Technology: the future of disaster risk reduction?

Eight of the South Korean cities that have signed up to UNISDR'S Making Cities Resilient campaign this year received their certificates during the event in Ilsan (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Linda Mu

INCHEON, Republic of Korea, 21 November 2016 – Fast-paced developments in technology have the potential to help the world rein in the impact of natural and human-induced hazards, notably when it comes to tackling urban risk.

The issue of harnessing hi-tech to support disaster prevention, forecasting, response and building resilience at the community level has been in focus at the K-Safety conference, run by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Public Safety and Security.

Three sessions last Thursday brought together 222 officials from 176 Korean local governments, to get to grips with advancing technology and tools for disaster risk reduction in Korea and Japan.

“Developing societies can be more dangerous, especially those with rapid development,” said Dr. Heekyung Park, Director of the KAIST Institute for Disaster Studies, which co-hosted the event along with UNISDR Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), and the international network Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).

“The form of disasters in the future may become more complex. To respond to this change, co-development of social and technological systems is necessary,” he added.

The issue of urban risk reduction is squarely in the global spotlight.

When the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the international community in September 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored that cities “are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically.”

Yet he also warned of increasing challenges. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, making sustainable and resilient cities amidst a changing climate and unplanned urbanization is one of our greatest challenges and opportunities.

One key means of addressing such challenges is through innovation and advancing scientific and technological development, an approach enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal 17, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – the latter, adopted in March 2015, was the first building block of the global sustainable development agenda.

Technology is constantly developing and is an increasingly key element of people’s daily lives. This can mean benefits and convenience, but can also bring uncertainties, including the possibility of technological and human-triggered disasters. By developing technology for disaster risk reduction to better understand, assess and reduce risk, the world can become better prepared and take corrective and preventive actions.

Engaging the community together with public and private sectors it important to this process.

“There are numerous DRR technologies. However, technology and development will fail if civic participation is not core,” said Dr. Young-Seok Kim, Director of Institute of Disaster Management and Public Safety, POSTECH, who emphasized the importance of community empowerment.

Dr. Kim also shared an example from the 2007 Hebei Spirit oil spill accident in Tae-an, Republic of Korea. “When the oil spill happened, DRR technology was used to prevent the oil to spread further into the ocean, and the communities gathered through the social networking service to participate voluntarily to clean the debris.”

“When the community and authorities get together through proper collaboration, their resilience becomes much stronger,” he added.

The importance of civil society, public and private sectors building collaborative relationships with communities for optimized actions and results was emphasized throughout the conference.

Korean start-up Rainbow Co. – the name stands for ‘Robot for Artificial Intelligence and Boundless Walking’ – demonstrated innovative uses of robots for a variety of disaster risk scenarios. Company Co-founder, Dr. Jungho Lee, underlined that such advances “cannot be perfected without human guidance and collaboration on the ground.”

The use of social networking services and the development of smart mobile applications for disaster risk reduction show some of the greatest opportunities for public awareness and civic engagement.  

Dr. Yasuo Kawawaki, Director of the secretariat at the Center for Environmental Management of Enclosed Coastal Seas (EMECS) shared Hyogo Prefecture, Japan’s “CG Hazard Map”, a single source “to raise awareness of disaster prevention among residents in ordinary times, and enable them to take appropriate action in times of disaster.” The site uses real-time hazard mapping, graphics, video, images and guides to help citizens easily understand risk and take action.

Ms. Eun Kyoung Han from Busan Metropolitan City, Republic of Korea said, “It was impressive to learn see about Hyogo Prefecture’s CG Hazard Map as Busan is also prone to floods and typhoons and would like to apply the information and knowledge from this presentation to disaster management in Busan.”

The Ilsan, KINTEX event brought together Korean members of UNISDR’s flagship Making Cities Resilient campaign with the private and research technical sector for the first time. There are 156 Korean local governments in the global network of over 3,300 cities. Eight of the Korean local governments that signed up to the campaign this year received their certificates of participation during the event.

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