In managing vulnerability to natural disasters, with case studies of volcanic disasters on non-industrialized islands



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6. Boundaries and Scales

6.1 Introduction

This section examines boundaries and scales for the tool of technology in managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Boundaries and scales are characteristics of natural hazards, as mentioned in section 2.5, but they also manifest through vulnerability. Explicitly recognizing them assists in determining the applicability and manner of use for technology. Determining boundaries and scales is not simple and, as with most engineering problems, subjective boundaries and scales must be used at some level of scoping the problem; i.e., defining the load (as implied by section 4.4.3). Boundaries and scales manifest spatially (section 6.2) and temporally (section 6.3). Psychological boundaries (section 6.4) and technological boundaries (section 6.5) also have significant impacts.


6.2 Spatial Boundaries and Scales

A natural disaster occurs over a spatial area delineated by boundaries which are created:

•by humanity (political-legal boundaries, such as country borders, or social-geographical boundaries, such as a religious or ethnic group settling in one area);

•by nature (geological or physical geographical boundaries, such as rivers and mountain ranges); or

•by the natural hazard event (such as a tornado’s path width and length, or the region of ashfall from a volcanic eruption).

Thus, spatial aspects of natural disasters are generally given and technology is applied within those spatial limits.

Difficulties can arise if the spatial boundaries or scale of the hazard differ markedly from the spatial boundaries or scale of society. Hazards do not obey society’s boundaries, yet society’s boundaries can outline regions of disparate vulnerabilities. For example, Brown et al. (1997) concluded that Ontario’s flood damage reduction program (enacted in the mid-1950’s) kept non agricultural damages to under CAN$500,000 (1986 dollars) during the August-September 1986 floods as compared to similar floods in Michigan which produced damage of approximately US$200 million (1986 dollars; a factor of approximately 500 more), even though Ontario had higher flood yields.

Volcanoes provide another example of disparate vulnerabilities across the Canadian-American border. Unlike the U.S.A., Canada has not had a major volcanic eruption for more than a century (Smithsonian Institute, 1997). Consequently, “few resources of money and time are devoted to the study of active volcanoes” in Canada (Basham et al., 1995) compared to the extensive volcano programs run by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Global Volcanism Program (GVP) at the Smithsonian Institute. Canada’s complacency leaves the nation highly vulnerable to volcanic threats, not only from the 20 Canadian volcanoes which have erupted in the past 10,000 years including two in the 19th century and one in the 18th century (Smithsonian Institute, 1997), but also from American eruptions, the main volcanic threat to Canada. Several pre-historic eruptions from American volcanoes devastated large expanses of Canadian forest, but more recently, drifting tephra from American eruptions has caused aviation and air quality concerns for Canadians at least four times since 1980 (Basham et al., 1995). Despite the need, an engineer seeking contracts in Canada in volcanic hazard consultancy or volcanic disaster prevention would find little work--although a career in this area could be successful in other countries--because political boundaries have imposed spatial constraints which are not obeyed by the natural hazard.

Spatial constraints are often placed on, or selected by, the engineer for design, but the spatial constraints are not always the most appropriate with the result that the design is not always the most appropriate. Unfortunately, resolving problems related to selecting an appropriate spatial scale for managing vulnerability to natural disasters is not straightforward. The example of building codes demonstrates how selecting different spatial scales leads to different problems.

The Constitution of the U.S.A. prohibits the federal government from enacting building codes, so they are the responsibility of local authorities states, counties, and cities (Levy and Salvadori, 1995). Tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes--common hazards in many areas of the U.S.A.--usually traverse numerous local authorities, and the difference in spatial scales of the hazard and the building codes could lead to discrepancies in regulations without adequate communication amongst local authorities.

In Canada, the Constitution Act places the responsibility for regulating buildings on provincial and territorial governments which (except perhaps for eastern coast hurricanes) are generally larger than most natural hazards. Provincial and territorial building codes, though, are often based on the National Building Code of Canada which is “a code of minimum regulations for public health, fire safety and structural sufficiency with respect to the public interest” (NRCC, 1995). If these minimum regulations, designed for a vast country with disparate environmental regions, are assumed to be adequate for all of Canada, then local hazards might not be accounted for in local regulations--until a disaster occurs.

