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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsDisaster-zone research needs a code of conduct – Nature (JC Gaillard & Lori Peek | November 2019)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Disaster-zone research needs a code of conduct – Nature (JC Gaillard & Lori Peek | November 2019)

 


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Study the effects of earthquakes, floods and other natural hazards with sensitivity to ethical dilemmas and power imbalances.

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage, Alaska, in late November 2018. Roads buckled and chimneys tumbled from rooftops. Business operations were disrupted. Schools were damaged across the district. This was the largest earthquake to shake the region in a generation, and there was much to learn. What was the state of the infrastructure? Might further quakes occur? How did people respond? Teams of scientists and engineers from across the United States mobilized to conduct field reconnaissance in partnership with local researchers and practitioners. These efforts were coordinated through the clearing house set up by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute in Oakland, California, which provided daily in-person and online briefings, as well as a web portal for sharing data.

This discussion is especially relevant at the moment given the bushfires/megafires raging in Australia (and California) and the volcano eruption on White Island, New Zealand.  Our sincere best wishes and hopes to anyone affected by these awful disasters.

But researchers are not always so welcome in disaster zones. After the deadly Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004, hundreds of academics from countries including Japan, Russia, France and the United States rushed to the region to collect perishable data. This influx of foreign scientists angered and fatigued some locals; many declined researchers’ requests for interviews. The former governor of Aceh province, Indonesia, where more than 128,000 people died, described foreign researchers as “guerrillas applying hit-and-run tactics”1. Yet research on tsunami propagation and people’s response to the event has led to improved warnings and emergency-response plans.
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When, on 28 September 2018, an earthquake and tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, dozens of researchers found themselves unable to enter the country2. Indonesian law now requires foreign scientists to obtain a special visa before they can begin research. Data-collection protocols must be submitted to the government in advance and projects must have an Indonesian partner. Violators could face criminal charges and even prison.
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