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Jan. 27 Symposium Will Explore Disasters, Natural and Unnatural

For release: January 14, 2011
For press information, contact Jonathan Judaken, 901-488-7475

How do natural disasters affect communities, and how do humans, in turn, affect such crises? What makes a disaster “natural,” and when do the human imprint and human choices actually create the conditions of disasters, making them “unnatural?” These are some of the questions that will be addressed at the symposium “Natural and Unnatural Disasters” Thursday, Jan. 27, in the University Center Theatre on the University of Memphis campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The symposium will begin at 2 p.m. with an address by Beatrice Magnani about the science behind the New Madrid earthquakes and the debate over the possibility of a massive quake in Memphis. Magnani is a geophysicist and professor at the U of M’s Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI).

The event continues at 3 p.m. with Arleen Hill, U of M professor of Earth Sciences, discussing the contributions and interactions of the physical and human dimensions of disaster and their application to address potential disasters, based on her work in the Mid-South and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and last year’s earthquake in Haiti.

Following at 4 p.m., Lee Clarke will speak on the myths about human behavior in responses to disaster, including panic, social breakdown, the first responder, and planning. He will consider the consequences of the myths’ persistence on the popular imagination and public policy. Clarke is a nationally renowned disaster studies expert and the author of Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination.

The keynote address at 6 p.m. will be given by Simon Winchester, who will explore the human reaction to major disasters. Winchester is the award-winning author of nearly two dozen books, including Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, A Crack in the Edge of the World, The Professor and the Madman, and the recently published Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories.

The symposium is presented by CERI, the U of M’s Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, and the Rhodes College Environmental Studies and Sciences Program.

Parking is available in the Zach Curlin garage, adjacent to the University Center.

For more information, call Jonathan Judaken at 901-488-7475.

The complete schedule for the symposium includes:

2-2:50 p.m., Beatrice Magnani, “The New Madrid Earthquakes Two Hundred Years Later: What Have We Learned About Earthquakes at the Center of Tectonic Plates?”

3-3:50 p.m., Arleen Hill, “Recipes for Disaster: Integrating the Human and Physical Characteristics of Place”

4-5:15 p.m., Lee Clarke, “Disaster Myths and the Damage They Do”

5:15-6 p.m., Reception

6-6:45 p.m., Simon Winchester, “Where to Turn When the World Turns Bad”

6:45-7:45 p.m., Panel discussion featuring Magnani, Hill, Clarke, and Winchester

8 p.m., Book signing
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