Ten Inspirational Ted Talks for Disaster Professionals

Ten Inspirational Ted Talks for Disaster Professionals

I found these ten inspirational TED Talks from disaster professionals across the globe. The speakers include an aid worker, a scientist, a disaster specialist, and a health expert, among others.  Unsurprisingly, their talks cover the spectrum of topics.

In order to stay up-to-date, it is important for disaster professionals to understand industry trends. Along with that, we challenge ourselves to think outside of the box to solve problems.  Additionally, as disaster professionals, we are the champions for the work we do. 

However, it can be challenging to come up with innovative and actionable solutions. So, the benefit of TED Talks is in the excitement and new ideas that they generate. They also introduce us to new concepts in a quick, entertaining and digestible way. At their best, they can spark new ways of thinking to solve old problems.

Ted Talks for Disaster Professionals

1. There is nothing natural about disaster – Rohini Swaminathan

She may be small in stature, but Rohini Swaminathan has a large presence. Her career was inspired by the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Due to this experience, she studies disasters to understand their root causes. 

Now, as a specialist in geomatics, she analyzes global information to help us learn how to prepare for natural disasters. Here, she describes how it is vital to connect technology with people to stop catastrophies before they happen.

As an angry teenager, I asked my father why no one did anything about this. Why did this happen? And he simply replied, kiddo, what can you do if this happens again?

2. Smart Disaster Recovery – Chamutal Afek Eitam

Chamutal Afek Eitam worked for over twenty years as a humanitarian. Due to this, she has seen first-hand what people deal with in the aftermath of disaster events. 

Today, as a seasoned disaster professional, she is the Founder & CEO of the 3 Million Club. The nonprofit’s mission is to end child mortality from malnutrition by the year 2020. Related to this, she says the solution is for communities to do their own disaster planning and learn how to help themselves without outside aid.

Accordingly, this is why one of my mantras is that all disaster start local and end locally.  Here, Ms. Eitam explains this beautifully.

We know that smart cities bounce back not because of fancy technologies. They bounce back because they have plans in place. Plans that they make. That are owned by them. That are led by them. Therefore, these plans are realistic and possible and sustainable.

3. All disasters are preventable – Muralee Thummarukudy

Dr. Muralee Thummarukudy has a long career as a disaster professional. He works for the United Nations, has served as an advisor to Shell Oil Company in the Middle East and with the Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch of UNEP. He has many years of observing the impacts of disasters across the world.  Thus, his long years of experience have influenced his opinion on how he thinks we should be preparing for crisis events.

So, in spite of the devastation he has seen, he uses humor to share his experiences in the field with us. Now, he says that it is essential to use the tools at our disposable. Likewise, he also encourages us to pay attention to the environment around us. Finally, he describes how learning from the past can help us to solve today’s problems and is the best way to effect real change. 

Lesson number one, we should always use modern science to deal with the consequence of natural disasters. Lesson number two, we must always look backward before planning forward.

4. Disaster recovery – a growth industry? Toby Russell

Toby Russell is the CEO of Natural Capitalism Solutions, a company focused on helping organizations make a profit and protect the environment. Here he talks about how to create a sustainable disaster recovery process informed by his first-hand experience.

After his town was hit by a major flood he used the skills developed from running his business to help communities prepare for future disasters. His story resonates due to the fact it is so personal. In addition, it shows us how we can use everyday skills to solve big problems. 

Hurricane Mitch in Central America revealed that sustainable agriculture practices made farms more resilient in a disaster than conventual methods.

5. From disaster response to disaster prevention – Rachel Kyte

Rachel Kyte shares her take on resilience. She’s the Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).  Her beliefs about resilience come from her childhood experience on her grandparent’s farm.

Especially, Rachel stresses that resilience should be built from the ground up and that by investing in preparedness today, communities save money in the long term. Lastly, she says it lessens the human impact. Above all, she believes that disaster prevention lies within all of us.

For every dollar that the community invested in these drains, it saved another three dollars that it would have had to spend on response and on reconstruction if they had not taken the steps towards preparedness.

