Friday, December 12, 2014

Office for Learning and Teaching Grant Success

I am delighted to announce that our group has secured a $50,000 grant from the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching to develop a concept for a disaster resilience system simulator.

The project, entitled 'Modelling disaster resilience: enhancing student learning through trans-disciplinary simulation of wicked scenarios (RES-SIM)​', will be carried out by a project team led by Dr von Meding, supported by Dr Giggins and Dr Kanjanabootra from UoN and Dr Vanessa Cooper from RMIT.

This project has already attracted some media interest, with the ABC running a story online and on local radio

The project team are very pleased to be able to work on this project and look forward to getting up and running in early 2015! I have included a summary below. 

Project Summary:

The RES-SIM project is a collaboration between the University of Newcastle and RMIT University that proposes to develop the conceptual model for a virtually distributed computer-based teaching and learning tool that enables students within and across disciplines (e.g. engineering, architecture, logistics), both on and off campus, to collaboratively acquire essential decision-making skills through immersion in a dynamic disaster system simulation. The concept stems from game theory, competition theory and system theory. Societal systems and subsystems (e.g. health systems, transport systems, political systems) are vulnerable to a range of destabilising variables, from the immediate impacts of disasters (natural or man-made) on various system components to the subsequent responses of decision-makers. In many fields, including disaster response, simulations generally rely upon face-to-face, resource intensive scenarios or involve ‘event-based’ simulations, which fail to fully engage the systems of society that are impacted by shocks and hazards. Students are emerging from higher education with theoretical knowledge of complex systems but little in the way of tangible experience. Phase 2 of the RES-SIM project (beyond the scope of this project) will create a simulation tool that recognises these dynamics, while allowing the ‘game’ controller the flexibility to manipulate the conditions during the simulation itself to mimic the chaotic nature of disaster scenarios. This will create an environment that yields rich participatory experiences for students and embedded conceptual learning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Disaster resilience in L'Aquila (Italy)

On 6th April 2009, an earthquake hit the Italian city of L’Aquila and definitively compromised its pre-existing social and physical structures. In disaster studies, L’Aquila has represented the litmus of “traditional” top-down and clientelistic practices by Italian government and the strong politicization of post-disaster emergency, reconstruction and recovery. The new sprawling city resulting by institutional strategies ignored the social and spatial peculiarities of L’Aquila and trivialized the centuries-old relations between the historical centre of the city and its surrounding neighbourhoods, with current and long-term consequences for the everyday life of the inhabitants.

Several scholars have explored the multiple and complex dimensions of post-disaster L’Aquila: from psychological consequences to changes in the built environment, from social transformations to urban networks and connectivity issues, from social movements to cultural heritage damages. Recently, I have published two papers aiming to investigate the resilience process enacted by emergent grassroots groups in the reconstruction of L’Aquila. These groups are spontaneous and autonomous, and proposed and enacted own ideas and initiatives in reconstructing the city.

The first paper is co-authored with Francesca Fois; it analyses in-depth the functioning of the EVA ecovillage community in developing its own resilience process and in exploiting the window of opportunity, opened by the earthquake, through sustainable practices of everyday life. The second paper analyses and describes the disaster resilience by some emergent groups in L’Aquila, considered as a shared and bottom-up process, rather than a top-down and paternalistic outcome. The paper asserts the integration of the disaster resilience process into institutional strategies would have more successful targeted the needs of local communities during the reconstruction process. Both papers shed light on a qualitative dimension of resilience, that requires more investigation and debate in literature to clearly depict the social and political context in which disasters and related resilience take place.  

If you are interested in my papers, you can find here the first and here the second, and both on my Academia profile.

Any comment is welcome.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

December Group Updates

2015 International Conference on Building Resilience

Thank you to all who have submitted abstracts for the 2015 International Building Resilience Conference from 15-17 July 2015. We look forward to welcoming a diverse group of international delegates to Newcastle and we are pleased to announce that our keynote speakers will be Professor Kevin Hall (Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Newcastle), Professor Makarand Hastak (Head of Construction Engineering and Management, Purdue University) and Dr Louise Brooke-Smith (Global President, RICS). The abstract deadline has now been extended until 5th January so there is still time to get involved! Click here to find out more.

REACT Network

Delegates from the University of Newcastle and Beijing Normal University are currently in Taipei for the second REACT Network event. There is a full schedule planned, including research collaboration meetings, studio-based consultations with students, formal seminars and community resilience field visits. Ming Chuan University will kindly host the visit.