Conversely, overzealousness in building codes can be wasteful. Tornadoes and hurricanes recorded in Ontario occurred in or south of Sudbury, and requiring structures less vulnerable to destruction by strong winds seems reasonable for this region. Unless there is sufficient concern that strong wind hazards could affect all cities in the province, requiring buildings far north of Sudbury to adhere to the same standards as buildings in or south of Sudbury might seem unnecessary. This attitude is reminiscent of the trap of only preparing for a hazard which has been previously experienced (section 4.4.2); yet if studies are carried out appropriately and determine that there is a low probability of threats from wind hazards, then there is a strong argument for avoiding unneeded building code regulations. Determining what “appropriate” studies are, what a “low probability” is, and how to monitor for changes to the hazard are part of the challenges of managing vulnerability to natural disasters.

To resolve the problems of spatial boundaries and scales, innovative and flexible solutions are needed. Engineers working in various authorities have the ability to communicate with each other in order to establish suitable codes and regulations for each authority--assuming that their superiors or contracts provide them with enough resources. Past, present, and potential future natural hazards at varying spatial scales can be mapped and the information can be disseminated--assuming that there is funding for such research. Society’s spatial boundaries are constraining, but society can choose to overcome them. For example, following the January 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada which downed power lines serving approximately three million people, hydro crews from several Canadian provinces and American states travelled to these areas to cooperate in rebuilding the energy lifeline. Similarly, one hundred firefighters from the U.S.A. assisted in battling forest fires which ravaged Alberta and British Columbia in the first week of May 1998. There are challenges in overcoming spatial boundaries--notably the political and legal implications--but appropriate use and sharing of technology can be inhibited by yielding to unnecessary spatial boundaries.

6.3 Temporal Boundaries and Scales

Since a natural disaster is a combination of vulnerability and natural hazards, its temporal scale is not always clear. Natural hazards tend to have relatively precise temporal scales. The start and finish of a natural hazard event can usually be pinpointed to at least within a day, and often to within less than a second for hazards such as seismic events, meteor strikes, flash floods, and tornadoes. The length of time of a natural hazard event ranges from seconds, for some earthquakes and tornadoes, to years, for some droughts and pandemics. Contrastingly, vulnerability is a characteristic of society, so it is not often feasible to indicate when vulnerability began. After all, vulnerability commences with human settlement. As well, society’s activities for managing that vulnerability never really end, since natural hazards and hence vulnerability (and hopefully society) are continual and evolving.

Despite the absence of definitive temporal scales for natural disasters, temporal scales and boundaries are often selected by or imposed on the engineer for design purposes. Short-term thinking is contrary to sustainability, yet is prevalent throughout society, particularly with respect to consequences which will not be felt before the next generation. The engineer should be wary of short-term thinking and should consider both short- and long-term effects of designs.

Irrespective of the engineer’s intention towards long temporal scales and indefinite temporal boundaries for designs, at times temporal boundaries or scales are dictated by the natural disaster event. Response and recovery activities are the most likely of society’s activities to be constrained by a natural disaster’s temporal characteristics. For example, eastern Ontario and southern Québec experienced an ice storm in the first week of January 1998 and approximately 3 million people were left without electricity after power lines were downed both by the weight of ice and by tree branches which collapsed due to the weight of ice. The main engineering task, to restore the broken energy lifeline, could not proceed until ice stopped falling, which in some places was five days. Even if response/recovery plans had planned for power restoration within 48 hours of any outage, the natural disaster’s temporal characteristics would have prevented completion of this goal. Similarly, pre-disaster actions, especially those which require a long time for implementation, can be temporarily curtailed if the expected natural disaster strikes.

Some temporal characteristics of natural hazards can also provide challenges for managing vulnerability. Accurately knowing the frequency characteristics or return periods of extreme events and of the applied loads is rare (sections 4.4.2 and 4.4.3), hence errors will occur in selecting hypothetical events and loads for engineering design. For example, the ice storm in Canada discussed in the previous paragraph was not unprecedented (Etkin and Maarouf, 1995):

•in March 1958, St. John’s experienced 43 hours of continuous freezing rain;

•in February 1961, areas of Montréal lost power for a week after an ice storm snapped wires;

•in January 1968, three days of falling ice and snow caused widespread power outages in southern Ontario;

•in April 1984, St. John’s lost electricity for several days after an ice storm caused blackouts; and

•in December 1986, 25% of homes in Ottawa lost power during a 14-hour ice storm.

