We are living in interesting times. While the number and frequency of disasters are increasing around the world, advances in new technologies, increased awareness of global risk, and a growing willingness among nations to collaborate on measures of disaster risk reduction are changing the dynamics of disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. This change comes none too soon. The latest report from Swiss Re, the global reinsurance company, cites the total cost to society of natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2009 as USD 52 billion versus USD 267 billion in 2008. While the cost of USD 52 billion is one-fifth of the amount incurred in 2008, it still represents USD 1 billion per week, which could be allocated to more constructive social purposes, such as health care, education, and basic infrastructure.
The Center for Disaster Management focuses on the design, development, and application of information technologies to provide decision support to practicing managers confronting recurring risk. This problem is especially critical for metropolitan regions which are characterized by dense populations, large scale infrastructure systems, and often aging or inadequate infrastructure. Disaster risk is linked inherently to development, as the design and construction of communities can either increase or reduce their capacity to withstand threats from natural, technological, or deliberate threats. In this context, the Center’s primary focus on decision processes under uncertain conditions offers a framework for addressing the interdisciplinary issues involved in building communities that are resilient to disaster risk.
The Center engages in three main types of activities: research, field studies, and education. I invite you to enter and explore the other sections on our web site: review our current research projects, meet our interdisciplinary research team, browse through our publications, and offer your comments and suggestions for further work on these demanding issues. Since disasters don’t stop at borders, we are involved in projects that assess flooding risk in the metropolitan region of Pittsburgh, analyze organizational learning processes between hurricanes on the Gulf Coast of the U.S., and collaborate with international researchers on the design of new methods of monitoring and communicating risk of near-shore tsunamis off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Each of these projects provides opportunities for student researchers to engage in field research, learn new skills, participate in professional conferences, and contribute to publications from the Center.
The Center’s schedule of activities can only be done with the strong collaboration of interdisciplinary researchers, and I am grateful to colleagues both at the University of Pittsburgh and other U.S. and international universities for their insight, counsel, and support. The Center integrates a set of research projects that, over the years, has had a remarkable group of graduate research assistants and team members who have contributed to Center projects and then moved into this demanding field to conduct their own research. I am especially grateful to the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs for providing the space and support for the Center. The tasks that we are facing represent in important ways the integration of new technologies into the assessment and management of risk to build sustainable, resilient communities in dynamic environments.
Louise K. Comfort
Director, Center for Disaster Management