6. An ingenious solution for aid in disaster zones - A. Dara Dotz

Dara Dotz started out using 3D printing to disrupt black markets, geography, and unreliable supply chains to get emergency medical parts to disaster zones.

Now, she’s left the tech industry for the nonprofit world. She became a disaster professional after realizing our widespread reliance on tech may be doing us more harm than good. Due to this belief, she founded Field Ready. Her non-profit works with communities in disaster zones. Accordingly, she works in disaster-impacted areas across the globe to help people develop low-tech aid solutions.

We aren’t going to be able to throw tech at every problem. Instead of focusing on the next blockchain or AI, perhaps the things we really need to focus on are the things that make us human.

7. Why we do not prepare for earthquakes - Steven Eberlein

One of the main reasons why disaster recovery and preparedness campaigns fail is that the recommended solutions are hard for people to implement.  Also, many people are in denial that a major event will ever happen to them. Last, many are simply overwhelmed and don’t understand how to prepare.

Undeterred by this, Steve Eberlein used his experience working for the Red Cross in the Cascades Region of Oregon to share his personal fear about our lack of preparedness for earthquakes. During this talk, he manages to educate and entertain us. While making us laugh, he clearly communicates the challenges of dealing with the aftermath of a 9.0 earthquake. Finally, he shares a simple solution that any of us can use to recover from this type of disaster.

Consequently, with his success in communicating this, he now heads up Tipping Point, LLC as an earthquake preparedness consultant. 

What worries me is not only that we are not ready, what worries me is that we haven’t decided to get ready.

8. The Secret to Successful Crisis Management in the 21st Century – Melissa Agnes

Melissa Agnes is a crisis management strategist. She helps companies and governments prevent damage to their reputation after a crisis. Consequently, her guidance helps them understand how to manage a crisis using social media to their advantage.

In this talk, she shares her insights on how organizations should be using digital media. Then, she explains how to help them master digital platforms. Finally, she urges them to become disaster professionals within their organizations. 

There’s no denying it. Social media, the real-time news cycle and mobile technology have changed the landscape for crisis management.

9. We need to turn our response to crisis inside out – Shalini Unnikrishnan

Shalini Unnikrishnan worked in Africa during an Ebola outbreak. While there, she observed that the recovery process was not going according to plan. As a result, she saw how people suffered due to that failure. In particular, she came to understand that the problem was the inability of the aid workers to understand how to involve people in coming up with solutions.  Consequently, she began to see what really works.

Now, she says that to save lives, we need to change the response to the next pandemic by focusing on people first and scientific medical procedures second.

Where we were willing to listen, people gave us solutions.

10. Defeating Earthquakes – Ross Stein

This talk is from 2012 but just as relevant today as when he first gave it. Ross Stein is a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey in California and part of the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) project. As a disaster professional, he specializes in earthquake prevention.

Stein’s work focuses on how earthquakes interact with the transfer of environmental stress. Additionally,  he is a co-founder and CEO of Temblor, a startup where people can learn what a seismic hazard is and how to reduce the risk to their own homes.

You are looking at a building you would find in any part of the world. For reasons I don’t understand, we as a society have decided to build building out of stacks of cubes. Now the problem is that cubes have no structural integrity and by that, I mean that no matter how well we bolt this building to the ground, no mater how strong its columns and its beams are, this building is held up exclusively by its corners. It’s only as strong as its weakest corners.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, these TED Talks embody the smart and actionable ideas that we can use to improve our disaster preparedness and response capabilities. The speakers have already had some success in spreading their ideas. I hope that through this blog, they will be seen people who can use them to do the most good.

It’s not always easy for disaster professionals to stay motivated in the work we do.  At times the challenges we face seem insurmountable. TED Talks like these can give you the inspiration needed to solve those issues successfully.

The talks should be motivational for any disaster professionals out there.  Please share any other innovative, motivational speeches you came across or join in the conversation in the comment section below.

Beyond the exciting ideas provide in the talks, I hope that one day, we have our own TED Talk for disaster professionals. It would be amazing to have disaster champions and disaster professionals together in one place. Until that day, I plan to continue to share information like so that it finds its way where it is needed most.

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