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Drexel Sociologist Joins International Team of Experts to Evaluate Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Response

PHILADELPHIA, January 25, 2012

Aftermath of Japan earthquake and tsunami
Aftermath of March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake – one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit the modern world – struck off the coast of Japan, triggering a massive tsunami and causing devastating human, social and economic damage across the country. In the wake of such an event, the successes and shortfalls of Japan’s disaster response must be evaluated, and many countries must assess their own capacity to deal with catastrophes.

In order to further examine the lessons emerging from the response to the earthquake and tsunami, Dr. Mimi Sheller, a professor of sociology and director of Drexel’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy (mCenter), was invited to join a team of international experts formed by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. The group will provide advice to the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) on natural disaster preparedness for developing countries.

Sheller was among a team of 12 experts selected from across the United States, Canada, China, India, Turkey and the UK, which convened at the World Bank Headquarters in Tokyo from January 17 – 18, 2012.

The team, which included the Director of Civil Engineering for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, met with senior development and risk management specialists from the World Bank Institute and the GFDRR; high-level government representatives from the Cabinet Office and several Ministries of the Government of Japan; the Japanese Agency for International Development; Japanese academics, including the Trustee and Dean of Kansai University; the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation; and non-governmental organizations, including the Chair of the Japan Association for Aid and Relief; to compile lessons from Japan for improving disaster response and recovery in developing nations.

“It was a very productive meeting, and a great opportunity to bring Drexel expertise to a major global stage,” said Sheller. “Ultimately, we hope that lessons from Japan can help developing countries to better prepare for future natural disasters in order to save as many lives as possible and to help the recovery process proceed quickly.”

Topics covered in the meeting included structural and non-structural (social) risk reduction measures, emergency response and preparedness, the recovery process and reconstruction planning, improving hazard and risk information and decision-making, and the economics of disaster risk management and financing.

A second meeting will take place in May 2012. The final report will be presented at the IMF/World Bank annual meeting, which will take place in Sendai, Japan, in October 2012.

Sheller holds a continuing appointment as senior research fellow in the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University (UK) and is founding co-editor of the international journal Mobilities. She is the author or co-editor of six books, and is on the international editorial boards of the journals Cultural Sociology, and African and Black Diaspora. She has held recent visiting fellowships in the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University (2008-09); Media@McGill in Montreal, Canada (2009); the Center for Mobility and Urban Studies at Aalborg University, Denmark (2009); and the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania (2010-11).

Sheller has served as vice-chair and acting chair of the Society for Caribbean Studies in the UK, and is on the organizing committee of the Caribbean Studies Association Annual Conference to be held in Guadeloupe in June 2012. She was awarded her bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University in history and literature, and master of arts degree and doctorate in sociology and historical studies from the New School for Social Research.

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