SRA Member Seth Guikema Leads SEES Grant, Tours Japanese Reconstruction

SRA Council member and chair of the specialty groups committee, Seth Guikema studies risk and sustainability analysis, primarily in the context of urban infrastructure, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks.

Guikema is currently an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins and an adjunct professor at the University of Stavanger, Norway, where he recently spent four months on sabbatical leave.

Guikema won two best paper awards from Risk Analysis in 2012 and a Chauncey Starr Distinguished Young Risk Analyst award in 2010. He is currently Principal Investigator on a $3,000,000, four-year, US National Science Foundation SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) grant project that began in October of 2013.

“The new grant focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to hazard vulnerability, resilience, and sustainability for regions exposed to repeated hurricanes and heat waves,” Guikema explained. “The work combines research in engineering, risk analysis, complex systems modeling, hazard modeling, climate science, individual and policy behavior, land use change, and landscape architecture.”

The goal of the project is to better understand how vulnerability and sustainability change over time in response to repeated events, and how a less vulnerable, more sustainable future can be achieved for affected regions.

This past summer, Guikema toured the region of Japan severely damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed approximately 20,000 people. He found the rebuilding effort there to be a massive one. For example, the entire town of Minami-Sanriku will be rebuilt after being largely destroyed by the tsunami. One plan is to elevate the town by over 30 feet and straighten a river as well in the hope that future tsunamis will travel more safely inland along the new route.

Some of the destroyed buildings are being kept as memorials. “The general rule is that any building in which people died will be removed but some where no one died will be kept as memorials,” Guikema noted. But some of these decisions are difficult. “There was a controversy over whether to keep the Minami-Sanriku Emergency Management Center, which has become a symbol of the destruction.”  (See photo at left.)

Over 40 people were killed or went missing there, however, and after extensive discussion town officials decided last September to demolish the building, according to the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.

Guikema grew up in Michigan, studying at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and then at Cornell University, Stanford University, and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, especially outdoors. His hobbies include camping, hiking, backpacking, and photography – when he has time!

Susanna Priest, SRA News Editor