These incidents are scattered in both space and time (and each event even occurred in a different month), which made the January 1998 event described in the previous paragraph seem surprising and, even in retrospect, unpredictable. Moreover, as alluded to in section 4.4.2, not all ice storms are entirely similar and taking into account previous ice storms for designs might have aided, might have been detrimental to, or might not have affected the situation in January 1998.

An aid for the predictability of many hydrometeorological hazards--such as ice storms, tornadoes, and spring floods--is that they are (almost) certain to occur during a specific season; i.e., within specific temporal boundaries. Many biological hazards also manifest seasonally, such as mammals and birds protecting their young during the spring, and in locations where insects and their associated microbiological hazards do not threaten during winter. Astronomical and geological hazards rarely have even this amount of temporal specificity, although there are exceptions. Certain meteor showers occur on or close to a certain date every year, such as the Lyrids (April 21), the Perseids (August 11), and the Leonids (November 17). Statistical analyses of earthquake time series have yielded models for mathematical attractors, some of them chaotic, which might help to predict earthquakes temporally, although so far there has been little success (Julian, 1990; Lomnitz, 1994).

Temporal scales also create problems for engineers in managing vulnerability to natural disasters because society’s temporal scales and natural hazards’ temporal scales are radically different. Modern society has existed only since the start of the Holocene period, 10,000 years ago, and Western society’s widespread development and systematic use of technology have occurred only for approximately 300 years. By contrast, natural hazards on Earth have existed throughout the planet’s lifetime of 4.6 billion years, and so regular events can occur every few million years--a length of time foreign to society’s experience and far beyond society’s collective memory. Such events have been of such high magnitude and intensity over the global spatial scale that they have caused rapid, mass species extinctions. Engineers and society have immense challenges in anticipating and managing vulnerability to events which are rare on society’s temporal scale. Certain regular events for the Earth’s temporal scale would be overwhelming.


6.4 Psychological Boundaries

The psychological state of society is impacted by boundaries which both inhibit and enhance the ability to understand and react to outside stimuli. Psychological boundaries are shaped and influenced by culture, religion, language, the environment, past experience, current events, and personal physical and emotional characteristics, such as intelligence and health. The amount of influence, the susceptibility to change, and the rate of change of psychological boundaries vary widely and incorporate a continuum of states between extremes. A classification into two broad, and at times overlapping, areas eases discussion. The two areas are cultural/philosophical boundaries (Section 6.4.1) which refer to the underlying state of mind that shapes overall life, and mental/emotional boundaries (Section 6.4.2) which refer to the current state of mind that shapes day-to-day functioning.


6.4.1 Cultural/Philosophical Boundaries

Chapter 2 discussed the environment, society, and technology separately. The explicit separation of these components derives from the modern Western approach to philosophy, which originates from modern Western society’s foundation in Judaeo-Christian ideals. Other philosophies argue that society--and even technology--are encompassed by the environment. This separation is an example of a psychological boundary: the society in which most engineers practice places boundaries between the three elements. Although the engineer may wish to contradict society’s viewpoint, there are two reasons for maintaining the separation, as this thesis tends to do.

First, most engineers’ work, such as this thesis, is produced by and for people with a strong modern Western influence. Accepting the embedded, fundamental philosophy facilitates communication of ideas. The emphasis of the work undertaken is on managing vulnerability to natural disasters and producing design solutions for this goal, rather than focussing on a critique of modern Western philosophy. Since a critique could be labelled as offensive, irrelevant, and/or confusing, the intended emphasis would be lost or ignored. Second, the environment, society, and technology can be defined and discussed specifically for any context--as this thesis does in Chapter 2--and while such definitions are models and could be open to interpretation or counterargument, the separation is also useful, as it provides a foundation for discussion and clarifies arguments.

