Issued: Fri, 07 Jan 2011 11:05:00 GMT
Professor of Risk & Resilience Denis Fischbacher-Smith has seen many changes in his chosen field over the years. 'When I started to undertake research in risk management in 1981, it wasn't an issue that had the media profile that it does today. Sadly, a series of major loss-of-life events over the past 20 years have brought the wider set of issues around risk to people's attention, as have the threats from the new forms of terrorism.'
At its most basic, the process of risk management involves identifying, assessing and prioritising risks and then applying resources in order to minimise, monitor and control the probability and impact of adverse events. The processes of risk assessment are used in a diverse set of issues, from advising institutions on how to react to terrorist threats, to designing evacuation procedures for urban areas affected by natural disasters. 'My work is concerned with the manner in which particular trigger events can expose vulnerability either within organisations or within a wider system,' says Professor Fischbacher-Smith. 'The focus is on the manner in which the various trigger events can generate risk cascades that undermine the resilience within the system.'
Much of Professor Fischbacher-Smith's work has been carried out within the public sector - covering the range of activities that are now described under the government's resilience strategies - and he has undertaken research with the police, fire, ambulance and prison services as well as local government. He is currently working on three major research projects that have been funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council with a total allocation of almost £1.5 million.
The first of these is concerned with the management of critical national infrastructures (CNI), at both the national and regional levels, and the manner in which interdependencies within CNI sectors can generate risk that cascades within interconnected systems. Drawing on work in systems biology and robotics, the research team are considering the manner in which safety critical systems can self-heal when subject to severe perturbations.
The second project is concerned with cargo screening and seeks to develop a robotic screening tool for the investigation of containerised cargo. Professor Fischbacher-Smith's role in this research is around the human factors associated with the use of the technology.
The final project is concerned with risk management in port cities and the implications that these vulnerabilities have for the resilience of cities. 'There is something about port cities in particular that gives them a different dynamic around risk - an issue illustrated by the attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Port cities tend to be access routes for a lot of goods and services and the manner in which organisations manage the risks in their supply chains is a key issue. In addition, the geography of these cities is also important and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai have illustrated how rivers, estuaries and the coast itself can be seen as a potential source of vulnerability for urban areas. The coast also creates vulnerability in terms of natural hazards. For example, storm surges will cause certain low-level urban areas to be evacuated and the problem could be exacerbated by changes in sea level brought about by climate change.'
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