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CU-Boulder Natural Hazards Center Director: After visiting Japan’s disaster sites, CU looks at back-up plans

Director of the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center Kathleen Tierney said, after a recent trip to Japan to analyze disaster recovery efforts, she returned with confidence in the United States’ emergency preparedness.

In June, Tierney joined a team of 11 scientists and emergency mangers for 10 days to do research in the towns most affected by the country’s March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

The team looked at progress among debris sorting and removal, recovery planning and temporary housing.

“I think that a lot of these international disasters more or less reinforce that we have a good emergency management system,” Tierney said. “But Japan does open our eyes to some things that we could do more of.”

Tierney said, nearly four months after a series of natural disasters — an earthquake, tsunami and a radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant — Japan is still far from recovery.

“Their emergency plans did not take into account the worst-case scenario, which is what they got,” Tierney said. “This tells us we need to be thinking about these kinds of possibilities and planning for the worst case.”

Tierney said she expects to see suggested changes and adaptations of both local and national emergency plans in the next year as researchers and scientists begin to better understand the flaws of systems in Japan, Haiti and New Zealand.

“I think chain reactions should become a larger consideration,” Tierney said. “That’s what made things to bad in Japan. One thing caused another and that’s pretty typical with natural disasters like this. They shouldn’t be ignored.”

Chain reactions, preparedness and recovery are being discussed during the 36th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, hosted by CU Natural Hazards Center.

The workshop began Saturday and runs through Tuesday afternoon in Broomfield.

“The purpose of the workshop is to bring together researchers and practitioners in emergency management fields,” Tierney said, “representatives of different agencies that work in disaster areas and students to take part in a series of sessions on various issues in the areas of disaster research and disaster risk reduction.”

Observations made about national disasters, such as in Japan and Haiti, or at a more local level like the recent tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., could affect emergency planning in Boulder, said Lacey Croco, director of the Emergency Management Division for CU-Boulder.

“The hazards we face here generally won’t reach that same magnitude as in Japan,” Croco said, “but I think there are some common trends and threads in every disaster you can learn from.”

Haiti faced extreme damage to its roads, making the transportation of supplies difficult, Croco said. CU planners have begun to look at back-up plans for transporting supplies to campus in case of road destruction, she said.

Learn more about the workshop at