5th World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, Sendai

Dr von Meding and Dr Gajendran will be attending the 5th World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in March as official delegates of the CIB (International Council for Building). CIB W120 Disasters and the Built Environment, the University of Newcastle and Loughborough University will host and facilitate a special public 'Built Environment DRR Research Forum'. The Forum will showcase research from around the globe that has supported the goals of the Hyogo Framework for Action over the past decade, informing the post-2015 framework with empirical and theoretical advances. A panel of international speakers will share a wealth of evidence spanning hundreds of research projects over the past decade.

Successful CAESIE Grant

A team from the group, led by Dr Gajendran, were recently successful with a proposal to fund collaborative meetings with a UK SME (Ostick & Williams Architects, Belfast). The meetings, hosted in Newcastle, will explore whether the development of a technological tool and operational framework for evaluating built environment resilience to flood events is possible within a digital environment. The staff from O&W will visit Australia in March 2015. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Call for Papers

cfp Cross-sectorial and Multi-scalar Perspectives of Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Integration

Dear readers,

Within the 5th International Conference on Building Resilience, to be hosted by the University of Newcastle (Australia) on 15-17 July 2015, we will be holding a Special Session entitled “Cross-sectorial and Multi-scalar Perspectives of Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Integration”, organized by Giuseppe Forino, Jason von Meding and Graham Brewer (University of Newcastle).

The Fifth Assessment Report by IPCC and the post-Hyogo 2015 framework by UNISDR recognize the increasing role of climate change in exacerbating and generating disaster risks. Accordingly, the debate about the integration of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is also growing among researchers and policy-makers. Scholars have investigated common grounds, barriers, challenges and opportunities of this integration, as well as its potential role in reducing vulnerability and strengthening resilience and development. With a cross-sectorial and multi-scalar perspective, this session aims to investigate theoretical frameworks and case studies related to CCA and DRR integration, exploring its meanings, practices and different approaches in terms both of policies and actions. We seek empirically grounded and theoretically informed contributions to explore this integration from any related discipline.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

· Downscaling of CCA&DRR international policies
· National Adaptation Strategies/Plans and DRR
· Regional/rural/urban approaches to CCA&DRR integration
· Resilience, vulnerability, development and CCA&DRR integration
· Planning and CCA&DRR integration
· Governance approaches
· Role of stakeholders, collaboration and conflicts
· Grassroots and CCA&DRR integration
· Different meanings and perceptions of CCA and DRR among researchers, governments and stakeholders


· Birkmann, J., von Teichman, K., (2010) Integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation: key challenges - scales, knowledge, and norms, Sustainability Science, 5, 171-184.

· Birkmann, J., Pardoe, J. (2014) Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction: Fundamentals, Synergies and Mismatches, in Glavovic B.P, Smith G.P, (eds.), Adapting to Climate Change. Lessons from Natural Hazards Planning, Dordrecht: Springer, 41-50.

· Howes, M., Tangney, P., Reis, K., Grant-Smith, D., Heazle, M., Bosomworth, K., Burton, P. (2014) Towards networked governance: improving interagency communication and collaboration for disaster risk management and climate change adaptation in Australia, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2014.891974.

· Lei, Y., Wang, J. (2014) A preliminary discussion on the opportunities and challenges of linking climate change adaptation with disaster risk reduction, Natural Hazards, 71(3), 1587-1597.

· Schipper, L., Pelling, M. (2006) Disaster risk, climate change and international development: scope for, and challenges to, integration,Disasters, 30(1), 19-38.

Please send an abstract of 250 words to Giuseppe Forino (, Jason von Meding ( and Graham Brewer ( by 2nd January. We will notify the acceptance of abstracts by 3rd January. Please check all the important dates and deadlines on the conference website. After our feedback, abstracts should be submitted through the online conference management system by 5th January. A selection of papers may be part of a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Key barriers in post-disaster reconstruction projects

In the 5+ years that I have been examining the operations of NGOs in post-disaster reconstruction, there have been significant moves made to combat some of the issues that have been heavily criticised in the past- skill deficiency, cultural ignorance, resource 'stretch' mentality among others. Some of the key outcomes of my work in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have been to identify the key PDR barriers that NGOs face in seven key areas (see image below), and to provide evidence that organisations must deploy certain configurations of organisational and operational competencies in order to effectively develop and implement strategies to address these barriers.

The research argues that the utilisation of these competencies, deployed in targeted clusters, has the potential to create positive outcomes for beneficiaries as measured by PDR Project Success Indicators (PDRPSIs). If dynamic tools can be developed that effectively model competency and predict success, all organisations involved in disaster response and recovery could benefit. In addition, the knowledge is highly transferable to other sectors and environments.

