GPDRR 2011: Tuesday

The official highlights page (videos) for the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction conference in Geneva covers almost none of the material I scribbled in my notebook. From the IGNITE stage, my go-to destination when I’m between events, I had a pair of favourite concepts on Tuesday:

Sasakawa Nominee: North Vancouver

District of North Vancouver GEOweb

N. Vancouver Hazards

I was delightfully surprised to learn almost-hometown North Vancouver as a nominee for the Sasakawa awards for excellence in building disaster resilience. The District of North Vancouver has built an online application to encourage open access to geological data, with a particularly awesome all-hazards map where you can view map by hazard type, view all geotechinical reports filed for a region (down to lot-sized areas). The projet was put together following advice from colleagues in Hong Kong who recommended making “everything public as quickly as possible” then letting people make their own decisions for acceptable risk tolerance.

North Vancouver is in a fairly unique situation for its population: a large portion of Vancouver’s geotechnical employees live on the north shore, and an unfair portion of those have trained in or have experience with slope stability issues. This means the “general public” is actually technical personnel in disguise, providing the city with a population of highly specialized volunteers, a public trained in interpreting hazard maps, and numerous community advocates for the As Low As Reasonably Possible risk tolerance philosophy. Even so, immediately after publication of the hazard maps, private residents threatened to sue the district for a drop in house prices (as much as CAN$50,000 for some locations), although in the intervening time prices have rebounded back or above previous levels. The mayor believes the rebound is because people feel like they have access to all relevant hazard information and have confidence nothing is hidden from them, so they can make informed decisions about the type and magnitude of risk they are willing to accept.

Disaster Pictograms

Buro Derk Dumbar, a design company in the Netherlands, is developing a system of pictograms for international usage (click “A Safe Place”). The pictograms are in their second edition after a gallery show and an online survey revealed common misunderstandings like “Is that a man with a snake, or a directional sign for a ford/flood-crossing location?” I’m hugely in favour of easily-interpretable-across-cultures, internationally-recognized, consistent singage as a method of reducing risk through relevant information, so I hope they continue to iterate designs and find support for implementation.

Flood Pictogram

The project reuses knowledge from other disciplines and programs — the highly legible font from traffic signs makes its way into labels; the colours follow the American National Standards Institute for colour-coding meaning (blue for information, yellow for warnings…); any symbol that dominates google image search was adapted for the signs (a knife & fork for food; a cresting wave for tsunami). The only exceptions to design consistency are also re-using well-known designs: adding a red triangle on the landmine warning, and swapping danger-red to informational-blue for the tsunami signs. The pictograms are categorized into series by natural disasters (earthquake), epidemics (SARs), human failure (nuclear failure), armed conflict (civil war), and terrorism (attack).

Possibly my favourite part of the presentation came after outlining all the various ways a sign may be displayed (dangling from wires, mounted on posts, hung from a wall, affixed with a sticker), and the speaker dryly concluded that the system could even handle being displayed in a field with nothing around because “you can lay it on the ground.”

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