There is a danger, however, of becoming too constrained by these psychological boundaries. The attitude and belief system influences in Section 3.3 provide examples of how a society can act in what would be a non-rational manner to the modern Western view. Recognizing that people may not act “rationally” within a belief system is important for the engineer to consider. Any technological solution has underlying assumptions about the society which uses the technology. If the assumptions are incorrect, the technology is likely to fail.

The discussion by Wilde (1994) and Green et al. (1993), mentioned in Section 5.4, on how engineering safety measures can actually increase vulnerability, can now be explained in terms of psychological boundaries. Modern Western society tends to place a high degree of faith in technology. People are taught and become inured to the concept that technology can solve society’s woes, and engineers are habitually advocates of this view. Ingrained psychological boundaries develop which block queries about the limitations or negative influences of technology. Safety measures are assumed to improve safety, and so individual actions change under the assumption that technology is protective (Wilde, 1994).

Irrespective of the problems, technology has brought numerous advantages to society and plays a principal role in managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Therefore, this thesis maintains a modern Western perspective, but does identify problems with this perspective while acknowledging, and attempting to understand and be sensitive to, other perspectives. Engineering work in this field will be much more successful if implemented with a similar attitude. Cultural and philosophical states and boundaries are deep-rooted and not easily subject to change. The recognition of this statement while attempting long-term education to eliminate dangerous beliefs, balanced with the preservation of indigenous cultures and beliefs, is not facile, yet will be necessary to use technology properly.



6.4.2 Mental/Emotional Boundaries

In contrast to cultural/philosophical boundaries, mental/emotional boundaries can change rapidly over time and space, and may have different forms for different situations or events. For example, Lopes (1997) and Schmidlin (1997) describe how many mobile home and recreational vehicle residents do not wish to leave their dwelling during a tornado because it would seem safer than exposing oneself to the elements, even though such residences are highly vulnerable to destruction by tornadoes (“Tornado!”, 1995). Conversely, Lopes (1997) points out that during earthquakes, most people inside buildings wish to run outside, even though it is safer to stay indoors, take cover, and hold on. Although Western cultural/philosophical views might have faith in technology as an underlying belief, specific circumstances--such as the feeling of imminent building collapse during an earthquake--can affect the mental/emotional state and traverse these boundaries. The appropriate use of technology, and society’s reaction to a natural hazard, are affected by similarities and contrasts in cultural/philosophical and mental/emotional characteristics.

The rapidity with which mental/emotional boundaries can change is another point of which the engineer should be aware. For example, an individual’s reaction to a severe earthquake would likely be quite different if s/he were awakened in the middle of the night rather than if s/he had just completed practice drills for earthquake response. The reaction would also likely be quite different if s/he were on the top floor of a skyscraper, which amplifies earthquake motion, rather than in an open field, with few dangers from falling objects. Similarly, if a major earthquake were to strike California during the annual American football game of the Super Bowl or during the annual movie awards event of the Oscars, communication lifelines would likely suffer more failures than if the earthquake were to strike in the middle of the night. The reason is that newsflashes are generally broadcast over instant media about major, domestic disasters, and the instant media audience in the U.S.A. during the Super Bowl and the Oscars is far larger than in the middle of the night. There would be a large number of people simultaneously telephoning friends and relatives in California, thereby taxing communication networks.

Designing for multiple scenarios in which society has such varying mental/emotional states is challenging. Engineers cannot anticipate every potential scenario (as in Section 4.4.3), but systems can be designed with flexibility and adaptability.


6.5 Technological boundaries

Technological constraints may limit what can actually be achieved, irrespective of what other boundaries and scales permit or what society desires. The functional feasibility of technology must be balanced with the constraints of society and the environment to ensure that what is desired from the engineer can actually be accomplished technologically. The engineer should be afraid of neither admitting that technological boundaries exist nor attempting to overcome them.

History has already demonstrated the consequences of overconfident engineers, through the “unsinkable” ship Titanic which struck an iceberg and sank in 1912 (see Table 2-5) and the “earthquake-proof” San Francisco city hall which was shattered by an earthquake on April 18, 1906. Nonetheless, engineers still tout “Strasbourg’s Earthquake-Resistant Parliament Building”8 (Engineering Dimensions, 1997) and the only two types of walls which are “truly safe” against wind-borne debris during tornadoes (Harris et al., 1992, p. 78)9. The engineer should always realize and communicate that technological boundaries do actually exist and should not be lulled into assuming that technology can solve any problem--even though this perception is widely held in modern Western culture.

