Landmark Disaster Talks

FM Approvals: Landmark Disaster Talks

FM Approvals and FM Global play roles in the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held at the site of the Sendai earthquake

Representatives from FM Approvals and FM Global participated in the third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) held March 14 – 18 in Sendai, Japan. The city of one million is located 80 miles (129 km) from the epicenter of the 2011 9.0 magnitude earthquake that caused a cascade of disastrous events, including a major tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 and triggered the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

The main purpose of the conference was to review the Hyogo Framework for Action, the first internationally accepted framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR)—adopted in 2005 at the last United Nations WCDRR—and replace it with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030. The new framework outlines seven global targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, including:

  • Substantially reduce global disaster mortality
  • Reduce the number of affected people worldwide
  • Reduce economic losses in relation to global GDP
  • Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities
  • Increase the number of countries with national and local DRR strategies by 2020
  • Enhance international cooperation; and
  • Increase access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments

Since the last conference in Kobe, Japan (Hyogo Prefecture), in January 2005, at least 700,000 people have died, 1.7 billion people have been impacted and there have been US$1.4 trillion in economic losses from major reported disasters, according to a U.N. report.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his opening remarks, noted that global economic losses due to disasters now exceed US$300 billion annually. He said, “We can watch that number grow as more people suffer, or we can dramatically lower that figure and invest the savings in development. Six billion dollars allocated each year can result in savings of up to US$360 billion by 2030.”

More than 6,500 participants took part in the conference, including 2,800 government representatives from 187 countries. The group included 25 heads of state and vice presidents, as well as 100 government ministers, 236 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 38 U.N. entities and more than 300 private sector organizations.

In attendance from FM Approvals and FM Global were:

  • Paris Stavrianidis, FM Approvals vice president and general manager
  • Dr. Louis Gritzo, FM Global vice president and manager of research
  • Marcelo Lima, FM Global senior consultant, codes and standards, based in São Paulo, Brazil
  • Sumit Khanna, FM Global consultant, codes and standards, based in Bangalore, India
  • Takuhiro Koga, FM Approvals associate engineer, based in Yokohama, Japan
  • Hirohide Akiyama, FM Global engineering specialist, based in Yokohama, Japan

The U.N. conference provided an ideal opportunity for the combined FM Approvals and FM Global team to meet and exchange ideas with a broad cross section of likeminded representatives from public and private sectors. For instance, team members were able to meet with regulators and other government officials from Brazil, India, Japan, China and other countries to discuss loss prevention strategies, including the impact of local codes and standards.

“The conference was primarily focused on reducing risk in underdeveloped economies where the impact of disasters hits the hardest and the effects are more difficult to absorb,” notes Stavrianidis. “In the sessions we took part in we emphasized the need to educate all stakeholders in the risks and challenges associated with natural hazards with a focus on flooding. Flood mapping and the certification of flood mitigation products are two key areas where we are having an impact.”

Private sector partnership (PSP) is a key element in the U.N. Disaster Risk Reduction strategy. Stavrianidis and Gritzo stressed both FM Approvals and FM Global’s commitment to partnering with governmental organizations, academia, and other members of the private sector and public at large in achieving risk reduction.

“A key example of this commitment is our partnership with the Association of State Flood Plain Managers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide manufacturers with a multilevel certification program for flood abatement products,” Stavrianidis says. This program, introduced in 2012, has resulted in the growing availability of FM Approved flood mitigation products, including temporary perimeter barriers, opening barriers, backwater valves and flood abatement pumps.

“Flooding is the most frequent natural hazard in the world,” notes Gritzo. “However, the majority of floods are predictable and, most importantly, preventable. Our extensive field engineering workforce is highly experienced in assessing and reducing site-specific flood risk based on the more than 100,000 risk assessments we conduct each year. Reducing flood risk worldwide is a monumental task, the foundation of which is based on knowing the hazard. We are therefore actively partnering with public and private organizations to develop new and more accurate flood mapping techniques, particularly for use in emerging economies and in developing regions where local flood maps are often unavailable or inaccurate.”

Gritzo also emphasized FM Global’s commitment and technical contributions to the Global Earthquake Model (GEM), a public-private partnership devoted to creating tools to consistently and accurately quantify earthquake risk worldwide and thereby help save lives and reduce property loss. This effort, which was established based on the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action, has resulted in the introduction at the end of last year of OpenQuake, a web-based risk assessment platform for modeling, viewing, exploring and managing earthquake risk worldwide.

Gritzo served on two U.N. WCDRR discussion panels held at the Sendai International Center, including one entitled Risk Identification and Assessment and the other, Standards for DRR Including Building Codes. Stavrianidis served on a public forum panel entitled, Setting Standards on Infrastructure, Strengthening Resilience Through Building and Land-use Regulation.