This PASI has been conceived and designed in a way that not only will advance specific knowledge and understanding within the respective individual fields of interest, namely climate change, hazards, communication, and geospatial technologies, but it will do so by integrating across these different disciplinary domains, offering an integrative framework for exploring creative and original insights. The approach is not only integrative in terms of bridging conceptual arenas but also in the way in which it is structured to enhance integration of research and education and to create synergistic outcomes across activities of institutional partners that are responsible for organizing it.
a. While the institute follows the traditional PASI model of building capacity, providing training, and producing documentation of learning or research advances, it will also include at least three unique aspects that represent innovations on the successful PASI experience.
i. First, our group of organizers and lecturers are highly diverse in institutional terms: we have strong ties with universities, government, and civil society, lending an inherent dimension of collaboration that serves the goals of this effort in numerous ways
ii. By engaging with a relatively large number of lecturers, we intend to support interaction among researchers and practitioners not already working in partnership, as well as to explicitly incorporate multiple elements of diversity, considering size to be important for an institute aiming toward broad interdisciplinary integration.
iii. Finally, a significant emphasis before, during, and after the event itself will be placed on structured interactions among the many lecturers, among students, and among students and lecturers in terms of community building, networking, mentoring, and the creation of a sustainable knowledge environment around climate change, hazards, communication, and geographic technologies.
b. Intellectual Merit. Geographic technologies have advanced to the point that they have become familiar and often necessary tools for climate change and hazards researchers. In particular, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing provide the tools needed to perform spatial and temporal analysis of natural disasters (NRC 2006) and such analyses have proved valuable throughout various stages of the emergency response cycle (Cutter 2003).
i. Researchers increasingly rely on geographic technologies to predict and prepare for hurricanes, floods, tornados and other natural disasters (Montz et al. 2006), as well to unravel understanding about the consequences of climate change (Wu et al. 2002) which are generally not only expected to increase the severity and frequency of hazards, but also to change the map of where certain kinds of extreme events are likely to occur, reaching places without prior experience to draw from or adequate physical and social infrastructures to respond effectively.
ii. An important development with consequences for both researchers and practitioners is the use of real-time data in geographic analyses of hazards and disasters. Initiatives throughout the Americas have contributed greatly to the availability of data (Rajabifard et al. 2000). SERVIR (Regional Visualization and Monitoring System for Mesoamerica) uses data collected by NASA and by countries throughout Mesoamerica to produce real time and near real-time products that relate to natural disasters (Graves et al. 2005; Irwin et al. 2004). HAZNETH (Research Network on Natural Hazards) integrates multidisciplinary data (Metternicht 2005). Through projects such as SIAPAD (Andean Information System for Disaster Prevention and Relief), local level geo-referenced information is also increasingly being integrated into larger programs (Vargas et al. 2008). These and other initiatives have created an expanding body of geographic data compatible at the macro-level and accurate to the community level.
iii. Although access to geospatial data is important for effective emergency response, data accessibility has been limited by the difficulty of integrating incompatible data from different sources (Goodchild 2003). And while governments have been using clearinghouses to serve up a wide variety of data, advanced applications and replicable models for managing risk associated with natural disasters and mitigation represent a relatively recent development (Mills et al. 2008; Bernknopf et al. 2006; Dunbar 2007). Still, availability of data and modeling tools alone are insufficient to help decision makers prepare for and respond to natural disasters associated with climate change, and conversely for researchers to systematically understand the integrated physical and human dimensions of the subject (Polsky, Neff, &Yarnal 2007).
iv. For these reasons, the proposed PASI institute seeks to foster greater movement from data to knowledge to action, to consolidate advanced research and synergize international geospatial initiatives around links between climate change and natural hazard risks while supporting a community of scholars and practitioners across the region in their collaboration around these themes. Broader Impacts. Preparation and responses to pending natural disasters often determine community survival in extreme events. But the public at large is often misinformed or misunderstand the risks as well as responses to hazards.
v. With the anticipated impacts of climate change increasing the likelihood and extremity of hazards, coupled with the largely unpredictable ways in which local communities may experience new or different kinds of events, the importance of an informed, educated public about preparation and response is even more critical. Studies indicate that aggressive communications and public-outreach campaigns significantly influence societal beliefs related to climate change (Maibach 2008) and that personal and civic responsibility influence emergency planning and response (Veil 2008). Efforts underway include the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, which promotes awareness and interest in disasters and early warning (Basher 2006). Dissemination of synthesized information on the relationship between human behavior and climate change helps to build public awareness (Dow et al. 2006) but research findings must be effectively communicated to the public. In particular, government agencies, corporations, unions, the media, educational institutions, and individual citizens should be engaged in order for research results to both accurately reflect and inform these complex realities (Covello 2004).
vi. However, linkages among research, policy, and educational sectors remain emergent and loose in most countries of the Americas, especially in the field of disaster management (Bollin 2003). There thus exists a great opportunity for experts in risk/crisis communication and the communication challenges associated with climate change to collaborate with other scientists and practitioners to convey findings on the spatial dimensions of climate change-related hazard impacts with these stakeholder groups (Tobin et al. 2004). Because education is important in efforts that seek to translate climate change science to responsible policy, and since geographic visualizations have also been recognized as valuable tools for communicating complex scientific information to learners (Edelson et al. 1998; Downs 2004; Bednarz 2004), an integrative spatial approach that links research and education on hazards and climate change can help to “bridge the gap between what may seem an abstract concept and everyday experience” (Nicholson-Cole 2004). However, we do not see this role for communication as mere translation of information into lay terms or into visualizations, but as an iterative and integral part along the whole research-education continuum.
vii. Along these lines, some of the research related questions that this PASI may explore include: How do we offer the latest, state of the art research in climate change (with its uncertainties) to become understandable to youth and the public? How can we capitalize on innovations in learning science to create an educated populace? What considerations must we factor in for particularly vulnerable populations with special educational needs, such as illiterate, disabled, or poor? How do indigenous communities best uptake learning and how can these issues be made relevant in their own languages and cultures? What can be learned from the prior experience with specific hurricanes such as Mitch, Katrina, Ike, and others which the lecturers have studied? How do we incorporate the science understanding of climate change and hazards into long-term resilience building efforts? What can US based researchers learn from Latin American counterparts? What lessons are particularly important to US regions with significant Hispanic / Latino / Spanish-speaking populations?
viii. In short, the broader impacts of the institute hold a potential to transform the scientific outcomes of climate change and hazards research by engaging a new generation of scholars with practitioner realities and international initiatives, and by integrating these perspectives into educational opportunities for various science and engineering disciplines. At the same time, this approach can help the public better understand climate change and its potential hazards impacts within classrooms, boardrooms, and legislative arenas, by conveying research results in visual and easily comprehendible ways.