A defining partnership
5 August 2013
What has looking into the meaning of a single word got to do with analysing the impact of natural hazards like droughts, thunderstorms and landslides? A closer look at the achievements and aspirations of the Natural Hazards Partnership reveals all...
Set up in 2011, the Natural Hazards Partnership is a collaboration of more than 15 research centres and agencies that share a vision to provide research, analysis and operational advice on potentially dangerous natural events. Their audience is made up of governments and emergency responders - and their work helps these organisations create more effective policies, communications and services.
"We're there to support the work of each of the partners."
In practice, this involves bringing together scientists from a range of backgrounds to share information and knowledge, and then communicating it with the right people. From the start, the Met Office has played a significant role in making that a reality, getting involved in projects that range from developing new technology that helps quantify the impact of natural hazards to producing factsheets for easy reference.
We have even looked closely at the language used by scientists - going right down to the level of individual words - to make sure everyone's clear on all terms and definitions being used (see box for more info about the main projects).
The Met Office's Paul Davies has led the development of the Natural Hazard Partnership from the beginning. In the aftermath of the severe floods of summer 2007 - and in response to the subsequent Pitt Review - Paul was Chief Hydrometeorologist at the Flood Forecasting Centre, a successful joint initiative between the Met Office and the Environment Agency. In this role he worked closely with the natural hazards team in the Civil Contingencies Secretariat within the Cabinet Office.
At the time, Paul was forging links with a range of specialist agencies and spotted an opportunity to make the most of the combined talent and knowledge. With the support of the Cabinet Office, Paul set the wheels in motion and quickly received very encouraging results. "There are too many people to acknowledge individually in this short article, but it was immediately apparent how much everybody believed in the idea," says Paul.
But it was important for Paul and others involved that the results they achieved spoke for themselves. "We agreed very early on that we wanted to be judged on what we do, not just what we say."
Within a month, the partners had agreed what projects they would work on. And from that day onwards, the ethos of sharing, innovation and getting things done has been key to the development of the Partnership. It has English, Welsh and Scottish government representatives plus the potential for Northern Ireland to join soon.
The partnership's projects aim to make a genuine difference to its key audience - so to help ensure standards, it operates under the watchful eye of a representative advisory group.
"They challenge us and steer us," says Paul. "They test our products for usefulness and relevance and help us plan how to roll out services."
The advisory group adds real value to the partnership's projects, helping to avoid duplication or confusing work that is already being done. "The NHP is about complementing existing services, not developing a separate operation", says Paul. "We're there to support the work of each of the partners."
The value of the partnership and its work is attracting widespread recognition. After a recent international conference, 'Building resilience to natural hazards,' it was commended in a report from the European Commission as a successful example of how science can be connected to operations and policy makers. Member states are now looking into how a similar partnership might work Europe-wide.
With such high praise - and with a developing business case that may attract additional funding - the future looks full of opportunity for the NHP. "We're exploring possibilities of cementing and enhancing the work that's already happening," says Paul, "but we won't lose sight of the spirit of the partnership. The key thing is that we're all in it together - everyone shares and everyone benefits. And we'll just keep building from there."
Key projects by the Natural Hazard Partnership
National Risk Assessment (NRA)
Providing scientific input to the NRA, the government method of monitoring the most significant emergencies that the UK and its citizens could face over the next five years.
The following projects are currently being developed by the partners for future delivery to the emergency response community:
Daily Hazard Assessment
At-a-glance, five-day outlook for natural hazards, which might affect the UK. Includes links to partners for more detailed information.
Hazard Impact Model
Ongoing development of new technology based on information gathered from a variety of partners, to quantify the impact of certain hazard scenarios.
Easy-reference info about a range of hazards and the science behind them specifically targeted at responders. Currently this covers drought, wind, landslides, space weather, inland flooding, wildfires and snow and ice.
Close analysis of the language used to communicate the science. Establishing clarity across the partnership around crucial terminology e.g. 'predict', 'forecast,' as well as hazard-specific language.