University of Copenhagen opens a Center for Disaster Research
With climate change increasingly wreaking havoc the world over, besides traditional natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, managing natural disasters more efficiently is a priority for the future. For that reason, the University of Copenhagen has created the Copenhagen Center for Disaster Research (COPE), a hub of multidisciplinary expertise on disaster management, based on analysis and intelligence.
One of the main concepts behind COPE is the Disaster Situation Room, a place where both researchers and specialists with first-hand experience in disaster relief can meet to brainstorm and provide advice during disasters. One of the key aspects of the center’s ethos is to bring analytical skills into disaster management. This includes factoring in, for instance, cultural aspects of the populations affected, which provide clues on how to proceed more effectively. The center will collect data from each case to build a knowledge bank by monitoring relief aid activities, media coverage and political agendas.
The media will be a main focus of the center’s work, since media coverage influences how relief work is carried out and what it achieves. Despite its role in creating awareness of disasters, its focus often can do more harm than good. Peter Kjær Mackie Jensen, head of the research center, cites as an example the relief efforts after the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. While people were dying in the streets, financial resources were going mainly towards digging survivors out of the rubble because the latter made for more dramatic TV.
The idea for the center was inspired by the handling of the 2004 tsunami in Asia during the Christmas holiday season. At the time, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. Faced with a tragedy of unprecedented scale, relief operations lacked coordination and, as a consequence, there was less collaboration between different fields of expertise than there could have been.
Given Denmark’s tradition of volunteering aid for nations around the world – no strings attached – I’m not surprised. This is the sort of venture we should see as an add-on to the work after-the-fact by FEMA in the United States, by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent around the world. Of course, don’t hold your breath waiting for Congress to fund a national effort. The Know-Nothings still don’t think that FEMA is necessary – and 67 members of the House voted against the minimal loan guarantee just passed to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy – weeks late.
Still, I can think of several universities here in the States ready and willing to take up ventures this sensible. The spirit of cooperation and humanism may not exist inside the DC Beltway; but, it’s alive and well in many institutions of higher learning.