Conference Themes

NCSE's Disasters and Environment Conference will focus on six interconnected themes: Cascading Disasters, the Intersection of the Built and Natural Environments, Disasters as Mechanisms of Ecosystem Change, Rethinking Recovery and Expanding the Vision of Mitigation, Human Behavior and its Consequences, and "No Regrets" Resilience.  The conference will address connections among these themes through its keynote addresses, plenary sessions, symposia and breakout workshops.

1. Cascading Disasters: As evidenced by the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, environmental disasters can be comprised of a series of devastating events with complex interrelationships.  Disasters are often sudden events such as storm surges or fires, occurring on top of slow moving events like sea level rise or droughts driven by climate change.  The conference will "unfold" the underlying relationships of environmental disasters and develop strategies to address them in more effective, holistic ways.

2. Intersection of the Built and Natural Environments: Human communities along coastlines can be particularly susceptible to storms; communities near wildlands can be particularly vulnerable to fires; urban communities are increasingly impacted by nearby earthquakes; and communities in floodplains can be defenseless when a levee is overtopped or fails or the infrastructure is unable to cope with stormwaters.  These are just three examples of the heightened risks to disasters that occur at the interface of built and natural environment. Where and how society builds, and how it manages natural resources, can minimize or magnify the impacts of natural disasters.  The conference will explore ties between the built and natural environment in responding to environmental disasters.

3. Disasters as Mechanisms of Ecosystem Change: Disasters (natural, man-made, technological, and climate change –related) can drive profound and lasting changes in ecosystem structure, function, and services.  The vulnerability of social, economic, and ecological systems to disasters is highly interconnected due to the complexity of these ecosystems and our dependence on the services they provide.  This conference theme examines how disasters have triple bottom line impacts based on the interconnections between these systems and disaster-driven ecological changes.  It also explores ecosystem-based and integrated systemic approaches to disaster risk reduction and resilience across the disaster planning life-cycle (mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery).

Cross-cutting themes:

4.  Rethinking Recovery and Expanding the Vision of Mitigation: Benjamin Franklin's observation that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is profound relevant to the consideration of environmental disasters mitigation and recovery.  Automatic rebuilding in flood plains and fire zones are common and recurring examples, but there are deeper issues when the act of recovery from a disaster offers unique opportunities to achieve more resilient communities.  Actions that reduce the severity of environmental disasters can become "no regrets" mitigation measures resulting in societal benefits even if a disaster never strikes.  The conference will challenge participants to rethink and re-envision the concepts of mitigation and recovery and what they mean in terms of practical actions.

5.  Human Behavior and its Consequences: As evidenced by those who chose to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached and those who chose to stay, human behavior before, during and after an environmental disaster can make the difference between trajedy and mere inconvenience.  How can the public become more prepared before a disaster occurs and be able to make the best decisions?  How can they be equipped to help themseleves, their friends and families, and their neighbors when disaster strikes?  The conference will confront contradictions and trade-offs in human behavior and explore many opportunities to save lives.

6. "No Regrets" Resilience Case Studies: The word "resilience" at this conference will capture the ability of a community confronted by environmental disasters to resist damage and to recover rapidly.  "No regrets" resilience embodies the concept that there are actions which make a community resilient to environmental disasters and result in positive societal benefits even if a disater never strikes -- hence, "no regrets."


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