The Cambridge Disaster Research Network (CDRN) is a network for those interested in disasters and natural hazards from departments across the University of Cambridge and researchers and practitioners outside of Cambridge. Our objective is to connect hazard and disaster research and researchers across disciplines and to link academic approaches to the needs and experience of practitioners. We particularly hope to connect a scientific understanding of hazards to social science, humanities and arts research, and industry practitioners, required to prevent disasters.
Specifically, CDRN aims to:
- Encourage a shared meaning in the language used to discuss hazards and disasters.
- Develop a deeper understanding of the values of different stakeholders.
- Connect researchers to external practitioners, from the policy, engineering, and development sectors amongst others.
- Investigate how different value systems, or notions of harm, lead to different approaches to preparing for natural hazards, and characterizing and responding to disasters.
- Create a repository of online material to allow the network to extend beyond Cambridge (recordings of past seminars are below)
We are continually developing and planning future seminars. Please contact any of the convenors if you have any suggestions for topics or if you would like to present.
How to join and attend the seminars
Network founders and past convenors:
Michaelmas Term 2023
The 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami
Tuesday 21 November 11 am
This seminar discussed disaster risk reduction from tsunami modelling and civil engineering to gender-related vulnerability in the context of the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Chair: Ellen Kujawa
Disaster risk management and reaching vulnerable groups
Tuesday 24 October 3 pm
The impacts of disasters are not equal. While a large body of disaster risk research has focused on exploring what groups are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters, there has been less attention paid to how to reach vulnerable groups prior to and during disasters. This talk will explore some of the best practices and challenges to develop targeted disaster mitigation responses to support vulnerable groups.
Reading group – Fire Weather
Tuesday 10 October 3pm
Book for discussion: Fire Weather by John Vaillant
In this seminar we discussed the book Fire Weather, an exploration of the 2016 urban fire in Fort McMurray, Canada, which touches upon issues including wildfire management and disasters in the context of climate change. Chaired by Kate McNeil.
Easter Term 2023
Reading Group – When the Dust Settles
Tuesday 13 June 3 pm
Book for discussion: ‘When the Dust Settles’ by Professor Lucy Easthope (University of Durham)
In this CDRN Seminar, we discussed the book ‘When the Dust Settles’ by Professor Lucy Easthope. Lucy Easthope is a UK expert and adviser on emergency planning and disaster recovery. She is a Professor in Practice of Risk and Hazard at Durham University. Her book provides insightful personal accounts of some of the worst emergencies in many of our lifetimes. It highlights that through the chaos and loss of emergencies, we can find love and hope. This seminar was an informal book club session to discuss ‘When the Dust Settles’.
Disaster Displacement and Environmental Migration
Tuesday 30 May 3 pm
People have moved in response to environmental hazards throughout history. However, climate change is currently increasing the intensity and severity of many hazards, as well as related migration pressures. Estimates show that approximately 20 million people are displaced each year by disasters (IDMC, 2022). Weather-related events contribute the most to such displacement. For each group that is forcibly displaced, there is a group that is unable to move. DRR initiatives at the international, national and local levels have a role to play in mitigating the pressures of environmental migration – as do alternatives such as climate mobility plans or planned relocations (Dhingra and Ferris, 2022). Currently, governments are underprepared (and lack support) for the challenges posed by climate migration. Moreover, the impacts of disaster displacement are distributed unevenly across the globe. This seminar explores some of these challenges, and the work being done by practitioners and academics to address them.
Constructing the End of Emergencies
Tuesday 16 May 3 pm
Disaster research over the last few decades has effectively and extensively explored the conditions which increase vulnerability and risk and has explored the processes which unfold in organisations and communities throughout emergencies. Less attention has been paid to the ending of disasters – both how the endpoints of disasters and emergencies are socially constructed, and how this relates to the stories told in communities and in policymaking settings about disasters in their aftermath, as groups seek to engage in lesson identification and implementation. This session explores these endpoints through the lens of collective sensemaking during and after disaster and an exploration of how communities re-construct their sense of place – drawing on examples from tornadoes and hurricanes in North America; and emergency organisations in the context of bushfires and the covid-19 pandemic in Australia.
Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Within and Beyond the Sendai Framework
Tuesday 2 May 3 pm
Disaster research over the last few decades has effectively called attention to the vastly unequal impacts of disasters across different sections of society. Structural inequalities and discrimination significantly increase the vulnerability of marginalised communities–including women and girls, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, older people, ethnic and religious minorities, people in poverty, and Indigenous peoples– to disaster risk. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was a landmark international agreement that sought to ‘prevent new, and reduce existing, disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive […] measures’ (SFDRR, 2015). However, as several disaster scholars, practitioners, and civil society actors point out, the Sendai Framework’s sweeping commitment to ‘inclusivity’ lacks both practical force and attention to the specific needs of different marginalised communities affected by disasters. Significantly, national and international DRR frameworks do not sufficiently consider the intersectionality of different kinds of vulnerability and often exclude marginalised communities from the disaster policy-making process (Barbelet and Wake, 2020; Bennett, 2020; Seglah and Blanchard, 2021; Yadav et al., 2021; Zaidi and Fordham, 2021). This seminar explores different aspects of inclusive DRR and its future prospects. Although this session considers the legacies and blind spots of the Sendai Framework across various contexts, it also seeks to look beyond this structure in thinking about how different communities, who are considered marginalised and at-risk from disasters, have implemented their own inclusive DRR strategies.
