SEMINAR: Public perception and political challenges of natural hazard risk in the built environment

The cost of natural disasters continues to rise around the world, in part because of population growth, urbanization and the pressures they place on land use, and also in part because policy makers continue to undervalue natural hazard risk in long-term planning. The shortcoming in reducing the vulnerability of infrastructure lies partly with engineers and risk professionals, who must be aware of public perceptions of risk and political process rationality, which present inherent incompatibilities. Engineers need to know which measures of risk are most meaningful or relevant to decision makers, and then be able to communicate those risks, as well as the costs and benefits of mitigation, in concise, credible, meaningful terms.

A major challenge is demonstrating a need to those who may have difficulty extrapolating personal experiences to low-probability, high-consequence events. Research and examination of case studies has led to the identification of five key issues central to effective risk and retrofit communication: (1) public risk perception, (2) public participation in hazard mitigation planning, (3) incorporation of community values, (4) incompatibility of political motivation and long-term planning, and (5) financing of risk and return. These issues provide a framework for understanding the challenges to promoting retrofit and for developing communication strategies to overcome them. 

Ross B. Corotis, NAE
Denver Business Challenge Professor of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Ross Corotis studies probabilistic concepts and decision perceptions for structural engineering problems, particularly hazards in the built environment, and the coordinated roles of engineering and social science for framing and communicating long-term risks and resiliency.

With all of his degrees from MIT, he served as a professor at Northwestern University, Dean of CU, and founded the Department of Civil Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He has won many awards, chaired committees on structural safety for ASCE and ACI, the Executive Committee of the International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability, and was editor of “Structural Safety and the ASCE “Journal of Engineering Mechanics.”

For The National Academies he serves on the Laboratory Assessment Board and the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment. He has also served on the steering committee of the Disasters Roundtable, chaired the Committee on NIST Technical Programs, the assessment of the NIST Engineering Laboratory, several study committees on risk and natural hazards, and chaired the Civil Engineering Section of the National Academy of Engineering. In 2007-2008 he served in the U.S. Department of State as a science advisor. He is a registered professional engineer and structural engineer, distinguished member of ASCE, and author of more than 200 publications.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm
304 Ramsay Hall