Interviews (last week)

(apologies for the late post! Adiel and I each thought the other had posted this last week, and realized this week that neither of us had posted it at all…)

We currently have several interviews scheduled, so this post will focus on our first completed interview, which insightful and helpful as we expand our knowledge on our particular topic.

Our project interests, broadly, include probing the organizational aspects of disaster relief (and preparedness) with a particular interest in how communities are involved in these efforts. We are starting by looking at the perceived needs and systemic structures from both the perspectives of the community and from those of the experts/agencies working to provide aid.

With our interview work, we are trying to get a better understanding of this very complex network of systems from as many perspectives as possible, with the hope that we can then find a space–even a small space–within which to intervene.

Our first interview was with David Moses of MIT’s Urban Risk Lab. For those who are unfamiliar with the work of the Lab, “The Urban Risk Lab at MIT develops methods, prototypes and technologies to embed risk reduction and preparedness into the design of cities and regions to increase the resilience of local communities. Operating at the intersection of ecology and infrastructure, rural and urban, research and action; the Urban Risk Lab is an interdisciplinary organization of researchers and designers.”

A few key takeaways:

There is no such thing as a natural disaster. That is, natural occurring phenomena amplify, to the extreme, existing issues, social vulnerabilities, and inequalities. The reference to a “natural disaster” as a term, and concept, works to belittle human agency to make a change.

We learned that the emergency timeline often works as a system of phases. Response, stabilization, recovery, and mitigation. Response is what you might think of when you consider agencies like FEMA or the Red Cross. The later stages, recovery for example, are the messier periods, involving greater strategic organization.

The Risk Lab offers a great example of design working as a conduit between the top down and the bottom up. They work closely with emergency managers, learning how these other experts have established mechanisms to respond to hazards, while also conducting field work and working directly with the victims. Their focus is in systemic changes, designing for long term impacts that can strengthen resiliency, better equipping communities to handle the next disaster that may come their way.

When I asked David how the lab engages with the communities of people who are vulnerable, or may have already experienced a tragic event, he responded simply but clearly,

“We go talk to people.”

When referencing a single project the lab was working on, he mentioned talking to over 150 different people.

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