Tsunami response two years later UBC students developing solutions by bak27323

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									Media Release: December 22, 2006

Getting ready for the next wave: UBC students developing solutions for effective disaster
response

The massive tsunami that struck South Asia on December 26, 2004 caused billions of dollars of damage
and took over 230,000 lives in its wake. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are
reflecting on the legacy of this enormous human tragedy, while at the same time developing innovative
new research and teaching projects designed to help small communities, especially those in developing
countries, react effectively to future natural disasters.

An interdisciplinary group of researchers, specializing in topics including risk management, disaster
research, computer science, and human health are working together under the auspices of UBC’s
Bridge Program. The Bridge program is a unique multidisciplinary, graduate fellowship program
whose goal is to develop creative evidence-based strategies to solve public, environmental and
occupational health problems using preventive approaches that link the public health, engineering and
policy realms.

Gerard Chew, a PhD student in Resource Management and Environmental Studies and a Bridge
Program Fellow, is working to develop information technology systems that will help increase the
resilience of communities affected by natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami. His research is inspired
by personal experience: Chew volunteered with a non-governmental organization days after the tsunami
struck in order to assist with the aid effort in Indonesia. “In many cases,” Chew notes, “communities
were affected by a total loss of infrastructure, and they had no way to communicate their location or
magnitude of injuries sustained.”

To that end, Chew is working to develop a portable computer device, similar to a personal data assistant
(PDA), that uses clinical sensors, imaging, GPS location and satellite communications to assist in the
medical evaluation of disaster victims. The device, which would be supplied to trained lay people
within affected communities, could measure vital signs like blood pressure, oxygen levels, heartbeat
and then communicate this data to remote health care providers, to help them prepare for the challenges
that await them on the ground. Chew will be working with the Rotary Club and government healthcare
organizations in eastern Malaysia to evaluate the effectiveness of this system on isolated mountain
communities.

Bridge Program Manager Imelda Wong is also working with Chew to develop an undergraduate course
module that will combine aspects of his research with international collaborations between students in
disaster-prone cities to help develop more effective ways of preparing for natural disasters. The course,
which has received development funding from UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, will
see UBC undergraduate students collaborating with students from Cebu, an area in the Central
Phillipines that is often subject to natural disasters like typhoons and hurricanes. Canadian and Filipino
students will work together to learn about the importance of local communities in disaster response.
Wong and Chew will be donating their course development stipend to this college in Cebu, and will be
looking for additional contributions for this project.

“Large-scale natural disasters can overwhelm communities that were previously self-sufficient in terms
of their water and food needs,” Wong explains. “But an opportunity exists for us to work with these
communities, to provide them with knowledge and tools that will allow them to deal with immediate
and basic needs: food, water, health care and communications.” For example, simple water testing and
purification kits can be distributed to local civil groups, along with an educational program that teaches
local people how to use them to prevent disease epidemics caused by unclean drinking water.

“The Bridge Program brings together a diverse range of faculty, students and other experts in an
interactive environment that promotes the application of their combined knowledge to the prevention of
disease and injury,” notes Prof. McDaniels. “This environment has provided our disaster research
group with opportunities to develop innovative approaches to potentially devastating natural disasters,
and to collaborate with those who are affected by these disasters to evaluate some of our ideas on a
small scale.”

The Bridge Program provides funding to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, visiting scholars and
professionals. It is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. More information can be
found at www.bridge.ubc.ca

ENDS
For more information, please contact:

Gerard Chew
UBC Bridge Program Fellow
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability /
Resource Management & Environmental Studies Program
AERL 430 – 2202 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
Phone: (604) 728-5824
Fax: 604-822-9250
Email: gchew@interchange.ubc.ca

Imelda Wong
UBC Bridge Program Manager
Mather Building, 5804 Fairview Ave
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3
Phone: (604) 822 8042
Fax: (604) 822 4994
E-mail: imeldaw@interchange.ubc.ca

Timothy McDaniels
Professor
Institute of Resources and Environment,
School of Community and Regional Planning
Faculty of Graduate Studies
Rm 428, Lasserre Building
Tel: 604- 822-9288
Fax: 604-822-3787
Email: timmcd@interchange.ubc.ca

								
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