Lent Term 2023:
Non-events and ‘Not quite disasters’
Wednesday 8 March 3 pm
As disaster researchers, practitioners, policymakers and enthusiasts, we often focus on the disastrous event as a dramatic, anticipated and governed phenomena. But what about non-events? Disasters that might not have happened after a major hazard occurred? Events that are ‘not quite disasters’? And, how do we anticipate such events? How do we govern them through disaster risk reduction and management? This seminar discussed themes including non-events, climate change, disaster risk reduction, assemblage theory and the potential lessons from ‘not quite disasters’.
Spitak, Armenia: Mass destruction and Soviet Era Response
Monday 20 February 3 pm
On December 8th 1988 a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Armenia and killed 25,000 people (as officially recorded – the total number is likely higher). The earthquake was the largest in the region in recent history and data shows that it destroyed 90% of Spitak, 50% of Leninakan and 20% of Kirovakan. Armenia lies along the Alpine-Himalayan belt, which is characterised by high seismicity. Still, earthquakes of this scale do not occur frequently, and the results were devastating. Response and support for the Armenia SSR came from both within and outside of the Soviet Union. This seminar explored lessons learned following the 1988 Spitak earthquake in Armenia, and extends its support and recognition to those affected by and currently involved in response to the recent Turkey-Syria earthquake.
Suren Arakelyan (Director, Georisk Scientific Research Company Armenia)
The Flint Water Crisis: A slow-onset public health disaster
Tuesday 7 February 3 pm
The Flint Water Crisis is one of the most devastating Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in U.S. history and led to 12 deaths due to exposure to waterborne legionella and 91 confirmed cases of Legionnaires disease (Roy and Edwards, 2019). This seminar explored the underlying causes that contributed to the Flint Water Crisis, the lessons learnt from citizen science initiatives to monitor the contamination of water supplies in Flint, and the long-term consequences that communities in Flint are still experiencing in the aftermath of the Flint Water Crisis.
Hurricane Katrina’s long-term effects on New Orleans and US Gulf Coast
Tuesday 24 January 3 pm
Hurricane Katrina remains one of the most significant disasters of the 21st century, and spurred a flurry of research, media coverage, and policy changes. The hurricane caused 1,392 fatalities, displaced more than a million people, and resulted in more than $100 billion in damage, and substantial research documents the hurricane’s immediate effects on New Orleans and the United States’ Gulf Coast. In this seminar, panellists highlight the longer-term effects of Hurricane Katrina in the nearly two decades since 2005: the interaction of race and housing turnover in New Orleans; how the city has changed its approach to data democratization and accountability; and how the hurricane has left a legacy in national risk and resilience policy.
Michaelmas Term 2022:
Heatwaves: the silent disaster
Tuesday 22 November 3pm
Heatwaves have had devastating effects throughout history. Despite the threats posed by heatwaves to human health and safety, and their implications for national economies, heatwaves are comparatively understudied within academia. Moreover, they are often not regarded by governments or media as a ‘disaster’. There are various reasons for this, including: heatwaves do not involve mass destruction of property, the deaths that result from heatwaves are often relatively widely dispersed, and they are often not directly attributed to heatstroke. However extreme heat is increasing in severity and intensity. It is necessary to understand (1) the (unequal) threat this poses to communities, and (2) the power that lies in interdisciplinary mitigative tools to prepare for and protect against heatwaves in an inclusive manner.
Dr. Gulrez Azhar (Center for Health and the Global Environment, University of Washington)
Mr. Mihir Bhatt (All India Disaster Mitigation Institute)
Dr. Carlee Purdum (Texas A&M University)
Understanding the Cascading Impacts of Disasters
Tuesday 8 November 3pm
Disasters can lead to fatalities, property destruction, and environmental damage. While media and government agencies report these immediate impacts of disasters, uncertainty can exist regarding these direct consequences. Disasters also contribute to cascading impacts which can be even more uncertain and difficult to assess. This seminar explored existing research that can help to develop a more holistic understanding of the cascading impacts of disasters.