6.6 Conclusions

When using technology to manage vulnerability to natural disasters, engineers are generally justified in assuming a modern, Western perspective. The modern, Western perspective, though, should constrain neither examinations of the limitations imposed by this perspective nor consideration and discussion of other viewpoints. The significance of spatiotemporal boundaries and scales, psychological boundaries, and technological boundaries should be important aspects of any discussion and should be explicitly recognized and communicated when developing solutions. These issues include an awareness of what society thinks of technology, how society reacts to technology in varying circumstances, and how societies differ in these respects.

Innovation, flexibility, and adaptability should be characteristics of solutions, not only in attempting to prevent failure of the technology, but also in understanding how to anticipate and respond to failures, and even in extracting advantages from a failure (or as Green et al. (1993) entitle their article, “Designing for Failure”). Otherwise, boundaries may become barriers to implementing technology for managing vulnerability to natural disasters.

7. Recommendations and Conclusions

7.1 Review and Discussion

Technology can assist in managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Technology needs to be developed and applied properly, part of which is ensuring that technology is used as one of many tools. These tools can be used in combination or separately, but they usually interact in some fashion, and so engineers and non-engineers should play a role in ensuring that each tool is used for tasks appropriate to that tool. Technology is not always the most appropriate tool, thus an important component of any solution in managing vulnerability to natural disasters is recognizing how technology can be used in conjunction with other tools, when technology should be used, and when technology should not be used.

Moreover, in order for technology to work, the technology must be available, affordable, usable, and useful, and society must desire to implement the technology. These five characteristics must exist essentially independently and the existence of any one characteristic or combination of characteristics does not necessarily imply the existence of the others. Even if all five characteristics are present, the technology might not function as expected (i.e., as designed) because of errors in the design or errors in the application.

Errors might arise from incompetence or negligence, but they more often occur due to the inherent challenges in design: the lack of theoretical knowledge (section 4.4.1), the assumptions necessary for using past experience to define problems (section 4.4.2), and the inability to anticipate every potential scenario (section 4.4.3). These challenges arise particularly when engineers attempt to predict the load from natural disasters, the most difficult step of the design process.

Furthermore, apparent mistakes in the design of technology might not be entirely accidental or completely the fault of the engineer. Society often has goals other than the perfect functioning of technology (section 5.3.3), such as minimizing resource use, maintaining a certain lifestyle, or conducting tradeoffs in applying technology to manage vulnerability to different natural disasters. Anticipating and effectively communicating as many of these problems as possible will assist in ensuring appropriate decision-making. There is no guarantee, though, that anticipation will be all-encompassing and accurate, that communication will be effective (either the communicator, the listener, or both could be ineffective), or that complete information will lead to appropriate decision-making. Nonetheless, engineers should do as much as feasible to ensure that technology is appropriately used for managing vulnerability to natural disasters.

Despite the problems, technology has advantages and can assist immensely in managing vulnerability to natural disasters and in meeting the IDNDR’s objectives (section 1.1). In fact, four out of the five of the IDNDR goals mention technology, engineering, or technical knowledge. Engineering has already prevented much damage from natural disasters through activities including designing and maintaining lifelines and other structures, developing land-zoning techniques, developing modelling techniques and technologies, and developing and distributing devices used by other professions for pre-disaster and post-disaster activities (sections 5.3.1 and 5.3.2). Although the challenges continue and there could be much improvement, contributions from engineers have been prominent and useful in managing vulnerability to natural disasters.

Throughout the discussions in this thesis, various themes are presented, such as preventing vulnerability, achieving sustainability (i.e., sustainable resource use), and reaping the advantages and benefits of natural hazards. There are also other themes which society has followed and may wish to continue following, such as economic growth and efficiency, fatalism, and zero tolerance for any environmental modification. These themes are not always appropriate for meeting the vulnerability goals set out by the IDNDR and this thesis. Dictating which ideas should be embraced by society can be counterproductive to achieving an engineering goal, and engineers need to strike a balance between respecting society’s contemporary views and cultures and pushing for change that would permit the effective use and functioning of the technology desired by society. Determining where the balance lies is complicated, is confrontational at times, and varies depending on the particular individuals and situations.

