Natural Disaster Preparedness

Building GW Leadership in Disaster Preparedness and Response

This project seeks to build a multidisciplinary team of researchers at GW that will advance the frontiers of science in the area of disaster preparedness and response. While this topic is now widely discussed, GW has substantial capacity in this area that could be made more effective by facilitating new collaborations among faculty. Disasters are becoming more intense even as the current political system is not responding to them effectively. Research demonstrates that preparation saves lives and property. By developing holistic solutions to disaster preparation and response, this CDRF offers a strong basis for boosting GW’s publication, fundraising, and networking performance in an area of urgent social significance.

Next Meeting of the Disaster Working Group: March 27 12-1:30 pm Voesar Conference Room, 1957 E St, NW (Elliott School), Suite 412

Faculty Research Across Campus

At the core of the effort is an attempt to develop multidisciplinary research methods that can be applied to disasters and other complex problems facing society. Robert Orttung, Sustainable GW and Elliott School, will lead these efforts. He will build on the prominent team science work of Gaetano Lotrecchiano, School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

To develop understanding of the natural changes that are taking place and their impact on disasters, Michael Mann, Geography, is developing systems for spatial and temporal modeling of disasters. His open source software extracts time series properties from stacks of satellite and climate data to model wildfires in California, drought in Ethiopia, and crop loss in India. Leila Farhadi, Civil/Environmental Engineering, examines water-energy balances.

Solutions in the built and engineered environment cover a wide range of possibilities.  Payman Dehghanian, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, strives to develop next-generation algorithmic and human-in-the-loop solution technologies and decision-making paradigms for power grid resilience. Danmeng Shuai, Civil and Environmental Engineering, is developing technology to purify water when centralized water treatment facilities are not functional and there is sufficient sunlight. Erica Gralla, Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, develops models and tools to support transportation and logistics in disaster response, enabling goods and services to reach those affected quickly and efficiently. Stephen Hsu, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is working on small-scale wind turbines and cloud-based wifi connections.

Within the social sector, there are a wide range of impacts and policy responses affecting leadership, legal responses, the private sector, and health. At the highest level, Erwan Lagadec, Elliott School of International Affairs, examines leadership in complex crisis response.

The private sector is often one of the most impacted after disasters and one that can drive recovery efforts. Over 40% of businesses do not reopen after being hit by a flood, hurricane, earthquake or other disaster, and these shocks are associated with a mortality rate of 70% of local firms within two years, according to FEMA. Sanjay Patnaik, GW Business School, investigates corporate climate risk management and how firms can respond optimally to the challenges posed by climate change. Luis Ballesteros, GW Business School, examines what drives organizations to make specific choices in the context of systemic risk and uncertainty shocks–the known or unknown probability of a big shock, such as a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a political coup, disrupting the market’s status quo–and the consequences of such decision making for firm performance and social welfare. Jorge Rivera, GW Business School, examines a) how nature’s uncertainty and adversity affect corporate adaptation and mitigation to climate change and b) how industrial accidents and natural disasters affect foreign investment by multinational corporations. John Forrer, GW Business School, has worked with Ford Motor Company to develop unique multisector collaborations that partner to provide mobility services to underserved communities in South Africa, Nigeria, and India, including business models in response to disasters.

Within the area of law, Donna Attanasio, GW Law School, is working on the development of policy, law and regulations that facilitate improved resiliency and recovery of electric systems during and after natural disasters or other wide-spread disruptive events (e.g., cyber attacks). Lee Paddock, GW Law School, is looking at how secondary damage from disasters, such as breaching of Superfund sites, chemical spills, breakthroughs at coal ash dams, and loss of containment at feed lots can be better anticipated and regulated to minimize the risk from these facilities in catastrophic rain events. Karen Thornton, GW Law School, leads the Law School’s government procurement program and is working with Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen on contingency contracting, including legal issues related to public/private cooperation in disaster recovery (food or otherwise). 

Health is also a crucial aspect of disaster preparedness and recovery. Cynthia Rohrbeck, Psychology, is working with the Red Cross to examine the relationships among exposure to disasters, threat appraisal, response efficacy and self-efficacy and the impact on emergency preparedness and anxiety/distress. Amira Roess and Ann Goldman-Hawes, Milken Institute School of Public Health, examine environmental determinants of health and are working with colleagues to identify clusters in the deaths following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to put in place safe guards by mapping which communities had higher mortalities. Sebastien Peyrouse, Elliott School, focuses on how Western states could play a significant role in preserving stability in Central Asia by providing health and education assistance in preventing disasters.