Hazard busters leap into action

September 5, 1997

A REINSURANCE group is sponsoring the first multidisciplinary hazard centre in Britain at University College London.

The research into natural hazards, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and global warming, should help predict disasters like Montserrat's volcanic eruption more effectively - and save people's lives and reinsurers' money.

The Greig Fester Centre for Hazard Research is sponsored by reinsurance specialists Greig Fester. Building on the university's expertise, the centre will house experts from about a dozen departments in UCL and Birkbeck College.

Bill McGuire holds the first Greig Fester chair in geohazards and has worked as part of a rota of scientists monitoring volcanic activity in Montserrat.

He said: "Natural hazards affected 820 million people in the 1970s and 1980s, and claimed three million lives. The annual cost for these disasters was well in excess of $60 billion. This kind of research should save reinsurers a lot of money in the long term, as well as saving lives." Under Professor McGuire's direction the centre is staffed by researchers in space and climate physics and geological sciences at UCL and the geology department at Birkbeck.

The centre is involved in research on global warming, hurricane forecasting, characterising areas which are prone to landslides and mitigating volcanic risk to vulnerable island communities.

It is also is developing a PC-based natural hazard simulator for training civil protection personnel. "The simulator is almost like a computer game which throws various situations at the trainee. For example, your escape route might be blocked by a lava flow or an accident somewhere blocks escape. Or the power might shut down. How do you get people out? The visual aspect gives a much better idea than reading a manual."

"Hopefully in a year or two it will be ready for testing," says Professor McGuire. "It should have a huge impact."

Don's Diary, page 14

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