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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Building disaster prevention into city design

Posted on 12th April 2015 at 16:35pm

Disaster prevention and response must be part and parcel of planning, designing and building cities, says Graham Saunders, Head, Shelter and Settlements, of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Anyone working in the humanitarian sector recognises that natural and man made disasters do not happen in isolation and are not restricted to the developing world – they are caused by a large number of different social, economic and physical factors.

The built environment is an extremely important consideration for disaster prevention and response. However, in most countries, the two are disconnected, which means opportunities to build resilience are missed and, in the long term, money is wasted.

Design, in its broadest sense (ie anything from city plans to communications networks), is often perceived by humanitarian professionals as not being immediately relevant to disaster relief. In particular, it is clear that the built environment, as the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a day-to-day basis, is not understood fully by the humanitarian sector.

In fact, design is crucial to creating resilience and disaster prevention and response should be part and parcel of the normal design and construction process. National and local governments, architects, engineers, planners and humanitarian workers, must be involved in the planning and development of cities.

Only by bringing these people together will they be able to understand each other’s roles in creating resilience and explore how they can collaborate to deliver robust solutions.

Everyone has a role to play: Humanitarians need to understand long term development and planning goals and the built environment sector needs to understand the imperatives for disaster relief when designing for resilience.

Graham Saunders

Graham Saunders is Head, Shelter and Settlements, of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. A UK-trained architect, Saunders’ recent work has focused on the role of shelter and settlement programming in reducing built environment risks and vulnerabilities and promoting greater engagement between humanitarian shelter and housing development.

Designing City Resilience 2015

Graham Saunders is a member of the editorial panel for Designing City Resilience 2015, a two-day summit organised by the Commonwealth Association of Architects and RIBA. At the heart of this international summit will be the City Resilience Challenge, a workshop-based initiative in which delegates will work on real life cities, collaborating to establish a vision for city resilience.

“The summit presents a rare opportunity to bring together built environment professionals, city leaders and humanitarian practitioners from around the world to discuss the emerging processes, roles and responsibilities, and begin to identify possible solutions, to creating resilient cities,” Saunders says.


Designing City Resilience 2015 will take place on 16 and 17 June 2015 at 66 Portland Place, London. For more information, visit; visit our Facebook page; follow us on Twitter: @rescities; connect via LinkedIn; and watch us on Youtube.

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