Getting Creative in the Face of Disaster

Winter 2015

Judy Mitraini-Reiser

Stemming the cascade of catastrophe that occurs when an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or other disaster strikes a community is the focus of a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to researchers from a trio of universities, including Johns Hopkins.

“We understand how physical infrastructure fails in the face of disasters, and can provide suggestions on how to change building codes and guidelines,” says Judy Mitrani-Reiser, an assistant professor of civil engineering, who will lead the study. “With this new award, we are looking at critical infrastructure in the context of providing key community functions: the educational system, the health care system, the governmental system. What real physical infrastructure do you need for a system to function? If the courthouse falls down, can you hold sessions at a backup location to support a fraction or all of its daily functions?”

Mitrani-Reiser has conducted firsthand studies of the impact of earthquakes on health care delivery systems in Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand, as well as the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “I like to push the envelope and study what the impact is on the people of the community,” she says.

The goal of the NSF-funded study is to help communities model and prepare for a major emergency across a wide range of services. “We want communities to be creative in the ways that they prepare for future emergencies,” says Mitrani-Reiser. “We want to embolden them with better tools to make important future decisions.”

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