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New Scenario Methods to Motivate Action Ahead of Disasters

I am excited to share the release of a new guidance document on advancing the use of scenarios for mitigating disaster risks. Our aim is to drive action on disaster resilience globally, particularly for those most at risk.

This multi-year project was spearheaded by GHI COO Dr. Janise Rodgers, who provides more details below. She led the 22-person project team that brought perspectives from 7 countries and 12 disciplines.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance who funded this work, and the U.S. Geological Survey, who provided complementary research funding.

Veronica Cedillos, GHI President & CEO


Scenarios help people envision what could happen in a disaster, by showing realistic consequences to people, buildings, infrastructure, and land. Communities that face threats from earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions can set to work solving problems—and greatly reduce their risks. Their actions can make people safer in the future, even if an actual disaster differs from the scenario events or sequences.

Meeting with stakeholders in Musikot, Nepal during a scenario project.

Meeting with stakeholders in Musikot, Nepal during a scenario project. Photo: Rinpuii Tlau.

Our research shows that scenarios can strongly motivate long-term risk mitigation actions, though scenarios have typically been used to inform disaster preparedness exercises and drills.

What’s new about “next generation” scenarios?

We developed scenario guidance, Advancing Scenario Practice to Build Resilience to Geologic Hazards, that supports locally owned, locally led and locally sustained action. It explains how to co-produce a “next generation” scenario that leads to implementing disaster risk mitigation, especially in low-resource international contexts. This approach puts science and engineering into action, by linking scenario consequences with decision makers who have power to protect their communities.

The guidance provides practical information on how to set up a project team, obtain funding, adapt in locations with limited available data, and implement policies and programs along an extended timeline. It describes effective practices identified from past scenarios, as well as advancements. Though it was developed for geologic hazards, the general processes and principles apply to hydrometeorological and climate hazards.

Take a look at “next generation” scenarios

The guidance, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is now available for download. The workflow is organized into three phases. Planning emphasizes risk mitigation action as the outcome. Co-production brings in stakeholders and decision-makers, researchers, and practitioners to share knowledge, develop outcomes, and plan feasible solutions. Implementation focuses on actions that the community undertakes to reduce and mitigate its risks.

Advancing Scenario Practice to Build Resilience to Geologic Hazards includes 10 workflow activities and 4 cross-cutting themes for “next generation” scenarios. Graphic: Rebecca Laberenne

Chapters provide practical information on each workflow activity. The distinct activities share cross-cutting themes. Scenarios are flexible tools, so teams might seek information on some activities and not others.

What did we learn from past scenario practice? 

Before our study, few efforts captured valuable lessons or evaluated how past scenario efforts engaged local partners and motivated mitigation action. Technical professionals have used geologic hazards scenarios for over 50 years. There was room for improvement. 

We asked: How could scenarios be improved to motivate mitigation actions and policy change? Our research included more than 150 interviews with practitioners in Nepal, Ecuador, New Zealand, and California, U.S.A. who developed or used geologic hazards scenarios. We also researched past scenario efforts and emerging approaches, and consulted with practitioners. 

Making communities safer is the goal

Based on findings in a scenario, communities can chart a course of action. In the short term, “small wins'' that immediately begin reducing risk maintain momentum from the scenario effort. Water and power service providers might improve backups, and plan for repairs and redundancy. Next, communities can pursue middle distance pathways such as increasing compliance with building codes. Long-term programs can strengthen schools, hospitals, and housing for earthquakes, or keep them from being built in areas of high hazard from landslides or lahars (volcanic mudflows).

A “next generation” scenario effort leads to stakeholders implementing resilience solutions along a timeline. Graphic: Rebecca Laberenne

We hope you find these scenario approaches helpful and that you will be able to apply them. We look forward to hearing about your experiences. Please share your thoughts and challenges along the way. Coming soon: a companion guide just for volcanoes, and considerations for cross-border disaster scenarios.

On behalf of the Next Generation Scenarios project team,

Janise Rodgers

COO and Team Leader for the Next Generations Scenarios project

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Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.

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Note: This guidance is made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID's Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). The content of the guidance document is the responsibility of GeoHazards International and associated consultants and does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States government. Portions of this material are based upon work supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) under Grant No. G21AP10023-00. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the USGS.


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