Spring 2018 – 497-306: Disasters & Resiliency: An Opportunity to Create Circular Economies?

Meeting Day/Time
Thursdays from 10:00 am to 12:40 pm
Weslynne Ashton (Stuart School of Business) (washton@iit.edu) and Robert Pontarelli (Undergraduate Education – Architecture & Urban Planning) (bob@cbarts.com)
Appropriate Majors
All interested students are welcome
Social Innovation

While natural disasters have occurred throughout human history, the scale of the impacts is escalating in the modern era for several reasons, including: increasing population density and income inequality, and rising frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters. Humans never seem to be prepared enough for the “unthinkable” in the form of sudden disasters, and even more at risk are vulnerable communities that lack the financial and material resources to adequately prepare for natural disasters. Homes, businesses and infrastructure are often destroyed, and those affected by disasters must restart their lives and, in some extreme cases, their entire economies. The impact of disasters comes in many forms, including: general health, climatological, geological, environmental, economic, geopolitical and so on. Once these disasters occur, recovery, depending on the level of preparedness, scale of impact or access to resources for recovery, likely takes years.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was particularly brutal. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have devastated the built infrastructure of US cities like Houston and Key West, and several Caribbean islands including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the British and US Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Maarten, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica. In some cases, there has been mass evacuation from these islands. Islands, though dramatically different geographically than continents, may offer important lessons for disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

After disasters, there is an abundance of materials that have been damaged by the events, including built infrastructure, housing stock and household goods, but which potentially may be recovered and reused. These materials are often contaminated with biological or chemical matter, and are typically burned, buried or shipped elsewhere, though some efforts are in place to separate usable materials for future use. How might we repurpose these materials to create circular economic opportunities that help to make these communities more resilient to future disasters? Conversely, how might we use materials that are commonly available in communities, before disasters occur, to improve community preparedness?

We will contrast the business and social entrepreneurship opportunities around disaster preparedness, recovery and resilience in island versus mainland territories.

In addition to meeting IPRO learning objectives, the main goals of this project course are to:

  • Explore current disaster preparedness markets – including identification of equipment and technology that better prepare communities for dealing with disasters;
  • examine what materials are recoverable post-disasters, and develop a “matrix” or “index” of recoverability for disaster-damaged materials in different contexts, based on technical feasibility, economic viability, and social desirability;
  • identify existing hard and soft infrastructures (such as existing organizations and waste recovery systems) in the immediate system boundaries (islands) and across a broader network of related jurisdictions (other islands or regions) that can assist in the recovery and storage of these materials; and
  • identify business opportunities around reusing these materials in a manner that builds resilience and future preparedness in the local economy and environment (e.g., concrete waste to artificial coral reefs, wood waste to distributed energy, waste electronics to local refurbishment/remanufacturing for “hurricane ready” radios or communication devices).

The research and insights developed through this project will be applicable to one region, but the matrix and methodology are potentially applicable to other regions; and there is interest in applying these ideas to other contexts, such as US coastal areas.

Students will organize as a team and establish sub-teams to thoroughly research the existing disaster preparedness and post-disaster materials market to identify insights and explore opportunities that the IPRO team may choose to develop.

The teams are expected to make contact with appropriate stakeholders to understand the specific needs and situation of that location. They will gather secondary (online) and primary data to create a system (matrix) for determining recoverability of post-disaster materials and infrastructures for recovery, and examine which, if any, materials could meet the criteria for fulfilling technical feasibility, business viability and user desirability goals.

The IPRO team will have the opportunity to communicate with primary stakeholders, professionals and organizations on the ground. As a result, the IPRO instructors will request IRB approval before the start of the semester, and students will complete IRB/ human subjects research training before beginning any primary research.

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