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partners | 12 May 2015

Louis Gritzo (FM Global) calls private sector to take action for DRR

Once you said “when you have a partial revelation of the truth and a full revelation of a lie, you’re able to see what is really happening and probe the details for knowledge”. How important is in 2015 leveraging science-based information to reduce disaster losses?

Science-based information is the key to unlocking the progression of physical phenomena that lead to disasters and hence provides insight into the best opportunities to reduce losses. Each real-world disaster is a partial revelation of the truth. Regardless of how much is known before a disaster or is studied afterwards, the details remain locked in the physical phenomena that produced the hazard, which can, at best, only be measured in a limited sense. Furthermore, the events that have occurred in recorded history are a small set of those that can occur and will eventually produce disasters. These limitations are why models, based on theory and best current understanding, both leverage current information and provide the ability to look deeper into phenomena that caused the hazard as needed to define opportunities for disaster risk reduction. Since no model is perfect (the input data are limited, equations are approximate or solved in an approximate sense), implicit in models are the elements of a lie – a less than truthful representation. The main opportunity to reduce disasters is built on lessons from events and models through parallel paths of improving knowledge, communicating the knowledge, and probing the details for the most cost effective, practical means of disaster reduction and then putting them into practice.

Why, in your opinion, must the private sector be on board in the global discussion about risk reduction? (Which is the win-win deal?)

The private sector has to be on board (at many levels) in the global discussion for three main reasons:
1) It is in their own best interest. If involved, engaged, and proactive, companies and organizations subjected to a hazard can control their own destiny and ensure their sustainability. The future of those absent from the discussion is at the mercy of nature. In the tightly coupled global marketplace, no private entity is immune from the impact of disasters.

2) They owe it to their employees and the communities that serve their needs. The private sector relies on the contributions of people and communities. Ensuring their ecosystem (the people and communities) is resilient to disasters is an important way of strengthening the bond, and sending a powerful message of the value of this mutually beneficial relationship to the long term viability of all.

3) They have an important role to play in a problem that is bigger than any one sector. The private sector can offer insight, resources, and human capital above and beyond any government or academic institution through the pragmatic nature of their work and their role in the local and global communities.  They are often the ones that will be called upon to put aspects of disaster reduction into practice, and hence have an important role providing support, but more importantly, practical leadership in the decision-making process.

In many countries in the world people and organizations still have inadequate access to data and methodologies that can help them to (quantitatively) assess risk, and this affects their capability to prevent consequences of natural disasters. What is the role of the private sector in promoting resilience? How can it contribute to the post-2015 framework for DRR?

The private sector has the responsibility (to their owners, their employees, and their communities) to acquire the best possible understanding of the risk, and invoke their own methods to manage it, in the areas they operate or in the areas where the operations of their supply chain affects their business. In many cases, the knowledge of the hazard (which drives the risk) is clouded by inconsistent methods, conflicting studies, or is simply just absent. The economic pace of the private sector requires them to use what is currently available. Availability, consistency and transparency of the best-possible characterization of all hazards worldwide is therefore critical.  This resource is a vital part of achieving the DRR of the Sendai Framework and can only be achieved through public/private partnerships, as was highlighted repeatedly in sessions at the meeting in Sendai. The need for a public/private partnership is due in part to the shear scope of the effort, as well as (and perhaps more importantly) the requirement for globally consistent methods to be integrated with local physical knowledge in a way that is understood, accepted, and can be practiced by local businesses and national/regional/local governments. With these pieces in place, solutions that meet the needs of local applications to ensure resilience can be developed and will (due to a common understanding of the hazard) likely be applied by all.

What do you think is the value of GEM in the field of DRR?

GEM is the exact example of the kind of public/private partnership needed to make real progress in DRR from earthquake hazards. The ability to bring different public/private entities together across a spectrum of regions with a common goal (but with different ways of achieving it) of making the world safer from earthquake is the best way to realize progress. GEM provides the enabling foundation for all types of organizations to pursue their specific DRR missions, with the confidence of the best available, consistent, and transparent underpinnings.

