University of Melbourne Magazine

Feeling the heat

  • A major new collaborative research centre led by engineers at the University of Melbourne, and drawing on capacity and expertise across the University, will revolutionise the way we respond to natural and man-made disasters.

    In the wake of ever-frequent extreme natural events and man-made disasters, the Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety (CDMPS) will conduct multi-disciplinary research and training in disaster management to build resilient societies adept at responding to these major challenges.

    The Centre sees the University of Melbourne partnering with a range of high profile government and industry bodies, including IBM Research, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and the United Nations Initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management.

    Director of the Centre, Professor Abbas Rajabifard (PhD 2002), said that the Centre would conduct research aimed at creating a knowledge base to assist policy makers to build safer communities that are able to respond to and recover quickly from disasters. “In the last few decades, countries all over the world have experienced many natural and man-made disasters that have affected millions and cost trillions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and property,” he said. “The Centre’s research focuses on themes associated with preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating against these incidents.”

    CDMPS researchers work across disciplines, addressing a range of critical areas:

    – Understanding natural disasters
    – Improving strategic decision-making during periods of high stress
    – The application of new technologies to disaster management
    – Building community resilience to reduce the impact of disasters
    – Effective mission critical communications
    – Effective disaster management policy

    The Centre’s Manager, Ged Griffin, said a series of major inquiries into disasters including the Black Saturday bushfires, Queensland floods and Tasmanian fires,
    had issued repeated recommendations for a more coordinated approach to research and training in disaster management. “There was seen to be a demonstrated
    need to establish a dedicated Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety,” he said.

    CDMPS researcher Dr Katie Potts (BGeomE 2010, PhD 2014) said that industry and government partners were able to help shape the Centre’s research from the earliest stages. “This means that when we are developing projects and submitting grant applications, the project is informed by an identified need from industry, and our research is addressing a real problem.”

    Research Advisor for the Centre, David Williams, formerly of Victoria Police, said that the number of industry participants meant that research was grounded in the real world. At the same time, partners benefit from access to the latest interdisciplinary research and training.

    The CDMPS is now developing a unique Masters program in Disaster Management, to train future practitioners in this increasingly important sector. The Centre is also developing an international research portal, through which academics working in disaster management and public safety around the world can connect and facilitate crossdisciplinary collaboration. During 2015, the CDMPS will be laying the groundwork for its future operations, formalising new national and international partnerships and coordinating a number of international workshops in Chile, Japan and China.