University of Pittsburgh
March 14, 2011

Pitt Disaster Management Expert Louise Comfort Available to Discuss Recovery in Japan Following Friday’s Earthquake

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Louise Comfort, professor of public and urban affairs in the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and director of the school’s Center for Disaster Management, is available to discuss issues relating to Japan’s recovery following Friday’s earthquake.

“The impact of this very severe earthquake and tsunami disaster is a practical test of the significant investment in earthquake preparedness that Japan has made since the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake that struck the City of Kobe and neighboring communities,” says Comfort. “There were notable successes; Japanese earthquake engineering and the strict building codes withstood the severe shaking in the major cities that were 200-300 miles away.”

Comfort notes that there were other serious consequences that had not been anticipated. “The extensive network of seawalls that were built to protect small towns and villages along the coastline were ineffective, as the tsunami washed over them,” she says. “The design of protection mechanisms for the nuclear reactors was inadequate, and the communication and information transmission networks did not reach all of the people at risk.”

Comfort says the earthquake and resulting effects in Japan contain many lessons in both technical and organizational preparedness for catastrophic events. “These occurrences showed the interdependencies between the natural hazards of the earthquake and tsunami and the manmade hazards of nuclear reactors and seawalls,” says Comfort.

Comfort has conducted studies of emergency responses to most major earthquakes over the past two decades. She is the author of numerous articles on disaster response management, including, “Communication, Coherence, and Collective Action: The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Infrastructure” (Public Works Management and Policy, 2006) and “Cities at Risk: Hurricane Katrina and the Drowning of New Orleans” (Urban Affairs Review, 2006). In addition, Comfort (with Arjen Boin and Chris C. Demchak) edited Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).

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