earth at night

Earth at night. (NOAA)

Similar to other geohazards, floods are unpredictable and complex. This makes preparing for them challenging especially for communities that deal with unexpected or unforeseen flood events that may occur. Flooding is an interesting case study for understanding how geohazards and society interact which can have disastrous consequences if little preparation is made in advance. As far as floods in society are concerned they are usually understood in terms of risk, such as the likelihood that someone’s home or business may be flooded.

If the flood risk is low perhaps little is done to mitigate flooding. In some situations insurance can be purchased to cover extreme events if they should happen, but little is done overall. If the risk is perceived as high or of concern to an individual, community, county or nation, then usually flood mitigation efforts, including research, should be prioritised. If flood risk is high it begs the question why is this the case? This comes down to exposure and vulnerability.

If property or people themselves are exposed to the flood hazard, with little to no flood protection, they are at risk of losing their home, business, livelihood, way of life or even their lives. But better ways of identifying flood vulnerability are needed to help make communities resilient to flood hazards.

Professor Alberto Montanari from the University of Bologna visited IHRR recently to give a seminar on the damages and fatalities caused by flooding that has been increasing in countries throughout the world. As a hydrologist, a scientist who studies the movement, distribution and quality of water, he presented some of his recent work in identifying areas of flood vulnerability in Italy. He said ‘that flood vulnerability and frequency are intimately connected’, which includes the effects of climate change and other factors that affect flooding, such as land use. Read the rest of this entry »

brownfield flickr russelljsmith 300

Brownfield or previously used land often has levels of contamination that make it unsuitable for development. It also has known risks for the physical health of people and the environment. In some cases it may not even be highly contaminated but because it requires remediation, little is done with it. But what effects does brownfield have on people’s health outside of people coming into close physical contact with environmental contaminants? Does the mere presence of brownfield lead to poorer health outcomes?

Many communities live near brownfield spaces (there are 62,000 acres of brownfield land in England alone), which may have serious consequences for their health according to a new study from Regeneration Brownfield Land Using Sustainable Technologies (ROBUST) project based at IHRR and in collaboration with the Wolfson Research Institute. Research led by Professor Clare Bambra, Dr Karen Johnson and Dr Steve Robertson finds that people who live close to brownfields have worse health compared to those that do not, or only live near small amounts of brownfield.

Professor Clare Bambra, lead author of the study said:  “Our study shows that local authorities and central government need to prioritise the remediation and regeneration of brownfield land to protect the health of communities.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Split-second shot

Does this picture make flying seem more or less risky?

Sometimes the risks that receive the most attention in hindsight are actually less likely than what we realise. But there are important reasons for finding effective ways to respond to high-profile risks. Thinking through risk and taking a rational approach to mitigating it, or becoming more resilient to it, may mean looking at risk in terms of applying regulations that reduce threats of harm from the start (as in the case of reducing risk through positive reinforcement), or better understanding how populations respond to risky behaviours like smoking.

Instead of analysing the risk, people often respond to the emotion or feeling a particular risk will incite. Risk of a large earthquake, nuclear meltdown, or lung cancer from smoking cigarettes are all risks that may produce emotional responses, what Professor Paul Slovic, a leader in psychological research of risk perception has called ‘the feeling of risk’, also known in psychology as the affect heuristic – the positive or negative feelings we associate with experience. Affect is used as a kind of mental shortcut in order for people to make decisions or solve problems quickly, it is also better known as ‘gut feeling’. Read the rest of this entry »

10th March 2014, 13:00 to 14:00, Seminar Room 010, Dept of Geography, Professor Alberto Montanari, University of Bologna, Italy

Summary

The damages and fatalities caused by floods are dramatically increasing in many countries of the world, including in Europe and developing regions. Scientists have long investigated the possible reasons for the raising severity of floods, in order to devise efficient strategies for mitigating the above damages. There is a general consensus that is widely amplified by media, that climate change is the most important triggering factor of the increased flood hazard and vulnerability. This seminar will give an overview of recent research on this subject and will provide a forward-looking perspective on the impact of floods on human activity. Read the rest of this entry »

There seems to be a paradox in how some risks are mitigated. For instance, there is a tendency to believe that implementing safety regulations will in effect reduce the risk of harm. While implementing safety regulations helps reduce the levels of risk people are exposed to they can also redistribute the risk, eliminating some risks, but increasing others by decreasing the level of perceived risk. This has been given several names by researchers including ‘risk homeostasis’, ‘risk compensation’ and ‘offset hypothesis’ and there are good reasons to think that it could help to better inform policies and regulations for making people’s lives safer, but it is also controversial amongst scientists and practitioners working in public safety.

airbag

Do air bags make driving riskier?

Read the rest of this entry »

There are a number of upcoming seminars in the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience. All seminars take place from 1pm-2pm in Seminar Room 010, Dept of Geography, unless noted otherwise.

24 February – Two Approaches to Reasoning from Evidence or What Econometrics Can Learn from Biomedical Research

Professor Julian Reiss, Dept of Philosophy

3 March – Making Evolution Visible. Volcanoes and Other Tipping Points in Franz Hohler’s Apocalyptic Eco-Narratives

Professor Nick Saul, Dept of German Read the rest of this entry »

A satellite view of the floods at Somerset Levels as heavy rains earlier this month brought severe flooding to South West England. This comes at a time when extreme weather events have become more frequent throughout the world, particularly rainfall. In order to prepare for such events finding ways to adapt built infrastructure and coordinate services across the public and private sectors is vital.

While there is no ‘quick fix‘ for mitigating floods, long-term plans can be made to help mitigate flood hazards. Read the rest of this entry »

Scholarships and bursaries are available for the Risk Masters programmes based in the Department of Geography and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University.

Civil Society Leadership Awards

The Civil Society Leadership Award provides a fully funded master’s level scholarship for the MSc Risk and Environmental Hazards and MA Risk and Security programmes within the Geography department. The program aims to support individuals who demonstrate both academic and professional excellence and have the potential to become civil society leaders in their home communities.

Eligible countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus; Cambodia; Egypt; Ethiopia; Laos; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

How to apply: Please apply directly using the online application form and also register with CSLA directly at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z5ZXJB9.

Further details on this award can be found at Civil Society Leadership Awards. Please note the deadline for applications is 1 March 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

Extreme rainfall in southern England

Southern England is currently undergoing an extraordinary period of exceptional rainfall, especially in the south, which is causing floods on an unprecedented scale.  This rainfall, which is likely to be a consequence of climate change, shows no signs of abating, with further heavy falls expected over the next few days.  Not surprisingly there have been many landslides, especially on the coast and along railway lines, and more can be expected. The UK Met Office provides monthly precipitation data for Southern England .  I have downloaded the data and plotted the monthly time series from 1910 (the start of the dataset):

rainfall

The horizontal line in the long-term mean value (77.3 mm).  The 2014 total, at 165.4 mm, is 2.8 standard deviations from the mean – a truly exceptional value. And of course it is still raining, such that since the end of January the floods have got much, much worse. Read the rest of this entry »

resilienceA new policy and practice note that disseminates findings from the BIOPICCC project was published by the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) research partnership and is now available online.

The brief authored by Executive Director of IHRR Professor Sarah Curtis, Dr Jonathan Wistow and Dr Val Dimitri, ‘Ensuring resilience in care for older people’, provides guidance for care services for older people to ensure the resilience of their infrastructures and systems to withstand future impacts of climate change. Read the rest of this entry »

Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Issue 2 Out Now!

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