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Assistant Professor Susanna Jenkins wins NRF Award for ‘black swan’ risk analysis project

13 Sep 2018

Congratulations to Assistant Professors Susanna Jenkins (PI) and David Lallemant (Co-I), who have been awarded an NRF grant under the ‘Systemic Risk and Resilience Initiative Planning Grant Call’. Asst Prof Jenkins is a Principal Investigator with the Volcano Group at Earth Observatory Singapore, where she does research on volcanic hazard, vulnerability and risk assessment for the purpose of disaster risk reduction. Asst Prof Lallemant is a Principal Investigator with the Hazards, Risk and Society Group at Earth Observatory Singapore, where he focuses on understanding and quantifying the evolution of extreme risk in today’s growing cities. The project will collaborate closely with Dr Gordon Woo, an adjunct professor at NTU and catastrophist at RMS, who specialises in the mathematical modelling of extreme risks.

The funded project, called “Assessing the risk from natural ‘Black Swans’ through the lens of Counterfactual Analysis”, will look at new risks that may arise from current and future changes in environmental conditions; risks that are difficult to predict but with potentially disastrous consequences. Unlike many of its neighbour countries, Singapore is lucky enough to have been exempt from major natural hazards like earthquakes, typhoons, and extreme weather events. But with climate change and other related environmental changes, like sea level rise, predictability based on past events becomes less dependable, and the presuppositions of risk assessment need to change. Even just small changes, for example in wind conditions or population size, may cause drastic changes in the impact of a disaster event.

In this new project, Asst Prof Jenkins and co-investigators are going to develop tools to help recognize the natural events that could potentially have catastrophic impact on cities, but that are difficult to predict with traditional risk assessment tools. They are using a novel approach; “counterfactual thought experiments”, which involves using a known past disaster event and considering a whole network of credible alternate paths and feedbacks, for example, if wind had dispersed volcanic ash over populated areas rather than the sea. This way, the researchers can turn future “black swan” events (catastrophic unforeseen events) into “grey swan” events (rare but manageable events).

The grant is a Planning Grant, and will involve identifying historical case studies relevant for Singapore and South-east Asia and developing a prototype framework for linking physical processes, environmental conditions, status of the system and impacts. Together with international leaders and experts in relevant fields, Asst Profs Jenkins, Lallemant, Prof Woo and their NTU co-workers aim to develop a proposal for a larger project tackling this increasingly important theme.

Read more about Asst Professor Susanna Jenkins and her research here  
Read about the NRF Systemic Risk and Resilience Initiative Planning Grant here