Disaster expert warns ‘be prepared’ 

Dr David King has made natural disasters his business

While there is a grave warning in the worldwide escalation of natural disasters over the past 20 years, a disaster expert believes there is another message apparent – one of humanity’s adaptation to climate change.

For the past two decades Associate Professor of Geography in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at James Cook University David King has made natural disasters his business.

He is one of a number of experts who will speak at this year’s Charles Darwin Symposium, entitled “Living with climate change: at home, at work, at play”, to be held from 12 to 14 October at the Holiday Inn Esplanade Darwin.

A survivor of Cyclone Yasi, which battered his home town of North Queensland earlier this year, Dr King points to his close brush with the cyclone as an example of how people and policy makers are improving how we weather the storm.

“Yasi did a lot of damage, but I feel the residents of North Queensland were well prepared for the event. We were thoroughly warned, and as there were no deaths, I believe this shows that people were prepared and behaved in the right way,” Dr King said.

Dr King will explain the implications of his research for policy makers, local governments and communities, and how we might measure and monitor the existence, the strengths and effectiveness of community resilience and adaptation to climate change.

He said that despite the devastating death toll from the Christchurch earthquake, the message from the area affected was that people in New Zealand were also well educated in what to do in such an emergency.

“The death rate was less than what it might have been, but unluckily the buildings in the city centre were not earthquake proof.”

Also the Director of the Centre for Disaster Studies and the Centre for Tropical Urban and Regional Planning, Dr King’s research projects have contributed to emergency management and land use planning by pinpointing areas of community vulnerability and resilience.

He said that while the occurrence of natural disasters had indeed risen, it was the amount of media interest recent events had attracted that had become a real factor in the impact of disasters.

“Disasters are always happening. What’s different now is the amount of media coverage,” he said. “In 2011, the media interest is greater, the human population is greater and more people are affected.

“What we need to focus on is how planning has to adapt to pay more attention to disasters and climate changes,” he said.

To register for this event visit: www.cdu.edu.au/cdss2011/.