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Dr. Phillips in Mexico
May 22, 2017 : OUC Associate Dean keynotes Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference in Mexico


OUC Associate Dean keynotes Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference in Mexico


Ohio University Chillicothe Associate Dean, Dr. Brenda Phillips, will be a keynote speaker discussing social vulnerabilities and early warning disaster preparedness at the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference in Cancún, Mexico, May 22 through 23, 2017.


Phillips is a renowned scholar in emergency management and disaster preparedness and serves as a subject matter expert for the U.S. Office of the Federal Coordinator of Meteorology.


The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, as recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, is the main forum at the global level for strategic advice, coordination, partnership development and the review of progress in the implementation of international instruments on disaster risk reduction.


The Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference, held by invitation only, aims to demonstrate to countries how they can build, improve the availability of, and their community’s access to, multi-hazard early warning, risk information and assessment. Specifically, it seeks to inform how countries and international organizations can address key gaps in information dissemination, while highlighting the importance of strengthening efforts for individual and cluster hazards early warning systems.


Dr. Phillips’ talk, titled, “Risk Informed Early Warning Systems – the first mile with socially vulnerable populations,” will highlight social vulnerabilities and how to utilize early warning systems to inform highly vulnerable populations.


“The goal is to try to improve early warning systems and to help people understand what their risks are and to help organizations, emergency managers, meteorologists and others be ready to help people, involve people, and support people through that process,” Phillips said. “We want to make sure that people can get information, understand it and can act on it as quickly as possible.”


“My role in giving the keynote is to motivate and inspire people to get them focused on who is most vulnerable and how do we reduce that vulnerability,” she noted. “How can we make this planet a safer place for everybody?”


Phillips’ topic emphasizes building partnerships in a variety of groups that will increase efficacy for early warnings of disasters.


“How do we work at the household level with encouraging families to be more risk informed and more ready to be able to evacuate or shelter? Or, how do we work with the faith-based sector and involve Pastors, Rabbis, or Imams to be able to help us get information out to their followers and to understand what the risks are that face them,” she questioned. “They’ve been involved in response efforts for a long time, so let’s get them involved on the front end and then build partnerships to make sure that those who are in the highest risks can do that.”



Vulnerabilities are particularly dependent based upon the location of the people, and how they live and work to sustain their livelihoods and families. These populations each face unique challenges in regard to early warning notifications and risk reduction, which aren’t carried out in the traditional means of notification that we would use in the United States.


“In certain locations, people have to be at the coast because that’s where their homes and their work is located – even when we’ve tried to move them further inland, they resist because it makes their life more difficult. So, people are actually forced into hard choices about where they’re going to live in order to feed their families,” she noted. “So, there are some island nations that are pretty isolated that are vulnerable to climate change, increased sea level rise and tsunami events. In these locations, there are also legends and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation about how they survived previous catastrophic events, and my question to the audience will be, ‘How can we leverage that knowledge that people have within their own cultures to act on it so that they can recognize what happens [when a disaster is approaching]?’”


Phillips noted a particularly sad story about the aftermath of a tsunami in India when approximately 18,000 residents died due to the storm surge and flooding that occurred.


“When the water pulled back, people ran forward because they saw fish and shells and things that they kids could get to and they’d never seen anything like this before and they didn’t have an understanding of what was about to happen,” she explained. “So, when the wave came back, it was 30 to 40 feet high and we lost approximately 18,000 people in a 5 kilometer stretch of India.”


Phillips talked about other island nations that have legends about previous tsunamis including Vanuatu, which describes the weather event in the form of two bears who were angry with each other. One is very arrogant and stays on the shore and the other bear decides to seek higher ground after seeing the water pull back and he goes up the hill and survives.


“You can leverage these stories – the knowledge bases that people have - to be able to make them safer,” she said. “Maybe in the U.S., it’s in a tweet that this information can go out, but maybe some place else, it’s a story that has to be passed down.”


The overall goal is to seek ways to get information to people so that they can make good decisions so that when they get these warnings they can respond appropriately.


“We know that when we give people warnings they hesitate or wait to confirm with each other before taking action,” Phillips noted. “We really need to kick start that, but how? We can combat it through social networks such as their faith communities, their neighborhoods, parent-teacher organizations, and even medical providers.”


She underscored that someone you know personally, and trust, holds more credibility and increases the likelihood of people responding to the message, in this case, an early warning for a disaster.


A large portion of the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction focuses on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a global agreement adopted at the third UN World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, which Dr. Phillips talk in the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference deals with. By discussing risk informed early warning systems, the message becomes clear, as the Sendai Framework outlines the shift from disaster management to risk management. The goal of the UN adopting the Sendai Framework is, over the course of 15 years, to develop mechanisms across the globe that address the underlying drivers of disaster risk and establish a clear expected outcome focused on reducing risk.  


Throughout the rest of the conference, leaders from around the world will meet to discuss the challenges being faced to reduce the risk of disasters. More than 300 dignitaries, leaders, Parliamentarians and others global partners will be in attendance.


Dr. Phillips’ talk is one of seven sessions held over the two-day Multi-Hazard Early Warning conference, which is aligned to meet the goal of the Sendai Framework’s Seventh Global target: Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.


Dr. Phillips earned her Ph.D. in Sociology and has authored and co-authored numerous books including “Disaster Recovery” and “Introduction to Emergency Management” and she has published research, funded by the National Science Foundation, in a variety of journals. Dr. Phillips earned the Blanchard Award for excellence in emergency management education and the Myers Award for work on the effects of disasters on women and she is an inductee in the International Women’s Hall of Fame for Emergency Management. In Chillicothe, Dr. Phillips volunteers for the Local Emergency Planning Committee and a multi-county Health Care Coalition addressing issues of social vulnerability.