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Engineering specialists from the UK and Japan team up to protect communities from natural disasters

civil engineering

An ambitious project by a coastal engineering expert from the University of East London (UEL) will address ways to better protect communities in Japan and the UK when natural disasters strike.

UEL's Dr Ravindra Jayaratne has teamed up with specialists from University College London (UCL) and Kansai University in Japan, as well as the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, who are funding the 12–month project, to develop a new disaster risk reduction plan that more effectively combines state initiatives and informed, local community measures.

Until now, disaster reduction research has tended to focus on high-impact but infrequent disasters. However, Dr Javaratne's project will address the need to protect people from less intense natural disasters, including floods and typhoons, which happen more often.

Dr Jayaratne said, “The rationale behind this is the need to shift from knowledge-transmission approaches to disaster risk reduction, to more collaborative approaches between official bodies and communities, in order to make populations at risk more resilient and prepared.

“To this end, four under-researched disaster-prone coastal communities in Essex and Devon in England, and Wakayama and Fukuoka prefectures in Japan will be part of the study. All these areas have experienced recent water disasters.”

The investigators will visit each community and stay for four days to conduct fieldwork. They will look at the 'soft' disaster countermeasures the communities have in place, such as evacuation plans, early warning systems and disaster shelters, as well as 'hard' mitigation solutions such as flood defence walls and embankments against water disasters.

Stakeholders such as local residents, prefectural government officials, specialists working in the area and emergency services will be interviewed to find out their perceptions on the countermeasures. Locals will also be engaged in the development and implementation of ideas.

The researchers will then compare the findings of the four communities to discuss if there are common features to help develop a framework for disaster preparedness.

Project partner Dr Kaori Kitagawa, from the UCL Institute of Education said, “This project will benefit communities at risk. It will bring together specialists and the people they seek to protect in a strategic way, fill in gaps in knowledge within the disaster reduction community, and feed into educating the next generation of coastal engineers.”