If you are interested in the research, check out my new paper.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

REACT Network Inaugural visit, Beijing, October 2014

As announced in July, 2014, the D&D group were awarded an Australia-China Council 2014-2015 Grant. The grant is administered by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the purpose of the grant is to establish Resilience Education Australia-China-Taipei (REACT) Network. The lead collaborators are 1) Dr Jason von Meding, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, 2) Prof Qian Ye, School of System Science, Beijing Normal University and 3) Dr Wan-yu Shih, Department of Urban Planning and Disaster Management, Ming Chuan University.

The inaugural REACT Network activity was a visit to The School of Systems Science, Beijing Normal University (China) 12-17 October 2014. The research team from The University of Newcastle included Assoc Prof Graham Brewer and Dr Sittimont Kanjanabootra with Dr Wan-yu Shih and Dr Wen-Yen Lin from Ming Chuan University. The delegations were hosted by Prof Zhangang Han from BNU.

This first REACT event was primarily about establishing the relationship between members from the different universities, as well as identifying common ground where team members research interests are aligned. We hope to develop research collaboration expertise to seek future funding at national and international level, as well as producing interdisciplinary research publications and resilience education initiatives. The primary research areas include, disaster, hazards, resilience, urban planning, built environment, community engagement, IT and Complex Systems, Biology and Ecology Complex Systems.

A series of meetings were held between the delegations, including virtual attendance and participation by Prof Qian Ye (in USA) and Dr von Meding (in Australia). During this visit Prof Han kindly provided a research seminar venue for REACT Network members to present their research activities for project participants, as well as for students and researchers at Beijing Normal University. The seminar included:

1. Prof Zhangang Han: Introduction of School of Systems Science and research highlight

2. Prof Qian Ye: Integrated Risk Governance Project- History, Achievement and Future Plan

3. Associate Prof Graham Brewer: Societal risk reduction, resilient adaptation and the acceptance of the evidence: reflections on the Australian policy response to climate change.

4. Dr Sittimont Kanjanabootra: The built environment, disasters and information systems.

5. Dr Wan-yu Shih: Urban planning for climate change adaptation- on-going student and research projects in Ming Chuan University

6. Dr Wen-Yen Lin: Overview of the Department of Urban Planning and Disaster Management, Ming Chuan University

The following is a summary of the REACT Network inaugural visit outcomes:

· REACT Network virtual (online) collaborative working space has been established
· REACT Network Researcher Directory has been established
· REACT Network member’s personal research areas list has been established
· REACT Network education programs mapping has been established
· Activities for next visit at Department of Urban Planning and Disaster Management, Ming Chuan University is now being developed

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Qian Ye, Professor Zhangang Han and the research team at the School of System Science, Beijing Normal University for your great hospitality, administrative work and generous support for this inaugural visit.






Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September Group Updates

Group Represented at IDRC2014 and Building Resilience 2014

Drs Brewer, Giggins and von Meding recently travelled to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the International Disaster Risk Conference 2014. The group hosted a special session on slow-onset disasters and participated widely in sessions and the poster exhibition area.

Drs Thayaparan and Brewer just returned from the International Building Resilience Conference 2014, in Salford, UK, where they presented work from the research group and officially announced that UoN will host the 2015 Building Resilience Conference from 15-17 July 2015. Abstracts are due by 1st December 2014.

Project News

The REACT Network will formally convene in China in October, when Drs Brewer, Thayaparan and Kanjanabootra travel to Beijing along with delegates from Ming Chuan University. Beijing Normal University will host and facilitate a range of activities during the 1 week visit.

We are also pleased to announce that Dr Mackee and Dr von Meding were recently successful in obtaining $21,500 for a proposal entitled 'Disaster resilience and professional practice in developing countries: The Chinese Experience' as part of the UoN Student Mobility Scheme. This project will enable Master of Disaster Preparedness and Reconstruction students to undertake travel to China in 2015.

New PhD Scholars

In the past few months, the group has welcomed two new doctoral students to the team. Dieu Chinh Luu is a lecturer at the National University of Civil Engineering in Hanoi, Vietnam, and has commenced work on a project investigating the relationship of the hydropower industry in Vietnam to national flood risk mitigation. Giuseppe Forino arrives from Italy to undertake a second PhD (a glutton for punishment) and will be studying the role of the minerals sector in the governance of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

cfp Book Abstract: DEMOCRACY, DISASTERS & GOVERNANCE Sara Bonati, Lina M. Calandra, Giuseppe Forino

Dear researchers and practitioners,

Routledge has called for a new research book series on Hazards, Disaster Risk and Climate Change, edited by Ilan Kelman. It seeks (co-)authored and (co-)edited proposals that should, ideally, contain contributions from a range of geographic locations.  Proposals should involve well-established scholars, investigating the links between hazards, disasters and climate change.