Decisions about society’s priorities and directions generally result from society’s prevailing ethics and values. Specific decisions are often made by the most powerful decision-makers: those with economic and/or political power (political power loosely encompasses social and religious power) and could be individuals, organizations, or specific sectors of society, including engineers. Prevailing ethics, the decision-makers, and themes for society are sometimes in conflict, though at other times they yield common goals or support each other. Even though this thesis promotes the prevention of vulnerability as its paramount theme, there is always the proviso that this theme should be viewed in context and should be pursued along with other goals and themes, as determined by society with engineering input. This thesis does not and should not resolve the issues of which themes should dominate over the others and when and how this dominance should occur. Society must resolve these issues and--because ethics, decision-makers, and ideas change--the resolution will be dynamic and unlikely to ever be set down firmly and permanently.

Similarly, problems will continue to be present with respect to managing vulnerability to natural disasters. For example:

•knowledge, theoretical understanding, and predictive capabilities are rarely complete or absolute;

•anticipating every possible factor and scenario is impossible;

•criteria other than the effect of decisions on vulnerability, such as political and economic factors, may dominate discussions;

•communication is essential but permits misunderstandings and incompleteness in transferring ideas;

•psychological boundaries inhibit individual and societal actions; and

•unjust or poorly motivated practices due to callousness or ignorance exist.

Flexible and innovative solutions from engineers and the rest of society are required to mitigate these problems and to complete what is possible. Through creativity and adaptability, techniques and solutions can be modifiable to suit new challenges and situations as they arise. Technology will therefore be able to continue and improve its positive role in managing vulnerability to natural disasters.


7.2 Recommendations

Recommendation I: Engineers should factor in non-technological influences on vulnerability when designing (Chapter 3’s lesson).

Non-engineers should also attempt to avoid detrimental impacts on technology’s effectiveness from other influences, where appropriate. Obstructive political and economic influences can be particularly frustrating, since society could often choose to avoid them. These influences tend to reflect society’s values, and so they are unlikely to be completely overcome--in fact, society often feels that such influences are desirable. Engineers should be aware of these influences, since designs will have to alter the impact of, or cope with, them. Understanding undesired influences and incorporating them into designs (or designing to change the influences) entails participation and input of engineers and non-engineers at most stages of the development and application of technology. The availability of resources might continually restrict such activities, but there are advantages in the long-term.


Recommendation II: The challenges in engineering design work should be explicitly recognized and communicated (chapter 4’s lesson).

Engineers have a professional responsibility to complete work of high quality and to promote this responsibility. The completion of “work of high quality” implies being clear to the client about the limitations of designs, the difficulty of defining design loads, potential problems which may arise, and troubleshooting guidelines. Engineers do not have all the answers, yet this point is often obscured by engineers who have too much faith in their own ability and by non-engineers who are willing to accept anything provided by an expert. By recognizing and debating the limits of engineering and technology, non-technological solutions can complement technological solutions when needed.


Recommendation III: The objective of managing society’s vulnerability to natural disasters should be preventing vulnerability (chapter 5’s lesson).

As mentioned at the end of section 7.1, there might be other objectives with a wider scope which would supersede preventing vulnerability. Sustainability is one such objective which would benefit society. Sustainability and preventing vulnerability, though, are often complementary as discussed towards the end of sections 5.3.3 and 5.4.



Recommendation IV: Engineers should examine the influences of boundaries and scales on the effectiveness of their designs (chapter 6’s lesson).

The most prominent aspects to be accounted for are spatiotemporal boundaries and scales, psychological boundaries, and technological boundaries. Boundaries and scales, however, are a model for describing observations, and thus should be examined in context for each situation. Models have limitations, and although boundaries and scales are fairly general concepts which are readily applied to managing vulnerability to natural disasters, different responses or interpretations may be appropriate for different situations.


Recommendation V: Effective communication of problems and limitations is needed (Part I’s lesson).

