Natural disasters and public health emergencies affect tens of millions of people each year. They can destroy homes and businesses, wipe out financial resources, uproot families and cause lasting injuries and deaths. For communities, the effect can be just as devastating, inflicting enormous environmental and structural damage; stalling or even reversing a society’s economic growth and development; and producing and exacerbating poverty and instability. Such disasters, which include earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts and pandemics, have been a consistent feature of human existence, but the frequency and intensity of such incidents have increased over the last few decades, in significant part because of climate change and growing population mobility. All of this has made managing disasters more urgent, more expensive and more complex. Just as human behavior plays a critical role in driving these disasters, so too can it play a critical role in reducing the impact and likelihood of these events.
On June 10, 2019, Columbia World Projects (CWP) held a Forum for 35 experts from inside and outside Columbia University to deepen our understanding of natural disasters and public health emergencies and identify promising projects that CWP could implement to address some facets of this challenge. Before the meeting, experts worked with CWP staff to develop around 20 project proposals, which we discussed and evaluated during the Forum.
Working Groups and Project Proposals
Forum participants were divided into working groups organized by theme: public health emergencies, inequities and vulnerable communities in disaster response, ecosystems of resilience, adaptation and mitigation strategies, and data and disasters.
Subject matter experts were assigned to the groups to reflect their complementary fields of knowledge, distinct backgrounds, and different views on the topic. We asked each working group to evaluate several project proposals developed in advance by participants and CWP staff.
Read more about the project proposals and the working group discussions in our Forum report.
Disaster Preparedness Working Groups
- Public health emergencies add
- Inequities and vulnerable communities in disaster response add
- Ecosystems of resilience add
- Adaptation and mitigation strategies add
- Data and disasters add
Participant biographies are current as of June 10, 2019
Lee C. BollingerPresident, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Lee C. Bollinger became Columbia University’s nineteenth president in 2002. Under his leadership, Columbia stands again at the very top rank of great research universities, distinguished...
Curtis BrownChief Deputy State Coordinator, Virginia Department of Emergency ManagementRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Curtis Brown serves as the Chief Deputy State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. He has homeland security and emergency management experience at the federal, state, and local levels.
Michael BurgerExecutive Director, Sabin Center for Climate Change LawSenior Research Scholar, Columbia Law SchoolRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Michael Burger is the Executive Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, and a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia Law School. His research and advocacy focus on legal strategies...
Robert ChenDirector, Center for International Earth Science Information NetworkRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Robert Chen is director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a research unit of the Earth Institute at Columbia. He has managed the NASA Socioeconomic...
George DeodatisSantiago and Robertina Calatrava Family Professor of Civil Engineering, Columbia UniversityChair, Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering MechanicsRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Professor George Deodatis received his Diploma in Civil Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece in 1982. He holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering...
Congressman Adriano EspaillatNew York’s Thirteenth Congressional DistrictRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Representative Adriano Espaillat proudly represents New York’s Thirteenth Congressional District. He was sworn into office on January 3, 2017, during the 115th Congress.
Dylan GeorgeVice President, Technical Staff in BNext, In-Q-TelRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dylan George, Ph.D., is a Vice President, Technical Staff in BNext at In-Q-Tel (IQT). George provides strategic science and technical vision to strengthen capacity within the United States...
Christopher “Bong” GrajoFounder and President, Emergency Response Integration CenterRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Christopher "Bong" Grajo is the founder and current President of the Emergency Response Integration Center (ERIC), a non-governmental, nonprofit organization that specializes in data management...
Avril D. HainesFormer Deputy DirectorRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Avril Haines was the Deputy Director of Columbia World Projects from 2017-2020. She now serves as director of national intelligence in the Biden administration.
Kevin HalseyAnalyst, ESGRepresentative, Mercy CorpRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Kevin Halsey is currently an ecosystem service analyst at ESG and has been working in the ecosystem services field since 2004. Prior to working in the ecosystem service world Halsey worked...
Rebecca HersherReporter Science Desk, NPRRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Rebecca Hersher is a science reporter at National Public Radio, where she covers climate science, climate policy and toxics. She has reported widely on disaster risk and resilience in...
Junia HowellAssistant Professor, University of PittsburghRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Junia Howell is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and a Kinder Scholar at Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
Wilmot JamesVisiting Professor of Pediatrics, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Wilmot James is a visiting professor of (non-clinical) pediatrics and international affairs at Columbia University in New York City. An academic by background with a Ph.D. from the University...
The Hon. Jeh JohnsonPartner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLPFormer Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jeh Johnson is a partner with the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (2013- 2017).
Ira KatznelsonDeputy DirectorRuggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. His 2013 book, "Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time," received the Bancroft...
Matthew KellerPartnership Lead for North America, UN World Food ProgrammeRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Matt Keller is the partnership lead for North America for the UN World Food Programme's Innovation Accelerator. Prior to re-joining WFP, Keller was Executive Director of the $15 million...
