Climate School’s Jeff Schlegelmilch Challenges Public to Rethink Disaster Readiness

May 03, 2022

In an in-person event sponsored by the Santiago Center and the Institute for Disaster Resilience (Itrend), Jeff Schlegelmilch, who is the Director of Columbia Climate School's National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), discussed how the public can be better prepared to respond to possible catastrophe.

“Disasters impact lives first and foremost. Whether in the direct injuries and fatalities they cause, the struggles that survivors face to rebuild while the rest of the world moves on, or in the long-term mental and physical impacts that linger but are rarely addressed properly. It is people, families and communities that are forever altered by a disaster. But the impact of the disaster rarely persists beyond those people and places directly affected for long… The impact of the disaster can affect communities for years, even generations. Disasters also exacerbate inequality,” he said while presenting the book he authored, “Rethinking Readiness.” The book offers an expert introduction to human-made threats and vulnerabilities, with a focus on opportunities to reimagine how people can approach disaster preparedness. 

During his presentation, he covered possible threats in five different areas: climate change, critical infrastructure, cyberthreats, nuclear conflict and biothreats. In each area he discussed how people can better prepare for these eventualities. “There are different categories of disasters as we go into the 21st century that have the potential to dramatically alter the trajectory of human development… these disasters are driven by our development, our activities,” the NCDP Director noted.

“Urban resilience is not a moment in space and time. It’s the intersection of many different fields of analysis: planning components, anthropological elements, ecological, geographical and mechanic components,” he said. “Traditionally a lot of the origins of disaster management is in continuity of government and first responders – consequence management. It’s in social capital, connectedness and the ability to gather resources. Those who enjoy the benefits of civil society before a disaster, are more likely to enjoy them after. Those who don’t have access to it, tend to suffer most and suffer the longest.

“The vast majority of human’s improved standards of living are due to improvements in sanitation and nutrition, both made possible by supply chains, transportation networks, electricity and utilities. The challenge is that we become connected to all this infrastructure and reliant on it, but it’s not exciting to maintain it… sometimes it takes a catastrophe to act,” Schlegelmilch stressed.

Following the presentation, Schlegelmilch had a conversation on the matter with Magdalena Gil (GSAS´16), Itrend Associate and researcher at the National Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (CIGIDEN).

While in Chile, Schelgelmich also met with a number of experts and organizations that focus on disaster recovery, including with leaders at the Interior Ministry’s National Emergency Office (ONEMI), hazard monitoring centers for tsunamis at the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Chilean Navy (SHOA), the seismology center at Universidad de Chile, the Center for Climate Science and Resilience (CR2), and a number of business leaders. Further, he led a technical workshop with fellow professionals at Itrend.

Use this link to see the photo album of the event.