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Seymour Spence

University of Michigan

Breakout Room 3.


Participatory Modeling; Community Co-Creation; Simulation

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

Research at the interface of natural hazards; climate change; and people that aim to better understand the human dimensions of disaster impacts intrinsically encompasses various disciplines; including urban planning; climate science; demography; sociology and engineering. Going beyond conventional disciplinary and interdisciplinary research viewpoints and adopting a fully convergent; transdisciplinary approach is critical if the huge socio-economic impact of natural disasters is to be effectively mitigated. While this need is widely recognized; existing approaches for team formation; integration; and collaboration for fostering deeply transdisciplinary research are limited. Concurrently; people’s behavior during and after natural disasters is a personal; local decision. Individuals and communities have acute personal knowledge and expertise concerning their situation; which directly influence how they behave and how they experience; and potentially recover from; natural disasters. Successful research methods must place local communities front and center in identifying and defining critical research questions; how to ask them; how information and data are collected and interpreted; and what deductions are drawn from the method. Such methods must not be weakly participatory; instead they must be strongly participatory. In other words; the research process must include; throughout the process; relevant community co-creation of knowledge; not only during the formulation of the research questions; but also during the collection; analysis; and interpretation of data. This process must include knowledge sources reflective of the lived experience of those in communities; and not just of outside experts; and have a transparent and well developed method for enabling and encouraging participation.

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?

The evolution and potential adaptation of a community are in general affected by the occurrence of natural hazards; such as tropical cyclones and earthquakes; that are multi-hazard events involving extreme winds; storm surge; inland flooding; ground shaking; tsunamis; and fire. To comprehend the impact of these hazards on humans and subsequently identify the main drivers of individual and community decision making; detailed data are essential on both the hazard intensity as well as the damage they cause to housing and other vital infrastructure systems. Although field observations on the intensity and effect of hazards is key; this type of data is commonly sparse in time and space. Modeled data products; on the other hand; can offer much greater resolutions; as well as a variety of output metrics. This type of information has been shown to provide a strong signal for social and economic outcomes. To create such modeled data products; regional scale hazard and damage simulations are necessary. Such simulations need to estimate the direct impact of the action of ground shaking; wind; storm surge; and waves on buildings and other infrastructure; e.g.; power and water networks. Damage and hazard data need to be simulated at fine resolution and then aggregated to larger scales; therefore providing rich and detailed databases that can inform participatory modeling frameworks. For this to be successful; it is imperative that these models and simulations provide data that can be understood by all stakeholders; independently of whether they have a technical or non-technical background.

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

Both the US and Japan are vulnerable to some of the most destructive natural disasters to affect the built environment; and subsequently humans; in the form of hurricanes/typhoons and extreme earthquakes. Both countries have a long and proud history in engineering infrastructure to resist the destructive forces of extreme natural hazards through cutting edge research that has led to many engineering innovations that have helped increase the resilience of the built environment. This history of achievements have included many collaborations and knowledge exchanges between the US and Japan; collaborations that have made both countries powerhouses of computational modeling and simulation of the effects of natural hazards on the built environment. This knowledge base in traditional engineering disciplines has led to significant interest in both countries in exploring interdisciplinary research; with the aim of better predicting the effects of natural disasters on communities; how these communities subsequently recover; and the effects of both hard and soft engineering solutions on long term adaptation. This history of collaboration; fundamental strength in computational modeling and simulation; and ever growing interest in moving past traditional engineering metrics and solutions places the US and Japan in a perfect position to achieve major collaborative breakthroughs in the area of transdisciplinary research that is focused on explicitly incorporating the human dimension in the analysis; modeling and simulation of disasters through the exploration of participatory modeling frameworks that leverage data created through a combination of computational simulation and field observations.

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