Sara Bonati, Lina M. Calandra and Giuseppe Forino have prepared a draft proposal entitled Disaster, Democracy and Governance, as you will see below. In order to ensure an effective proposal to the publisher, we plan to also submit a potential chapter outline of the book. Therefore, we are requesting that scholars potentially interested in contributing a chapter to the upcoming edited book would register their interest.

At this stage we cannot guarantee that our proposal will be accepted for publication. However, we are confident that the support of expert authors will add significant value to the proposal in this important research area. If you are genuinely interested in an eventual participation in our edited book, we will be very happy to consider your manuscript.

We ask you to suggest: a) a potential title of your contribution; b) the Section your contribution could be part of; c) a short abstract (about 200-300 words) with a description of aims, methodology and expected results.
The deadline for proposals is September 30th. Once the book outline proposal is (hopefully) accepted, we will contact you asking to submit your full original chapter in about 6 months.

We hope the initial time investment in this proposal would be relatively small, as you may already have drafts ready. We look forward to working with you. Please direct all inquiries regarding Disaster, Democracy and Governance and your abstract proposal to,,

Best wishes,
Sara, Lina and Giuseppe

Sara Bonati, Lina M. Calandra, Giuseppe Forino

This is an invited, edited volume from scholars across all disciplines engaging with multidisciplinary articulations of disaster management. It analyses theoretically, empirically and critically the interdependence among democracy, disasters and governance, and includes worldwide case studies.

According to Beck’s theory on “risk society”, local and global dynamics are intertwined, and contribute to frame new social, environmental and political risks in future scenarios of places and countries. Within this context, local communities are requiring new mitigation, adaptation and resilience processes in disasters. Based on these statements, recognizing the strict link of disaster management with democracy implies also to reflect on the emergence of governance strategies able to integrate local communities in the governing of places. In order to highlight the most recent trends in disaster studies, the volume asks for contributions that critically analyse and discuss local, integrative and inclusive strategies of disaster management.

Section A of this book investigates the theoretical and conceptual framing of the complex relationships among democracy and disasters. According to Amartya Sen’s assumption that “a country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy”, this section discusses if and how the “democratisation” of disaster management can contribute to increase its effectiveness, and if and how disaster management can strengthen or neglect the democratic functioning of local systems.

Section B focuses on the multiple models of risk and disaster governance. It explores multi-scalar and multi-level approaches to governance, as well as discussing strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities of multi-stakeholders approaches, inclusiveness and participation processes, and the role of democracy in the governance of disasters.

Section C is mainly empirical and investigates significant worldwide case studies, which refer to the exchange of experiences between local and scientific communities and to community-led and place-based approaches.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

‘Stop the boats’...but for how long? Mounting Humanitarian Crises and Australia’s Asylum Seekers

Around the world, when natural and man-made hazards meet human vulnerability there are devastating consequences. The impacts of climate change, rapid urbanisation and a growing economic divide will undoubtedly force more people into conditions of extreme disaster risk. It is inevitable that many of these people will attempt to find safe and secure living conditions for their families, away from exposure to disaster risk.

At the same time we are witnessing an explosion of conflict and instability on the global stage. Across multiple continents, people groups are divided across religious, cultural and ideological lines, and as a consequence violent conflict rages. Adding fuel to the fire, spending on global militarisation has grown exponentially in recent times. The impact of this 'arming-to-the-teeth' is felt around the world where such weapons are put into use, usually far away from countries that produce them.

The number of people displaced by conflict and persecution grows daily, as a constant flow of refugees are forced from countries like Iraq and Syria. Those displaced are mainly hosted in adjacent countries but are often hoping for permanent settlement in a safe country, fleeing conflict, persecution and an absence of human rights. In the coming years people will not only flee conditions of disaster risk. They will flee climate change impacts. They will flee conflict and persecution. They will flee poverty and inequality. It is clear that we are facing mounting humanitarian crises in the years to come.

What are the key drivers of these conditions humanity finds herself trapped in? Lack of education? Corruption? Geopolitics? Neoliberal economics? Crony capitalism?

