Natural Hazards Center
Boulder, CO 80309-0483
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org | (303) 735-5844
June 29, 2021
The Work We Do
I am often asked how I can study hazards and disasters and still remain hopeful, but I’m not alone. It seems that most of the people in our field have outlooks influenced by a sense that creating a safer and more sustainable world is possible. This is one of the many reasons that I so deeply respect the researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and others who have dedicated their professional lives to averting the avoidable harm and suffering caused by disasters.
I am concerned, though, about the people in this community. The hazards and disaster workforce is confronting an onslaught of ever more damaging disasters. As they do, they face the possibility of becoming burned out and overworked, the need to be more inclusive and diverse, and have less time and capacity to think creatively about the best way to do their work. This is what influenced the theme of the 46th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop.
This year’s theme—The Hazards and Disaster Workforce: Preparing to Meet 21st Century Challenges—will offer an opportunity to pause and assess how the workforce that we have can help to build the workforce that we need to address today’s grand social and environmental challenges. In anticipation of the Workshop, which will be held virtually from July 11 through 14, I wanted to share more background on the big issues and possibilities that are foreseeable. The major topics covered in this year’s concurrent and plenary sessions are representative of that.
Worker Burnout, Training, and Preparation. In the past 18 months, first responders and healthcare professionals have been working in a continual state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a cascade of climate-related disasters. Meanwhile, mitigation practitioners and researchers have labored to keep the focus on the long-term, systemic changes that are necessary to reduce future hazards loss. Concerns about worker burnout are growing, as are questions about if our current education and training programs will prepare students and professionals to address the social injustices and economic inequalities at the root of most disasters. It is also unclear if our current workforce is big enough or has the right skills and resources to address the pressures or today and the uncertain demands of the coming decades.
Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Support for Underserved Communities. Our keynote speaker at this year’s Workshop, Chauncia Willis, writes in her book Stretching that “We must get to the point where we view diversity, equity, and inclusion as a superpower, not a burden or additional requirement.” In many cases, when people refer to diversity, they are talking about demographic or social category diversity that can be defined as differences in readily identifiable attributes such as gender, age, ethnicity, and race. The most effective teams also pay attention to functional diversity, or differences associated with less visible skillsets or informational, cultural, and educational backgrounds. Diversity matters because when teams and organizations lack demographic or functional diversity, there is a risk that equitable policies or programs will be overlooked or practices that do harm to vulnerable people and communities could be implemented. In light of this, Willis argues that “when people create plans and policies, they must require representation from the community and consider existing inequities… before planning.”
Big Ideas to Strengthen the Hazards and Disaster Workforce. Much of the work we do in the hazards and disaster field is firmly rooted in science and practical applications. But one of our workforce’s greatest strength is perhaps intangible—our moral imagination. It is our sense of collective purpose that has long led members of this community to envision the possibilities inherent in investing in equitable solutions to mitigating hazards loss. This year’s Workshop will invite participants to examine ourselves and the work that must be done, day in and day out, to create change and improvement. Every participant will be asked to answer the question: What is the one big change that would help strengthen our hazards and disaster workforce? Our plan is to draw from your responses to chart a collective strategy to ensure we can rise together to meet 21st century challenges.
We sincerely hope you will join us for this year’s Workshop. At times it seems there is so much work to be done that it’s overwhelming, but I am reminded of how fortunate we are to have the opportunity make such a difference in the world.
Please take care of yourself and others.
Lori Peek, Director
Natural Hazards Center
Please visit the Director's Corner Index to read other contributions in this series.
Our Vision and Mission
Vision: We envision a just and equitable world where knowledge is applied to ensure that humans live in harmony with nature.
Mission: We are the National Science Foundation's designated information clearinghouse for the societal dimensions of hazards and disasters. We are dedicated to reducing disaster harm by:
• Translating and sharing hazards and disaster research and information;
• Building connections between researchers, nonprofit and private sector professionals, the media, policy makers, and local, state, and federal officials;
• Advancing social science and interdisciplinary knowledge, with a special emphasis on the most vulnerable populations and places; and
• Training and mentoring a diverse next generation of hazards and disaster professionals.
Every day, we work to empower a culture where all people are educated and inspired to take positive action to mitigate hazards losses and to build stronger communities.
A Brief History: The Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center was founded more than 40 years ago as a result of the landmark Assessment of Natural Hazards Research in the United States. Among the recommendations included in that publication, which would come to be known as the First Assessment, was that a national information clearinghouse be created to compile, translate, and share information, as well as connect the academic hazards research, emergency management, and policy communities. Shortly after the First Assessment was published, Gilbert F. White, who was the primary author of the work, led the charge to do just that. In 1976, he and his wife Anne—along with a small group of committed staff and students—began what is today’s Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
21st Century Purpose: More than four decades have passed, and the Natural Hazards Center is still an institution committed to creating a center of gravity for the hazards and disaster community. We care deeply about facilitating scientific and practice-oriented connections because we recognize that we are all living at risk, we are all interconnected, and we must all play a role in effectively responding to 21st century social and environmental challenges. Everything we do at the Center is informed by a justice and equity approach, and our core values are focused around our commitment to human dignity, collective wellbeing, scientific understanding, sustainable hazards mitigation, and environmental stewardship.
Who We Are: Our team currently includes a director, deputy administrator, professional staff, a postdoctoral research associate, professional research associates, graduate student research assistants, and undergraduate research assistants. More than twenty tenured or tenure-track faculty members and advanced graduate students in the University of Colorado system have joined the Center as research affiliates. The work of the Center is guided by an Advisory Committee made up of partners from the public and private sector and academia. To actualize our vision and mission and to fulfill our organizational purpose, we work closely with a variety of people, decision-makers, and organizations.
Funding Support: The Center is funded by the National Science Foundation, Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI), Program on Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment (HDBE) (Award #1635593) with supplemental support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Integrated Drought Information System (NOAA-NIDIS), NOAA Weather Program Office (NOAA-WPO), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (HHS-ASPR), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In addition, Center faculty and researchers have contracts and grants from a variety of other federal agencies and nonprofit organizations.