Effective communication helps to anticipate problems before they develop. Consequently, there will be more time for attempts at mitigating the problems, through solutions such as preventing the problem from occurring and preparing to cope with the problem. Effective communication also ensures that stakeholders are aware of potential difficulties and have an opportunity to voice their personal preferences and to propose solutions. The exchange of ideas and viewpoints also assists in developing and preserving innovative approaches and builds trust for responding effectively to a crisis.


Recommendation VI: Intensive, interdisciplinary research should be continued and promoted in order to develop creative and flexible solutions (Part I’s lesson).

Engineers have the technical expertise and analytical skills which are necessary for research into using technology for managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Non-engineers bring their own expertise and skill sets to natural disaster research which are as important. Working together and sharing ideas facilitates the development of innovative and flexible solutions. Interdisciplinary research also assists in identifying and coping with the diverse factors which can account for the failure of technology, and helps in producing solutions with components outside the realm of traditional engineering. Solutions based on non-technological influences are integral to making technology function properly in disparate situations, and often have an adaptability not available with technology.


7.3 Conclusions

Engineers and technology have the potential to contribute immensely to the management of society’s vulnerability to natural disasters. There are challenges at all stages of technology’s development and implementation and these challenges must be dealt with by both engineers and other sectors of society. Many of the difficulties encountered in using technology come from neither technical problems nor the specific natural disaster event, but manifest because society errs in applying technology. Not all the challenges are entirely solvable, but there are methods of anticipating and reducing potential detrimental impacts. These methods require acknowledgement and communication of the challenges along with adaptable and innovative solutions. Through cooperative and interdisciplinary research and application, engineers can ensure that technology helps solve, rather than contribute to, the difficulties in the role of technology in managing vulnerability to natural disasters.

Part I, concepts and models for technology in managing vulnerability to natural disasters, is now concluded. Theory, where feasible, should normally be validated by empirical evidence, which, for this thesis, implies examining the role of technology during specific case studies of natural disasters. These case studies, as explained in Part II, are volcanic disasters on non-industrialized islands and will be used to apply the ideas from Part I. Before leaping directly into the mouth of the volcano (so to speak) a brief pause is taken in the form of an interlude (Chapter 8) which re-evaluates the achievements of Part I and foreshadows the exploration of Part II.

8. Interlude

Part I explores the role of technology in managing vulnerability to natural disasters in a framework of concepts and models. The importance of natural disasters and technology to society is established briefly (Chapter 1) followed by operational definitions of terminology (Chapter 2). The traits of vulnerability are further explored during an examination of non-technological influences on vulnerability (Chapter 3). The traits of technology, particularly when used as a tool for managing vulnerability to natural disasters, and the framework used by engineers in such situations are explored, revealing the engineer’s main challenge as understanding and defining the design load (Chapter 4). The prevention of vulnerability to natural disasters is deemed more appropriate than risk prevention or natural hazard prevention, and the challenges of using technology to prevent vulnerability are discussed (Chapter 5). Spatiotemporal boundaries and scales, psychological boundaries, and technological boundaries are investigated to establish their influence on using technology for managing vulnerability to natural disasters (Chapter 6).

In the conclusions to Part I (Chapter 7), a common theme which emerges is the need for engineering creativity and innovation in order to produce solutions which are flexible and adaptable. As well, cooperation and communication between engineers and other sectors of society are emphasized as necessary for ensuring that engineering solutions function and have the desired diversity to respond well in numerous situations. These results can be captured under the umbrella of interdisciplinary research: engineers must step beyond their traditional and expected roles while bringing non-engineers into closer contact with engineering design processes. Of course, such actions must still maintain the professional responsibility and integrity encoded in laws by many jurisdictions, since engineers do have the technical expertise and the licence requirements for conducting engineering work.

Nonetheless, the engineer’s legal and moral professional responsibility and integrity does not preclude close interaction with non-engineers. Engineers should be working on a diverse team as a member with technical expertise, and can indicate what is and what is not possible technologically. Another important role for the engineer is to listen to the viewpoints and analyses of the other team members and to determine how non-technological factors could impact the technology. For example, a local community leader could indicate the locals’ priorities and the amount of acceptance for technology which could upset those priorities while a planner or geographer could indicate potential logistical difficulties in transporting and setting up technology. The engineer would then work with the others to ensure that such concerns were factored into designs; design criteria would include avoiding or minimizing any such concerns. The inherent characteristics of the technology and the manner of using the technology would both help to solve these problems.

