Too many times after a natural hazard strikes, public outcries follow once the level of devastation becomes clear. People wonder – and often rightly so – if the disaster could have been prevented. After the 2015 Nepal earthquake for example, years of investment in school buildings was wiped away in seconds because schools were not built to withstand earthquakes – often because people were not aware of the earthquake risk. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so the schools that collapsed did not also result in unimaginable human tragedy.
Having worked in the field of disaster risk management (DRM) for over a decade, I’m well aware that the Himalayas only exist because of earthquakes! And therein lies the crux of a really big problem. I know where adverse natural events are possible because it is my job to know. I can also quickly research possible natural hazards in an area because I know where to look and I understand the frequent jargon and complicated terms of my field (e.g. peak ground acceleration, Probable Maximum Loss etc.).
However, in the last few years, I have increasingly realized those in the DRM sector have made the barrier too high for others trying to understand the potential for natural disasters in their country or project area.
We expect medical professionals who consider building new health clinics to inherently be able to determine the potential for floods, earthquakes, cyclones and so on. In addition, most recently climate change has been shown to substantially affect these hazards into the future. Similarly, take those dedicated to building schools in Kenya. Are they aware that earthquake risk exists alongside the more well-known drought risk? I believe it’s our responsibility as DRM specialists to make sure that this information is easily accessible and understandable.
That is why we at the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery are excited this week to launch ThinkHazard!—a tool that will get natural disaster information into the hands of the people who really “need to know”. It is our duty to equip project leaders and developers with information on what hazards exist, but also with knowledge on how to make their projects resilient to all major natural hazards today and into the future.
As an online disaster risk visualization tool, ThinkHazard! aims to provide users with information to make risk-informed choices. This is the first platform of its kind, allowing anyone to quickly find information on 8 different types of hazards in their search area. All information is open source and users are able to download all information freely. Uniquely, the tool generates a non-technical interpretation of the hazard environment, empowering non-experts to determine the level of natural hazards in their locality and encourage greater incorporation of risk management into project planning and design.
This tool, developed alongside our partners over the last two years, provides a one-stop-shop to inform users on the hazards within their geographic area and how to make their project resilient throughout all stages of project design and implementation.
ThinkHazard! is being launched this week at the 2016 Understanding Risk Forum in Venice. This five-day forum will gather over 500 participants from government agencies, multilateral organizations, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, academia, community-based organizations and more. Providing a global platform will be a key opportunity for major players in the DRM community to collaborate on the latest best practices and innovative techniques to promote the resilience agenda. However, in larger sense, ThinkHazard!’s ability to empower users of non-technical backgrounds to build a better understanding of risk uniquely contributes to the theme of global resilience driving the wider development agenda.
The international launch of ThinkHazard! will be Friday May 20, 2016 on ThinkHazard.org.