FM Global is a private participant of the GEM Foundation since March 2010. What has motivated investment in such a long-lasting partnership?

As a mutually-owned commercial/industrial insurance company with the fundamental business model based on the concept that the ‘majority of loss is preventable’, FM Global’s engineers provide risk assessments and risk reduction guidance to our clients (who include a third of the Fortune 1000) globally. Our clients count on us for the best possible information on all hazards. GEM is a key part of us providing the best possible information on earthquake risks around the world. Our clients also count on us for technical leadership to direct research that will increasingly improve their ability to cost effectively make their business more resilient. Hence we serve as private sector partner through active engagement in the governance and technical direction so we are maximizing our contribution, and helping our clients and their ecosystems do their part, in reducing the impact of disasters.

How do you think FM Global could benefit from GEM’s resources?

FM Global is already benefitting from GEM in several ways:

1)      OpenQuake provides a tool for us to perform studies to assess and consistently update the maps of earthquake risk that we use to make clients around the world resilient. By serving as a focal point for best-possible, consistent, and transparent risk information, we have the confidence and acceptance required to help drive risk improvement (with our clients and the local governments where they are located). We are currently assessing and potentially revising our earthquake risk maps in key areas using OpenQuake. We have also used the OpenQuake engine for detailed studies of earthquake phenomena in several special regions of concern.

2)      GEM provides a platform for the integration and maximum utility of our internal knowledge. Our geoscience research on hazards and structural mechanics research on damage reduction can be implemented into the OpenQuake platform, tested and used by peers and hence maximizes the quality and utility of our technical contributions.

3)      We have developed a strong network of public and private partners with a mutual interest in disaster reduction. This allows us to work towards solutions with the world’s best in a collaborative setting.

You are director of the unique FM Global Research Campus, where science and technology are key to bridge the gap between hazard and losses. Do you think the OpenQuake-engine can be considered a cost - effective innovative solution also for the private sector? And why, if yes?

Yes, my responsibilities include the FM Global Research Campus in West Glocester, RI, USA, and the Research staff at the Center for Property Risk Solutions in Norwood, MA, USA. Dr. Hosam Ali, Assistant Vice President and Research Director of Structures and Natural Hazards, and his senior staff including Dr. Harold Magistrale, Technical Team Leader for Geosciences Research and Dr. Yufang Rong, Senior Lead Research Scientist for Geoscience Research, are the senior leaders for our earthquake-related research. For them, developing cost effective solutions requires the best knowledge applied through, and embodied in, reliable and useable tools. OpenQuake, together with our other computational tools (for structural response) and our experimental facilities (including a large shake table and actuators) form the basis of our engineering guidance and tested and certified loss prevention products (through FM Approvals). OpenQuake (and the data and models from GEM) forms the foundation of these solutions.

The value of OpenQuake by the private sector in general will depend on the ability of those organizations to apply its value to their business model. Any company with business value affected by earthquake risks (urban and building design, engineering services, building products, risk management) has the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to meet their needs and can do so if they engage in the partnership. This engagement means being a stakeholder and leader in its future – therein lies a value much greater than simply using the engine.

Of perhaps still greater importance is the opportunity in the public sector. GEM provides the opportunity for the public sector to be at the table with the private sector in an endeavor that is vital to the success of both. Because disaster risk reduction ultimately comes down to the public sector at all levels (national/regional/local) there is the opportunity to develop and implement innovative solutions in public sector risk management that meet the unique needs of each population.

What opportunities of scaling up measures to empower resilience to earthquakes do you see in the future?

Building upon the recent acceleration of quality and accessibility of information through internet and mobile communications, there is now rapid growth in geospatial data quality and availability. These geospatial advances provide an even greater mechanism to widely and accurately communicate risks. By enhancing and building upon the global hazard information currently underway in GEM, and more effectively communicating these hazards via geospatial and mobile tools, the increased awareness will provide additional scale to drive risk reduction. This drive, when embraced by both the public and private sector, are the basic catalysts for motivating and implementing resilience.

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