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Researcher to help develop earthquake aftershock forecasting tool


A Leeds Beckett University researcher is part of an expert team seeking to develop a tool to better forecast the impact of aftershocks after destructive earthquakes.

Dr Max Hope, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Planning in the School of Built Environment & Engineering at Leeds Beckett, is part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project, working with aid and humanitarian agency, Concern Worldwide, to develop an aftershock forecasting tool to inform humanitarian emergency planning and response.

Max explained: “Already this century, earthquakes have resulted in over three-quarters of a million deaths, as well as economic losses of more than a quarter of a trillion US dollars since 1980, making them by far the most destructive of the natural hazards.  Earthquakes can’t be predicted but it is increasingly possible to forecast the aftershocks that occur after a major earthquake. This tool will be useful to humanitarian non-government organisations co-ordinating emergency response activities in post-earthquake situations.”

Max is part of a team within the NERC project who will look at cultural influence on aftershock responses. Rapid community response to aftershocks is crucial to prevent subsequent loss of life in earthquake-stricken areas. Yet local response can be delayed or inhibited by a number of social, cultural and political factors. In order to enable local populations to both collect data and respond effectively to actionable forecasts, the researchers will identify and address the specific cultural, social, and political factors that may impede communication between the different communities of practice (scientists, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and affected populations), distort risk perception and reduce information and technological uptake.

The team will look to identify leaders within affected communities who could facilitate knowledge distribution, embed good practice, and act as reference points and response models.  They will also analyse conflict, migration, gender differences, social and economic inequality issues which all have the potential to exert a negative impact on disaster response.

The researchers will assess how cultural and historical factors may condition risk evaluation and response among indigenous populations.  This is crucial in providing and implementing effective, culturally-sensitive strategies that may diverge from traditional response mechanisms.

The work of the researchers will assist both seismologists and NGOs in delivering culturally and politically appropriate information, such as policy briefing and media and outreach content, that would enable robust data collection and effective post-event response to aftershocks.

Max added: “This approach was successfully piloted during the 2015 Nepal earthquake. This new project is an exciting opportunity to learn from that experience and to ‘scale up’ the approach so that it becomes integrated into risk assessment and decision making processes in many humanitarian organisations.”

An account of the Nepal 2015 earthquake ‘pilot’ can be read here.

Dr Max Hope is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Planning at Leeds Beckett who joined the School of Built Environment & Engineering from Ulster University in March 2016.>

His research and teaching focus on social challenges and implications of contemporary environmental change and in particular the role played by grassroots actors and non-governmental organisations in environmental governance. Key issues include vulnerability to natural hazards (earthquakes, flooding), sustainable development, climate change adaption and resilience, and motivations for environmentally friendly behaviour. He is particularly interested in the relationship between expert-led and community-led responses to these challenges and related issues of knowledge exchange and co-production.

Photo used courtesy of Jessica Lea/DFID

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