Western-led team seeks to strengthen coastal disaster resilience in Canada, Cuba, Indonesia

A tsunami hazard zone sign in Tofino, British Columbia, reminds residents and vi
A tsunami hazard zone sign in Tofino, British Columbia, reminds residents and visitors to move inland or to higher ground in the event of of an earthquake. (Katsu Goda)
Katsu Goda, Reza Najafi head project aimed to empower vulnerable communities, attracting more than $1.5M from New Frontiers in Research Fund

A Western-based international research project aims to strengthen disaster resilience in coastal communities in Canada, Cuba and Indonesia, tackling a peril of climate change.

As global temperatures continue to rise, increasing the chance of simultaneous and consecutive climate hazards such as rising sea levels, floods, storms, and hurricanes, the risk of geological hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis remains significant.

Katsu Goda (Mitch Zimmer/Western Science)

These multiple dangers pose a direct threat to coastal areas worldwide because of their physical and socio-economic vulnerability.

Without pre-disaster recovery plans, these populations will be trapped in a negative spiral of dwindling community capacity and resources, unable to cope with future compound weather events.

Western researchers Katsu Goda and Reza Najafi hope to change that as directors of the Centre for Multi-Hazard Risk and Resilience.

They’ve created the CIRCLE project to identify vulnerabilities and co-create enhanced pre-disaster recovery-preparedness plans tailored to the different cultural and socioeconomic needs of the targeted areas.

In the case of Tofino, a community located on the west coast of British Columbia within the Cascadia subduction zone, earthquake and tsunami hazards are its major threats. Living along the shoreline, other hazards include flooding and storm surges on top of the tides and waves from rising sea levels. A growing tourist population, perhaps unfamiliar with emergency preparedness exercises, could also slow traffic and the single-road access to resources, exacerbating the impact.

"Multi-hazard, cascading events are a reality that has to be faced in B.C., but even in Quebec and Eastern Ontario as well," said Goda, a Canada Research Chair in Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment and a professor in the departments of earth sciences and statistical and actuarial science. "The timing between those disasters is getting shorter and shorter, so people have less time to recover and sort themselves out. We need to be coherent for future situations, with more emphasis placed on pre-disaster planning so that when something hits, we are ready to go to fix the situation as quickly as possible."

Western’s first international NFRF grant

The collaborative effort of the CIRCLE Project has the potential to serve as a model for future disaster resilience initiatives.

Reza Najafi (Jake Arts/Western Engineering)

It was recently recognized as one of the global interdisciplinary research initiatives putting Canada "at the forefront of international research on climate change adaptation and mitigation," attracting Western’s first international New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) grant.

Through an investment of $1.5 million CAD and $498,000 GBP, (Five additional Western researchers also received funding through the NFRF Exploration competition. See below.)

Najafi, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering, said the funding is timely.

"We are living in a world that’s changing fast and are experiencing hazards and events that are unprecedented," he said. "Many of these hazards are due to interactions between multiple drivers.

"We now have large growing data sets available and the tools to help us understand the underlying mechanisms. Now is the perfect time to use this data to develop new approaches to study these hazards affecting us all, but mostly coastal communities."

Adopting a holistic, community-based approach to disaster resilience

Working within Western’s geological catastrophe modeling and the climate-hydrological groups, Goda and Najafi have brought together an interdisciplinary, international team including:
  • Climate change and geological hazard scientists to focus on the adaptive multi-hazard framework
  • Infrastructure and systems specialists to characterize and assess the physical and socio-economic impacts of interrupted infrastructure and services
  • Social scientists to collaborate with local communities to develop risk mitigation and preparedness-recovery plans.


"Each topic has a scientific and engineering aspect, but for me the most exciting part of this project is the opportunity to work together and learn from the social scientists and also the people in Tofino, Cuba and Asia," Goda said. "If we can integrate science, engineering and social science in this way, we could pioneer a new research field in this area."

Najafi agrees.

"Our assessment considers all’aspects of risk and their interconnections. We focus on multiple hazards affecting different assets rather than a single hazard. This approach allows us to identify the most vulnerable assets and determine how to increase resilience for each community," he said.

"Within this large interdisciplinary approach, looking at the distinct characteristics of the cultures and regions, I think the research has the potential to have great impact not only in these areas but also in developing communities."

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Five Western researchers receive NFRF exploration grants

Five other Western faculty members received NFRF support with successful submissions to the NFRF Exploration grant competition, which recognizes researchers who bring various disciplines together in "new ways and from bold, innovative perspectives."

The following researchers recently received NFRF exploration grants of $250,000:


    Sara Ghebremusse , Cassels Chair in Mining Law and Finance, Faculty of Law



Project: (Re) Imagining an Indigenous-led sustainable mineral resource sector in Canada

Project: Therapeutic polymers for cartilage repair and regeneration


    François Lagugné-Labarthet , department of chemistry, Faculty of Science



Project: Opioid crisis response: Decision making and data analytics convergence


    Siobhan Schabrun , School of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences



Project: Propelling chronic pain into the multiverse uncovering risk through multiomic profiling


    Jin Zhang, department of chemical and biochemical engineering, Faculty of Engineering



Project: Skin-like sensing system: New continuous blood pressure measurement