Sandy inspires NJ university to teach DRR

During the course, students Thomas Hrabal and Joseph DeLorenzo present their research on disaster resilience measures in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Maria Hasan

NEW YORK, 10 June 2014 – Eighteen students at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, United States, have just completed the university’s first-ever course on disaster risk reduction, in part as a result of Hurricane Sandy which killed at least 117 people and caused $65 billion worth of damage in the US alone.

The pilot course titled “Disaster risk reduction and development in local and global perspectives” was offered by the university’s department of political science, spurred by a transformative policy decision of the university to integrate disaster risk reduction in its curricula offering to “the next generation of decision-makers.”

“Our students witnessed the disastrous effects of Hurricane Sandy first-hand in 2012,” said Dr. Alexander Mirescu, who delivered the course. “It became clear soon after that one of the best ways our university could contribute was to create an academic opportunity for students to learn about disaster risk reduction and the ways that they can contribute to a more resilient planet, no matter what field or profession they choose.”

The state of New Jersey lost 34 people and was one of the areas worst affected by Hurricane Sandy which was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of diameter, 1,800 kms.

Referring to the decision of St. Peter’s University to sign on as an international partner of the Resilient Cities Campaign, Dr. Mirescu added: “Partnering with the campaign produced a tremendous opportunity for our students to work with a tangible, real-world movement for stronger, safer cities.”

Margareta Wahlström, the head of UNISDR, welcomed the university's move: “This is a very meaningful illustration of how good can come from tragedy. There is no doubt that this course will create advocates in many communities where these successful graduates will go on to live and work. Knowledge and education are vitally important to making this planet and its people more resilient to extreme weather events. I congratulate the Provost, Dr Marylou Yam, and the faculty of St. Peter’s University on this innovative addition to the curriculum.”

Students enrolled in the course had the opportunity to participate in training modules and explore Sandy-affected communities in the Jersey Shore and Long Island and identify specific challenges and opportunities in municipalities of their choosing. They established contact with up to 40 local governments, including some outside the United States, to share their findings and raise awareness.

“This has been my favourite class at Saint Peter's University,” noted Amanda Colombo, a first year student at the university, who studied the city of Passaic’s flood risk.

“Speaking with the Office of Emergency Management of Passaic, New Jersey, about the risks the city’s infrastructure faces due to flooding was rewarding not just as a student but also as a citizen. I hope to continue to raise awareness about urban risk with local leaders in the future,’ said Amanda.

Oliver Bellomi, a student who hails from Canada, decided to take his new body of knowledge back home said: “I conducted research on my home region of Vancouver Island, British Columbia to find out it is particularly susceptible to climate change-driven sea level rise, seismic activity, flooding, landslides and tsunamis.

“I took both my research and the tools of the Making Cities Resilient campaign to several mayors on Vancouver Island. The kind of response I received demonstrated that local leaders don’t need convincing when it comes to the need to reduce risks and create safer environments, they need tools and resources.”
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