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Smart Urban Resilience: Enabling Citizen Action in Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response

April 2019 to March 2022 

Project Lead: Dr Andres Luque-Ayala (Geography, Durham University) 

Durham University Co-Leads: Prof. Ben Anderson (Geography), Prof. Alex Densmore (Geography) 

Natural hazards in Mexico are a significant source of human suffering and economic loss. Between 2000–2010, natural hazards caused 2,367 deaths, leaving over 15m people affected (Gobierno de la República 2014). With natural disasters generating estimated annual average losses of $2.9b USD (UNISDR 2015), identifying novel, integrated and shared forms of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency response is a national priority (General Civil Protection Law 2012; IFORM 2017).  

Such need is particularly salient for medium-size cities, home to the majority of the world’s urban population yet poorly understood—and where urban sprawl, poor planning, and rapid demographic growth increase the scale of the challenges associated with disaster management, prevention and response. 

The project aims to understand how smart city and urban digital technologies play a role in building urban resilience through changing the ways in which citizens prepare and respond to natural disasters and emergencies—empirically testing whether and how citizen engagement is important for realising the potential of smart urban technologies in DRR. Focusing on medium-size cities, the project examines existing practice and future potential of a range of smart city interventions (such as open data platforms, civic hacking, smart urban planning and others) for altering the role of different social actors in DRR and emergency response. 

Three case study cities will form the focus of the project: 

  • Queretaro: central Mexico, facing stronger storms and floods due to changing rainfall patterns, insufficient pluvial infrastructure, and erosion/urbanization of infiltration areas. 
  • Puebla: zone of intense seismic activity; high concentration of population in metropolitan zone. 
  • Acapulco: located in a coastal area, prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides and floods. 

This is a joint initiative between: 

  • Durham University (Geography Department and Institute of Hazards, Risk and Resilience-IHRR) 
  • CIDE-CentroMet (Centro Latam Digital and CentroMet-CONACYT) 
  • Newcastle University (Global Urban Research Unit-GURU) 
  • Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero-UAGRO.