Nicholas LemannFormer DirectorJoseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism; Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Journalism; Director, Columbia Global ReportsRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Nicholas Lemann was the director of Columbia World Projects from 2017 through February 2021. He directs Columbia Global Reports, a book publishing venture that commissions reporting...
Anne LiuLecturer, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Anne Liu is an innovations expert focused on digital solutions for disease surveillance and health systems strengthening. She currently serves as Technical Adviser at the Clinton Health...
Syra MadadSenior Director, System-wide Special Pathogens Program, NYC Health + HospitalsRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Syra Madad, D.H.Sc., M.Sc., MCP is nationally recognized leader in public health and special pathogen preparedness and response.
Michael MaharLead for GHSA and IHR Collaborating Center, US Centers for Disease Control and PreventionRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Michael Mahar, PhD, is the Lead for the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and WHO International Health Regulations collaborating center in the Division of Global Health Protection (DGHP)...
Tim ManningPresident and CEO, Berglind-Manning l.c.Read Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Tim Manning has worked on both the front lines and the senior most levels of homeland security, emergency management, and resilience for more than twenty-five years; Manning is a former...
Amanda McClellandSenior Vice President, Prevent Epidemics, Resolve to Save LivesRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Amanda McClelland is the Senior Vice President of the Prevent Epidemics team at Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. McClelland has more than 14 years’ experience...
Roberto MorisDirector of Planning and Urban Projects, Pontificia Universidad Católica de ChileRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Roberto Moris is an architect and urban planner. Moris is the Director of the Planning and Urban Projects Program at Pontificia Universidad Católica in Chile.
Kate OrffColumbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Kate Orff is a landscape architect focused on nature-based infrastructure and urban resilience. She is an Associate Professor at Columbia GSAPP and Director of the Urban Design Program.
Roger ParrinoSenior Advisor Security and Emergency Management, The Port Authority of New York & New JerseyRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Roger L. Parrino Sr. currently serves as a senior advisor for security and emergency management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, having previously served as the Commissioner...
Andrew PhelpsDirector, Oregon Office of Emergency ManagementRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Andrew Phelps has served as the Director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management since 2015. In addition to managing the state’s 9-1-1 program and multi-million-dollar state and...
Richard PlunzProfessor of Architecture, Director, Earth Institute Urban Design Lab, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Richard Plunz is Professor of Architecture at Columbia University and founder of the Earth Institute Urban Design Lab. In the past he served as Chair of the Division of Architecture and...
The Hon. Julissa ReynosoPartner, Winstron & Strawn; Former U.S. Ambassador to UruguayRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Julissa Reynoso is a partner at the law firm of Winston & Strawn. Her extensive experience includes analyzing and advising on complex cross-border litigations, investigations and disputes...
Dan RubensteinAssociate Professor of Computer Science, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dan Rubenstein is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Columbia University. He received a B.S. degree in mathematics from M.I.T., an M.A. in math from UCLA...
Jeff SchlegelmilchDeputy Director, National Center for Disaster PreparednessRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jeff Schlegelmilch is the Deputy Director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. His areas of expertise include public health preparedness, community resilience, and the integration...
Hugh SealySpecial Envoy, Government of Barbados; Lecturer, University of West IndiesRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Hugh Sealy is a chemical engineer and environmental scientist. He is a Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Barbados and advises the Government of Barbados on matters relating to climate...
Jeffrey ShamanProfessor, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia UniversityDirector, Climate and Health Program, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jeffrey Shaman is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Director of the Climate and Health Program at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Adam SobelColumbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Adam Sobel studies weather and climate, with a focus on extreme weather events and a particular interest in the tropics. Phenomena include tropical cyclones, intraseasonal variability...
Lawrence StanberryAssociate Dean, International Programs; Director of the Programs in Global Health, Columbia UniversityRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Lawrence Stanberry is the Associate Dean for International Programs, the Director of the Programs in Global Health and, formerly, the Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia...
Nik SteinbergDeputy DirectorRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Nik is the Deputy Director of Columbia World Projects. He previously served as the Counselor and Chief Speechwriter for Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Jeff SternState Coordinator of Emergency Management, Virginia Department of Emergency ManagementRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Jeff Stern leads the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Commonwealth’s disaster preparedness and response agency. Appointed in 2014, Stern has led VDEM through a modernization...
Tara VassefiWashington Director of Strategic Initiatives, TruepicRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Tara Vassefi is the Washington Director of Strategic Initiatives for Truepic, a technology company specializing in image authentication. She is currently a visiting scholar with UC Berkeley...
Dickie WhitakerChief Executive, Oasis Loss Modelling FrameworkRead Full Bio arrow_right_alt
Dickie Whitaker has 30 years’ experience in the (Re)Insurance business and for the last 20 years has specialized in risk and innovation, linking academia, government and finance.
Two projects that emerged from this Forum are currently in development. Learn about our Open-Source Catastrophe Models for Risk Reduction and Climate Adaptation project. More information on the other disaster preparedness project in development will be posted soon.
We welcome your input
If you have suggestions related to the projects selected from the disaster preparedness Forum, email us and we'll share your thoughts with the CWP project team.