U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE), PhD candidate, Tom Logan, has won the 2019 American Association of Geographers (AAG) J. X. Kasperson Student Paper Award from the Hazards, Risk, and Disasters section of AAG. His winning paper, published in Nature Sustainability, seeks to answer the question, does building engineering defenses to natural hazards help us or make us more vulnerable?
“With climate change exacerbating many natural hazards, our society needs to adapt,” Logan said. “This is urgent, but we need to be intelligent about it so we don’t make things worse. For example, our research showed that sea walls can inadvertently increase the vulnerability of a community to natural hazards by creating inaccurate perceptions of safety.”
The case study used in the research was a town devastated by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. The approach employed a complex systems simulation model to show how, over time, the introduction of a sea wall can influence the behavior of nearby communities by creating a false sense of security. They investigated different scenarios with and without sea walls and compared the damage inflicted upon the community from simulated tsunami.
“The novelty of our model was that we included behavioral feedbacks – that is, we included the decisions people made about where to build based on the perceived safety due to a sea wall compared to those they made based on their awareness of previous hazards,” he said. “The results show how important it is in risk science to consider how people may react over time to engineering interventions. It’s not always intuitive.”
Tom Logan is a PhD candidate graduating in August and he has accepted a lecturer position (equivalent to an assistant professorship in the U.S.) with the Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He is eager for the opportunity to explore further integration of operations research and civil engineering.
“In my new role I will be focused on climate change adaptation and building resilience. New Zealand is a perfect place to engage with decision makers and make change happen. That knowledge we can then export to the rest of the world.”