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Crisis and disaster mitigation under the spotlight


Steve Spinks
4 June 2013
Floods, cyclones, and other natural disasters like the recent tornados that devastated the United States show how susceptible communities are to extreme natural events.

Research conducted by Southern Cross University academic and PhD candidate Jeremy Novak into crisis and disasters – both natural and human induced – in organisations, including critical infrastructure organisations, has identified that human error, dishonest behaviour, material failure, poor management practices, and poor organisational culture are major contributing factors in amplifying the impact.

He will present his research at the International Conference on Strategic Infrastructure Asset Management for Urban Deltas, hosted by Southern Cross University’s Research Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work in conjunction with the Cooperative Research Centre for Infrastructure and Engineering Asset Management. The conference is being held at The Hotel School Sydney from June 5 to 7.

“I have used a couple of disasters such as the Bhopal gas explosion (India 1984), Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (USA 1986), Deep-water Horizon oil spill (USA 2010) and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (Japan 2011) as case studies,” he said.

“The evidence suggests that governments, communities and some businesses have an understanding of the post-disaster response and recovery actions but there is little understanding of mitigation practices.

“Research has highlighted that organisations overwhelmingly have not properly developed crisis and disaster strategies as an integral part of their business or strategic plans. These views are also supported by other researchers who have suggested that both private and public organisations pre-crisis and disaster management activities in general have been ad hoc and reactive rather than been proactive.

“Furthermore, research has concluded that in most accounts, crisis preparedness in organisations globally has been appalling, despite the ongoing devastating effects of man-made and natural crisis and disaster events.”

The conference will focus on strategic infrastructure asset management for urban deltas. Urban deltas are characterised by low topography, high productivity, rich biodiversity, easy access to water and water-based transportation.

It is estimated that nearly half a billion people live on or near deltas. However, these areas are fast becoming fragile as a result of industrial and environmental pressures such as climate change. Understanding how to optimise the difficult balance between infrastructure development and productivity and protecting the future of urban deltas are two focal points of the conference.

“There has long been an absence of an integrated approach to infrastructure and asset management which has left societies facing the challenges of ageing national infrastructure, under-investment in its maintenance and a huge gap in addressing the associated existing and emerging environmental issues,” Professor Kerry Brown, the director of the University’s Research Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work said.

Keynote speaker is Professor Margot Weijnen from Technology University, Delft, The Netherlands, who is the director of the Next Generation Infrastructure Research Foundation and who was recently appointed as a member of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), an advisory body for the Dutch government whose reports go beyond individual ministries, as they are concerned with issues of major importance to society and with long term government policy. Professor Weijnen’s address is titled, Creating resilience - A multi-scale approach to infrastructure design and governance and is focussed on ways of lessening the risks and vulnerabilities of Urban systems in coastal zones and river deltas.

The conference will bring together academics, scientists, engineers, industry researchers, government specialists, not-for-profit groups, community groups and students to discuss the issues around water and sustainability.

Photo: Jeremy Novak.