Such an approach is not straightforward. Engineers do not always have the resources or the mandate to work closely with an interdisciplinary team. As well, many aspects of a design or a technology have often been developed previously and are used as pieces or subcomponents for the current project. The interdisciplinary approach might be used for the current project, but it may not be practical to rectify any problems in the previously developed components. Nevertheless, the engineer can minimize these constraints. If the engineer is inhibited in using the interdisciplinary approach, the opportunity to state the limitations of designs and to educate society about the merits of the interdisciplinary approach should be taken. Hopefully, engineers and the rest of society will communicate with each other so that the manner of engineering work and technology development will slowly change.

These comments about the interdisciplinary approach are fairly generic and could be reasonably applied to many areas of engineering. Such behaviour, though, is particularly important for technology used for managing vulnerability to natural disasters because of the diversity and depth of challenges put forward by natural disasters, another theme which emerged from Part I. Natural disasters directly impact most sectors of society and numerous sectors are involved professionally in managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Despite this wide range, the challenges posed by natural disasters and their potential scope of damage threaten to overwhelm society’s efforts at managing its vulnerability.

In recognition of the natural disaster challenge, the IDNDR (section 1.1) was implemented. Prior to the IDNDR, society had accomplished much in managing vulnerability to natural disasters, using both technological and non-technological solutions such as insurance, building codes, land zoning, disaster planning, public education, and emergency response systems. There is, however, still an enormous amount to be accomplished in these areas as well as in previously less successful areas such as enforcing regulations, reducing the impact of poverty on vulnerability, and predicting occurrences and magnitudes of natural disasters. The IDNDR, through research and education, has attempted to compel society and society’s experts to re-evaluate society’s relationship with the environment, with respect to natural hazards. Assumptions and paradigms, such as the preventing natural hazards and preventing all damage from natural hazards all the time, are questioned and past activities are examined to determine the actual accomplishments of previously assumed successes. Similar discussions are scattered throughout Part I and suggestions are proposed for activities which should be continued, changed, commenced, and halted. Neither the IDNDR nor Part I of this thesis raises all the pertinent questions or resolves all the outstanding issues, but each provides a worthwhile contribution to the role of technology in managing vulnerability to natural disasters10.

The exploration in Part I, as its title states, involved concepts and models (i.e., ideas) which need to be considered in managing vulnerability to natural disasters. Theory is a necessity, but should be complemented by its equally necessary partner, which is practice. Although Part I uses both real and hypothetical examples, it remains essentially an intellectual framework for analyzing and discussing the issues. In order to fully explore the role of technology, the intellectual framework should be used in a practical setting: case studies to which the concepts and models can be applied.

Part II accomplishes this goal by examining one natural hazard, volcanoes, in one particular type of location, non-industrialized islands. Two case studies are scrutinized to permit a critical analysis and comparison. An explanation of volcanic hazards and volcanic disasters introduces the role of technology in managing vulnerability to volcanic disasters (Chapter 9). The major significance of volcanoes and volcanic disasters to non-industrialized islands and the subsequent selection of the case studies is discussed (Chapter 10). The case studies are the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines which started in 1991 (Chapter 11) and the eruption of Soufrière Hills in Montserrat which started in 1995 (Chapter 12). The role of technology during each eruption is compared in order to make recommendations and to draw conclusions about using technology to manage vulnerability to natural disasters (Chapter 13). Following Part II, there remains room for a further synthesis of Part I and Part II (Chapter 14).

Part II thus examines technology and engineering in action, for one specific natural disaster category. Like the illustrative examples interspersed throughout Part I, however, the use of specific examples reflects the issues, ideas, and challenges relevant to other examples and other natural disasters. The lessons learned from the mistakes and successes during volcanic disasters on non-industrialized nations can be applied for improving the role of technology in managing vulnerability to all natural disasters.






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