Veronica Cedillos

Designing for Disasters Before They Happen: A Focus on Underserved Communities

MIT Architecture | Fall 2020 Lecture Series
In collaboration with the Building Technology Group
6:00 PM, webcast

Worldwide, a stark, sobering disproportion in disaster impacts exists in low-income versus high-income communities. Over 90% of disaster fatalities occur in developing countries (UNDP, 2014) and natural disasters are a major driver of extreme poverty for millions around the world (Hallgate et al., 2017). And while there has long been international consensus—most notably in the form of the UN’s Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 and its successor, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction—that proactive measures are the most effective in saving lives and protecting livelihoods, the vast majority of funding and attention continues to come only after tragic events. 

GeoHazards International is addressing this problem, with the mission of ending preventable death and suffering from natural disasters in the world’s most vulnerable communities. Since its founding in 1991, GeoHazards International has worked in over 20 countries on earthquake, tsunami, landslide, and more recently, climate-related hazards. These efforts have become even more critical as the growth of natural hazard risk far outpaces work to mitigate it, communities are now facing new or exacerbated hazards from climate change, and the poorest continue to be the ones who suffer the most from disasters.

GeoHazards International focuses on developing locally-appropriate mitigation and preparedness measures informed by the latest science, engineering, policy, and social science. These include risk-informed planning and growth, disaster-resistant design and construction, planning of post-event functionality of critical infrastructure like hospitals, and science-informed preparedness. Programs are designed to be a catalyst for lasting impact by building local capacity, creating local ownership, and empowering communities. The vision is a future where communities can thrive despite natural hazards.

This talk will provide specific examples of programs and will describe on-the-ground challenges, strategies for addressing them, opportunities, and key takeaways.

Veronica Cedillos

Veronica Cedillos is President & CEO at GeoHazards International, a nonprofit focused on empowering communities to be safer from disasters. She is responsible for the strategic and financial management of the organization, including that of field offices in Haiti, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Dominican Republic. Her educational background is in structural engineering and her professional experience has focused on managing projects to reduce the impacts of natural hazards. She has directed numerous efforts focusing on seismic and tsunami risk reduction throughout the world, including major projects in Armenia, Haiti, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic, Peru, and the United States. As part of this work, she lived in Haiti, Indonesia, and Peru for extended periods. In recognition of her work, Veronica was selected as the 2010 American Society of Civil Engineer’s New Faces of Engineering and was awarded the 2011 Shah Family Innovation Prize by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI). She was named an EERI Housner Fellow in 2017 and serves on the Executive Committee of EERI’s School Earthquake Safety Initiative. She has been a major contributor or editor on several technical reports that guide practicing engineers to design buildings to withstand natural hazards. Veronica is a licensed civil engineer in California and holds an M.S. in Structural Engineering from Stanford University and B.S. in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.