Disaster resilience is a critical issue facing every nation. Resilience is about addressing the need to be able to better anticipate and adapt to risks, to nimbly recover from disruptions when they happen, and to “bounce forward” by building back better and smarter. The world in which now seven billion people live has now become a riskier place to live in and to operate due to the accelerating environmental change. With the amount of unprecedented natural events and calamities taking place around the world, it is now more essential than ever to have such resilient systems in place.
Stephen Flynn, who directs the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University, says scientists, engineers, and city planners need to work together in order to prepare communities to withstand and recover from natural disasters. About building back better and smarter, he says, “We need to do that at multiple levels and from multiple angles. If you approach it as a technical problem, you’re likely to miss the human dimensions. Tackling it requires the humanics learning model that President Aoun has been advancing, (which integrates three new literacies—understanding technology, understanding data, and understanding what it means to be human). And we have to move beyond just doing the research within academia that generates resilience best practices.”
At the Global Resilience Institute, over 100 faculty affiliates who are engaged in resilience-related research have been working together on an early-stage research project that demonstrates the potential to deploy drones to conduct automatic damage assessments of critical infrastructure after a disaster. This project brings together in an integrated way the drone, the sensors, the data the sensors generate, and the knowledge of structures and engineering expertise to create algorithms that can analyse without human intervention whether a bridge or other key asset is safe after a disaster. Accomplishing this will free up first responders to focus on their lifesaving responsibilities, who would otherwise need to be diverted to analyse the data the drones are seeing.
The Global Resilience Institute applies its research to help communities around the world by helping in informing authorities and advance the overall preparedness of people who live on islands or disaster-prone lands, where they face may face for, say, increasing storms, rising seas or long-standing structural challenges. Flynn notes, “We help bring local, state, federal, and private sector players to the table and help them to better prioritise what measures they can and should be taking before, during, and after the next disaster strikes.”