DRR.

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?

We need to expand what is recognised as ‘legitimate’ ‘data’ and knowledge in both the academic and policy areas of DRR, including knowledges produced through ‘alternative’ methods such as participatory mapping, and traditional social science methods such as interviews, life stories, ethnographies etc. This process in even more complex when working with LGBTQ+ and other less visible populations. Research needs to be done on what infrastructure and methods are needed. We are in the process of doing this through exploring the applicability of asset mapping, aiming to utilise the technological and informational capacities of Japanese DRR research infrastructure (namely real time mapping), to map the resources available during times of disaster in accordance with the needs, desires and capacities of LGBTQ+ people and communities.

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

International cooperation is essential for research in DRR, as the theories and policies developed in the field see practical application in many different countries and cultures. producing collaborative knowledges across places can help to avoid essentialising cultures and behaviours and produce systems, theories and techniques that are both adjustable specific localities and applicable in multiple places. Japan, and especially Tohoku University, has a strong base in the physical sciences, with world leading tsunami and evacuation modelling departments, and a number of remarkable datasets from the Great East Japan Earthquake. There are a number of queer academics and a higher volume of English language publications and research in the social sciences, and research on LGBTQ+ people in Disasters is advancing. These strengths make collaboration between the USA and Japan ideal for developing this field of DRR, and working towards the wider goal of integrating consideration of human behaviour in Disaster Risk Reduction.

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