Congratulations on being chosen as the 2018 recipient of the Daniel W. Halpin Award for Scholarship in Construction!
What does it mean to you professionally to have been awarded the Daniel W. Halpin Award?
I feel honored and humbled to have received this award. ASCE created the Daniel W. Halpin Award for Scholarship in Construction in 2011. Daniel Halpin is an Emeritus Professor at Purdue Engineering who is highly regarded and awarded. I follow in the footsteps of individuals who have done cutting edge, innovative and transformative work in Construction and related fields, and I am humbled to receive the award, and happy that they selected someone whose research focuses on the nexus of social and infrastructure systems.
You were selected by the Construction Institute for this award “for outstanding scholarship in the areas of disaster recovery and enhancing the global quality of life through socially sustainable infrastructure and for your contribution to advancing construction engineering through scholarship, mentoring and commitment to diversity.” How did you become interested in disaster recovery?
My doctoral training was in engineering and sociology. Aiding disaster recovery is a ‘wicked problem’ that is necessarily interdisciplinary and requires an understanding of not only infrastructure, but also social, economic, environmental, and governance aspects of communities impacted by natural (or human-made) disaster events. I feel that my training in disciplines and in multi- and mixed- methods would be an asset to helping address needed challenges in the field, and was drawn to the topic given the increasing number of disasters, their impacts on society, and, at the same time, the opportunity to ‘build back better’ after these events.
Why is it important for us to care about disasters that occur in other parts of the world?
Disaster events impact the world. Over 75% of the world’s population has been impacted by an event in some way. In developing communities, the impacts from these disaster events are amplified up to 20x that in more industrialized countries.
What is significant about “socially sustainable infrastructure”?
Coming from professional experience and training in designing and building infrastructure, there is often a focus on the short, versus the long-term, with operations and maintenance often one of the most neglected phases in planning. However, society must have the capacities to promote maintenance, longevity and functionality of infrastructure to continue to use and maintain these systems. Too often, infrastructure projects that do not address social sustainability will fail in society, having significant, long-term (often negative) impacts on the communities in which the infrastructure was implemented.
You have been commended for your mentoring and commitment to diversity; why is it important to you to involve people of all backgrounds in construction engineering?
Diverse backgrounds and perspectives provide new ways of thinking and world views that can help us design, construct, operate and maintain socially sustainable infrastructure for all of society, and allow us to innovate.
We would like to extend further congratulations to you on the recent release of your “Post Disaster Reconstruction” video.
How was the “Post Disaster Reconstruction” video created, and what objective did you have in mind when creating it?
When we proposed the project to NSF, we wanted to come up with new ways of communicating our scientific findings to the public, and hoped to also convey the scale of the problems and needs during recovery efforts following a disaster. My co-PI, Matthew Koschmann from Communication at CU, had previously developed similar animated videos, and I thought this medium would be an effective way to communicate with the public.
The video remarks on the problem of land tenure, where disaster-affected people are in danger of being evicted from their new houses because the proper land titles were not secured by the relief agency. How do communication and collaboration with local and national governments of disaster regions come into play in the context of solving these problems?
It important that we first recognize that land tenure in many developing countries is an ongoing challenge that exacerbates, and even contributes to, disasters. Secure land tenure provides protection for homeowners and investments by community members Solving issues of property rights are often beyond the scope of what humanitarian organizations should be asked to accomplish, but land tenure is important to consider, and coordinate, with local governments. For example, in cases of complex land rights, such as urban informal settlements, humanitarian organizations look to innovative ways of sheltering populations, such as providing rental subsidies, supporting hosting arrangements, or building temporary shelters that can be upgraded over time. Without security of land, however, our research found that shelter beneficiaries are less likely to engage and invest in resiliency building efforts, such as structural improvements, and are less satisfied with their shelter. Bridging this gap, coordination with local and national efforts plays a vital role in ensuring a comprehensive recovery strategy.
Why are informal meetings in places like cafés more effective for coordination efforts than formal meetings?
Formal meetings are still necessary, but they are often insufficient alone to ensure coordinated efforts. As indicated, post-disaster response and recovery efforts are wicked challenges. There is a need to assist affected communities rapidly, while also planning for the long-term, not just for infrastructure, but for social and economic recovery and risk reduction. There is a need to coordinate, for instance, within a sector in the Cluster System, such as shelter, while also coordinating with other sectors, such as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. We see that informal venues lessen fear of peer judgement - offering aid workers the opportunity to candidly discuss their programs without the constraints of social norms in public settings. While formal meetings can help gain consensus on recovery strategy, reduce redundancy, and duplication of services by organizations, informal meetings allow individuals to span beyond singular tasks and sectors and learn from each other in novel ways.
What are some of the biggest challenges we face in trying to train local citizens to maintain reconstructed infrastructure?
The biggest challenge we face in post-disaster training is no doubt scale. Humanitarian organizations seek to support hundreds of thousands of households in a short period of time – all while attending to needs across multiple sectors. This is further complicated by the time required for effective training. Learning new ways of building, and maintaining, infrastructure doesn’t just happen overnight. In the Philippines, we saw shelter training efforts guided by the development of ‘8 Key Messages’ produced by Shelter Cluster partners. These guidelines laid out areas where homeowners could improve the quality of construction during rebuilding. The messages were used a way to standardize training across programs while also provide simple ways to improve the safety of shelter. While overall policies like the ‘8 Key Messages’ lay out a roadmap, we need to avoid the urge to ‘check the box’ when it comes to training. In other words, we need to look beyond what we might think of as convention training like lectures and printed books. From our research, we found that homeowners naturally acquired knowledge through observation of their neighbors and social ties – areas that need to be leveraged when planning training programs. Lastly, we need to recognize our own basis as an international community when responding to global disasters. Too often we discount local knowledge in favor out outside expertise. Local builders and communities have adopted building typologies to meet local climatic conditions and hazards – disregard for these can introduce ill-suited infrastructure solutions.
April 11st 2018