Dr. Radley Horton (Columbia University)
Dr. Lauryn Spearing (University of Illinois Chicago)
Dr. Gianluca Pescaroli (UCL IRDR)
Equity and Justice in Disasters
Tuesday 25 October 3pm
The risks, impacts, and responses to hazards and disasters are inequitably distributed: race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic and educational status, and other demographic factors inform communities’ risk levels, response capacity, and overall vulnerability. Moreover, disasters themselves can accelerate pre-existing social trends, often intensifying existing inequities. The entanglement between equity, justice, and disaster is evident in both high-income, developed locations – Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina disproportionately affected low-income, Black, and Latinx communities in the United States, for example – and in low-income, developing states, especially those that are former and current colonial possessions. Clear-eyed awareness of the connections between equity, justice, and disaster is essential to advancing equitable disaster risk reduction policy and to conducting reflexive disaster research; in this session, we invited panelists to discuss recent scholarship on these complicated connections.
Dr. Susan Cutter (University of South Carolina)
Dr. Idit Alphandary (University of Cambridge & Tel Aviv University)
The Cultural Sense of Disasters
Tuesday 11 October 3pm
People experience disasters very differently, often supposing they possess the most “correct” or “rational” interpretation of reality. In this session, two speakers will discuss conflicting attitudes and practices in dealing with risks and disasters, introducing the concept of “fields of practice” using two case studies: the HIV -AIDS crisis in Botswana and the volcanic crisis of El Hierro, Canary Islands. Fields of practice describe different social nexuses employing specific perceptions and dealings, due to either profession, social ties, or worldview. Individuals are always part of such fields but simultaneously singularities, meaning that they can personally make a difference, especially in disaster situations. The ruptures and dynamics between different worlds of experience and ways of dealing with risk are not a “flaw in the system” but the key to a better understanding of disastrous situations, as this seminar explored.
Dr. Klaus Geiselhart (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)
Dr. Benedikt Orlowski (Department of Urban Research, City of Nuremberg)
Lent Term 2022:
What causes disasters: Historical processes
Tuesday 8 March 3pm
Knowledge of politics and practices implemented by past societies can be very useful in today’s elaboration of prevention strategies and disaster responses. This session focused on how historical processes have influenced the construction of disaster management policies, and how art and humanities approaches can be used to elicit the prevention of future disasters through two case studies: on the one hand the city of Quito (Ecuador), that has expanded over a territory affected by repeated earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides/mudflows/inundations throughout modern history, on the other, the volcanic eruption of the Laki fissure (Iceland), which caused lava flows, poisoned fields, and famine in Iceland and a fog of volcanic gases across the northern hemisphere.
Discussant and chair:
What causes disasters: Implications of language for understanding causality and impact
Monday 7 February 3pm
This session focuses on the dilemmas of language in defining and/or using the terminology of a disaster, and the implications that this may have on people’s understanding of causality and who is impacted by natural hazard events. Questions explored by the speakers will include: who defines when a disaster becomes a disaster, and does everyone impacted consider the event to be a disaster? Additionally, why is there a need to move away from the term ‘natural disasters’ and viewing disasters as one off-events?
What causes disasters: Keynote – Professor Ilan Kelman
Tuesday 25 January 3pm
A tsunami inundates Tonga as a pandemic’s death toll mounts around the world. We hear that nature runs rampant, seeking to destroy us through these ‘natural disasters’, with climate change at the forefront. Science recounts a different story: disasters are not usually the consequence of environmental phenomena, such as volcanoes and climate. Instead, they occur due to human choices and decisions. We put ourselves and others in harm’s way while failing to take measures which we know would prevent disasters, no matter what nature throws at us. Disasters are not natural because the causes are human values, attitudes, behaviour, and decisions.
Michaelmas Term 2021:
Citizen science and disasters
Tuesday 23 November 4pm
Disaster citizen science initiatives have evolved out of the long-held belief that accounting for the knowledge of those experiencing disasters is essential to effectively develop and design responses to disaster risk. Such efforts have proved successful in addressing disasters and reducing risks, particularly providing new knowledge of the past behaviour of certain hazards, early warnings and the management of impacts. This seminar presents two case studies of citizen science and investigates the advances that have been made and how citizen science can or should be harnessed in the management and research of disasters.
Stories and new methods of risk analysis: Lessons from a CDRN – IRG workshop
Tuesday 9 November 4pm
On the 22nd of March this year, we held a joint workshop between the Cambridge Disaster Research Network (CDRN) and the Infrastructure Resilience Group (IRG) online. This workshop experimented with a newly developed method in risk studies / horizon scanning called downward counterfactual analysis. In simple terms the workshop took a historical disaster event (the 365CE Cretan earthquake and tsunami) and asked five groups of interdisciplinary researchers, using three definitions of ‘worse’ to build worst-case scenarios. Twenty-two members of CDRN and IRG participated in the exercise. This special CDRN seminar summarizes some of the results of the exercise, some of the lessons learnt and discusses their implications.
