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October 16, 2008

UW committee and conference organized for Puget Sound area’s safety

Seattleites have spent decades fearing the Big One, the earthquake we’re apparently overdue for. A quake, tsunami or other catastrophe has the potential to be Seattle’s Hurricane Katrina. Just in terms of dollars, city officials estimate that a large disaster in this area could cost upwards of $33 billion.

A new group of researchers at the UW wants to make sure that our region is resilient in the face of such a disaster. The Interdisciplinary Committee on Safety and Security Research and Education, or UWS2, recently appointed by The UW Graduate School to centralize efforts on safety and security research, will host its inaugural conference on campus later this month.

The group, which consists of 19 faculty members from 14 different departments, will focus on research relating to disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

At the first annual Safety and Security Education and Research conference, hosted at UW Oct. 30 through Nov. 1, safety and security experts from UW and elsewhere will meet to discuss the Puget Sound area’s capacity to anticipate risks and recover from a disaster, be it natural or man-made.

“The whole world is struggling with how to deal with major disasters,” said Mark Haselkorn, UW technical communication professor and chair of the new committee. “We can’t just keep reinventing ourselves every time something awful happens.”

To kick off the conference on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 30, psychologist Gary Klein of Klein Associates will speak on decision making. Klein started the field of naturalistic decision making, the study of how people make tough decisions in difficult situations. Klein’s models of quick decision making under pressure have influenced Marine and Army training regiments. His lecture, from 7 to 9 p.m. in 210 Kane, is free and open to the public.

On Friday, Oct. 31, Haselkorn will talk about what it means for a community to be resilient to disaster, and the steps Seattle and other communities need to take to reach resiliency. Other keynote speakers include U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Suzanne Englebert, newly appointed as Seattle’s captain of the port, and U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Stephen Metruck, Seattle’s former port captain.

The conference also will feature panels on topics such as cybersecurity and the ethics of security intelligence, featuring panelists from UW and other research institutions, industry professionals, and representatives of government agencies. The conference is free to the University community, but attendees must register online (http://parvac.washington.edu/events/saser2008) for events on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 by Monday, Oct. 27. UW students interested in careers in intelligence and national security can attend a special session of the conference, “Networking for Careers,” 5 to 7 p.m. Friday Oct. 31 in 106B HUB.

Haselkorn views the new safety and security committee as a contact point for government agencies, such as the Coast Guard. “We want to co-create our research with the people it’s supposed to serve,” he said.

UWS2 will eventually offer new classes and is planning a graduate certificate program to begin in fall 2009, Haselkorn said.