As the international community faces up to an age of human displacement, Australia stands determined to prevent anyone reaching its shores, no matter what they may be fleeing from. A shift towards a military-style border defence operation since the Coalition government took office in 2013, as well as the offshore detention policy carried over from Labour, has drawn widespread criticism from national/global watchdogs. The use of Manus Island and Nauru as a ‘deterrent’ or ‘punishment’ for seeking asylum from the conditions outlined above has brought Australia under the spotlight in the international press. Will cruelty against the victims of global humanitarian crises that arrive in Australia do anything to prevent more and more asylum seekers being produced in future?

Has cruelty ‘stopped the boats’? Or is there a military operation massively invested in locating, stopping and returning the boats? How is the horror of offshore detention making any difference, apart from diminishing Australia’s reputation on the international stage? Is the current cruelty a ‘necessary evil’? What are the other options? Instead of considering a more compassionate way to participate in solving the global displacement crisis, Australia is focused on shipping off its existing refugees arrived by boat, while ensuring that there are no further arrivals by pushing boats back to Indonesia and refouling asylum seekers to Sri Lanka

Ask yourself this: If you feared for your own and your family’s safety, would you not use whatever means you had to protect them? If you had the financial means to secure passage to another country to seek asylum, would you instead choose to seek out a refugee camp and wait for 5-10 years for resettlement? We must not ignore the suffering of those asylum seekers with means, simply because there are others without means to do the same thing.

The question is, therefore; for how long can Australia maintain a 'push-back' policy in the face of increasing human displacement, due to mounting humanitarian crises caused by multiple hazards, both rapid and slow-onset, as well as increasingly chronic human vulnerability and global economic inequality? 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The research group are delighted to announce that our proposal to establish the Resilience Education Australia-China-Taipei (REACT) Network has been successful under the Australia-China Council grant scheme. The University of Newcastle will collaborate on this project with Beijing Normal University (China) and Ming Chuan University (Chinese Taipei).

The REACT Network aims to facilitate lasting collaboration between the partners in the area of disaster resilience, to invigorate a regional resilience education movement, and to position the network partners strategically to lead wider initiatives that protect society from shocks to physical, socio-cultural, politico-economic and natural systems. 

Project Team Leaders:

University of Newcastle- Dr Jason von Meding
Beijing Normal University- Prof Qian Ye
Ming Chuan University- Dr Wan-yu Shih

More details will follow in due course. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Group Updates

ANDROID Doctoral School

Dr Mackee and Dr von Meding were recently invited to deliver a course on 'Overall Systems Resilience' as part of the 2014 ANDROID Online Doctoral School. This programme was run as part of the EU funded ANDROID network and saw several dozen PhD students engage with Jamie and Jason over a Blackboard Collaborate system. It was exciting to see young researchers so eager to explore detailed aspects of resilience in systems, and participants had many interesting questions leading to discussion with the presenters. Special thanks to Prof Srinath Perera and Dr Irina Shklovski for the invitation.

Project News

Two projects related to the Disaster and Development group were recently successful in receiving funding from the discipline of Construction Management at UoN. Dr Von Meding and his CIB W120 joint-coordinator Dr Lee Bosher will be undertaking a study entitled 'Forming Strategy for Resilience in Non-Government Organisations,' while Dr Michael Mak and Dr von Meding will investigate 'A Holistic Framework for Urban Resilience using Feng Shui Approach.' 

New PhD Scholars

The group recently welcomed Steven Crick, a Senior Environmental Scientist from Parsons Brinckerhoff, on board as a part-time PhD researcher. He will be investigating slow-onset disasters in the Hunter Region, particularly looking at DRR and climate adaptation policy. In addition, in the next month we are expecting full-time PhD students from both Vietnam and Italy to join the research group. The arrival of these researchers will bring the number of PhD students in the group to 5, further establishing Disaster and Development research within the University. 

Papers/ Conferences

The group will be represented at the upcoming CIB2014 conference, to be held at the Kandalama Hotel in Sri Lanka next month, by Dr Gajendran and PhD scholar Rafiu Salami. Rafiu will present his paper 'Deficient Housing: Development of a New Theoretical Perspective on Poverty Traps,' which outlines development of the theoretical framework underpinning his PhD research. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Upcoming W120 meetings

This is a quick post to provide an updated meeting schedule for CIB W120 'Disasters and the Built Environment' to anyone who might wish to participate in our dynamic research network by linking up at a conference!

- IDRC 2014, Davos, Switzerland: 24-28 August 2014 

- 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, Sendai, Japan: 14-18 March 2015

- i-Rec 2015, University College London, UK: [dates TBC]

- Building Resilience Conference 2015, Newcastle, Australia: 10-12 September 2015

- World Building Congress 2016, Finland: 30 May-3 June 2016

In addition, please feel free to browse information on W120 or check out our LinkedIn Group
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