Disaster Early Warning
Tuesday 26 October 4pm
How can we warn populations of imminent hazards? How do such warnings interact with the socio-political context in which they are given? And how can we extend these warnings beyond hazards, to anticipate potential disasters? This panel discussion investigates the role of early warning systems in disasters, and how such warning systems can mitigate disasters. Recognising that the stages of the “disaster cycle” are far from distinct, we will consider warnings on different timescales, both immediately before a hazard and in the months and years over which the political, social and economic contexts of disaster develop.
Dealing with disasters in past societies
Tuesday 12 October 4pm
In the last decades, the study of disasters in the past from a historical perspective has shown how these events deeply modified the political, economic and social life of pre-industrial societies. In this seminar, we focused on analysing the way in which past societies have dealt with disasters. From the coexistence of multiple interpretations of their causes to the importance of information networks in the aftermath of the disaster, or the leading role of experts in the resolution of the emergency.
Easter term 2021:
Heritage as a value in crisis situations
Tuesday 15 June, 4pm
Planetary defense and disasters from space
Tuesday 1 June, 4pm
An entire genre of films and television concerns disasters and hazards from space, particularly including asteroids. But how accurate are these popular portrayals and how are asteroid risks managed and addressed? What is the current status of and best practices for planetary defense and disaster management? This seminar brought together international experts from the US and Europe in a discussion of contemporary asteroid deflection missions and disaster response.
Disasters within disasters: interacting hazards on multiple timescales
Tuesday 25 May, 4pm
We often think of hazard events as occurring in isolation, but interactions between hazards, particularly those which unfold over very different timescales, present unique challenges for disaster management. This seminar investigated how we can prepare for sudden hazards, such as earthquakes, flooding, or volcanic eruptions, in the context of longer-term disasters, such as climate change and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Representing disasters in museums
Tuesday 4 May, 4pm
Within the different types of science museums, those dedicated to disasters (mostly, earthquakes) aim to foment in the general public a greater awareness of risk. Many museum exhibits arise from an exchange with the scientific field, explaining knowledge in terms that everyone can understand. In this seminar, we focused on the features and strategy of these institutions, their educational programs to both expert and non-expert public, and their role in the local and global context of the management of risk.
Lent Term 2021:
Economics and disasters
Tuesday 9 March, 4pm
Disasters and economics are intimately related. When they occur disasters can significantly impact economies and financial systems at national and global scales. However, investment in mitigation and disaster risk reduction can significantly reduce these costs. More generally, particular economic systems can exacerbate the effects of hazard events and their societal impacts. This session will explore the different ways hazards, vulnerability and disasters interact with financial and economic systems, and how such systems can be used to reduce and mitigate disaster risk.
Animals and disasters
Tuesday 23 February, 4pm
The role that animals play in disaster response, recovery, and experience is often overlooked in policy and academia due to the emphasis on preserving human life in disasters. Yet this is a false division, since animals significantly shape disaster response, evacuation, logistics, cultural practices, and recovery among others, and are themselves at risk from a range of healthcare and health impacts of disasters. This session will explore the role of animals in disasters and the implications for policy and research.
Communication in disasters
Tuesday 9 February, 4pm
Communication plays an important part in preparing for, responding to and in the aftermath of a disaster. During this session, an overview of what constitutes as the ideal strategy for risk communication will be outlined through a series of top tips. This will be followed by presentations on the practical realities of these principles, including examples of communication strategies being implemented in the field, and a discussion about social media companies’ role in overcoming issues of misinformation in an emergency.
Imagery and disasters
Tuesday 26 January, 4pm
Throughout its history, South America has suffered several biological disasters, some of which have strongly affected the cultural, artistic and spiritual life of local communities, conditioning their beliefs, religious practices and political responses. This seminar explores, through three case studies, the socio-cultural consequences of some episodes of pandemics on the Latin American imagery, from the colonial period to the present day.
Michaelmas Term 2020:
Culture and disasters
Monday 23rd November, 4pm
It is increasingly recognised that culture plays a critical role in the way different groups prepare for, respond to, and recover from, disasters. Yet disaster policies still often overlook or misunderstand culture. This seminar will present case studies of the role of culture in disasters and will discuss the wider implications for research and policy.
Monday 9th November, 4pm
Imagery of post-disaster destruction often focuses on damage to the built environment. Such damage is crucial to controlling casualties resulting from natural hazards, but may also have a profound psychological impact on affected communities. This session will address the role of the built environment in creating disasters, as well as methods for using it to mitigate and respond to catastrophic events.
Monday 26th October, 4pm
An intuitive definition of disasters involves mass casualties. The scale of the hazard event is one determinant of loss of life, but many other factors also play a role. This session will explore the value placed on human life in disaster preparedness and response, and how such losses can be reduced by both preparation and post-disaster response.