4:01 p.m., Oct. 8, 2008----Jenniffer Santos-Hernández, a doctoral student in the University of Delaware's Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, recently delivered the keynote speech during a risk and disaster conference in Colima, Mexico. Santos-Hernández also met with professors at the University of Colima and discussed opportunities for collaboration between that university and UD's Disaster Research Center (DRC).
The conference was a forum for students and government officials to discuss the exposure of the local population to different hazards, issues of development, access to resources, risk perception, social inequality and what is done on a daily basis to cope with risks and vulnerability. The region is home to the Colima volcano, one of the most active in the world.
Santos-Hernández spoke about DRC findings on development and social vulnerability in Puerto Rico and its work on technological advancements, risk communication and public response. She highlighted the importance of integrating scientists, practitioners and community members to reduce disasters by alleviating social vulnerability.
“The trip was certainly a unique opportunity to learn about hazards and disasters in Mexico, particularly in the Pacific region. I learned a lot about the social, political and cultural issues that inform risk perception and social vulnerability in that region,” Santos-Hernández said.
Besides the keynote speech, Santos-Hernández also gave two lectures in the College of Engineering, one on geographic information systems and the Disaster Decision Support Tool (DDST) that is being developed at DRC and the other on research on emergency management, public response to warnings and the development of weather radars.
DRC is part of a multi-institution and multidisciplinary Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) funded by the National Science Foundation to develop an innovative weather radar system. The center focuses on social vulnerability, risk communication and the social aspects of the development, implementation and use of new technologies.
“I had the opportunity to meet and hold extensive discussions with researchers from the University of Colima and from Mexico's Center for Higher Education in Social Anthropology,” Santos-Hernández said. “One of the biggest issues in the region has to do with trust and communication between community members, researchers and authorities. There is also a belief that talking about risk and disseminating such information can create panic in the population. However, findings of DRC research have been central in rejecting that long-held belief.”
Article by Martin Mbugua
Photo by Ambre Alexander