There's a method to my disaster management.
India is in a unique position with climate change. It’s a densely populated country that is prone to geohazards like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and floods. Because of that density, one disaster can hurt a lot of people, as happened in August of this year when a mudslide in southern India killed 66 people and displaced at least 360,000.
Mumbai alone has a population of 19 million people, but only one university there, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), offers a degree in disaster management and mitigation.
“This is a pressing need,” said Thomas Oommen, associate professor of geological and mining engineering sciences and affiliated associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech. “Technologies used today in disaster management needs to be taught to students so they can be ready for when a disaster hits a community this large.”
Oommen was given a grant from the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai to travel there, along Tim Frazier, from Georgetown University and Himanshu Grover, University of Washington, and meet with faculty and administration from TISS plus Indian officials. For two weeks in August, they worked to identify gaps in the TISS program and develop a state-of-the-art, modern disaster management curriculum to be implemented at TISS. They will continue to meet via an online portal every month to continue work on the curriculum, which they hope can then be replicated at universities across India to train more people to handle the disasters to come.
Oommen sees this becoming a way to train professionals already working in the field too.
“We also want to see if there are shorter programs that can be delivered to people who are already working in this field, like an adult education program or continuing education program, so more people can be trained in this area,” he said.
Bridging new remote sensing research and effective education — built on good communication and getting timely, accurate info to the right people — is a key part of the methodology behind Oommen's global geohazards work.