Geohazards on the Horizon

drone image of a swollen riverbed
drone image of a swollen riverbed
View of the three open shutters of the Cheruthoni Dam in the background. Evidently, the Cheruthoni Bridge has been destroyed due to flood waters. Image Credit: I&PRD

There's a method to my disaster management.

India is in a unique position with climate change. It’s a densely populated country that is prone to geohazards like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and floods. Because of that density, one disaster can hurt a lot of people, as happened in August of this year when a mudslide in southern India killed 66 people and displaced at least 360,000.

landslide on a hill in India
A view of the landslide that destroyed the Munnar College building. Image Credit: I&PRD August 20

Mumbai alone has a population of 19 million people, but only one university there, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), offers a degree in disaster management and mitigation.

“This is a pressing need,” said Thomas Oommen, associate professor of geological and mining engineering sciences and affiliated associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech. “Technologies used today in disaster management need to be taught to students so they can be ready for when a disaster hits a community this large.”

About the Researcher


Oommen was given a grant from the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai to travel there, along with Tim Frazier from Georgetown University and Himanshu Grover from the University of Washington, to meet with faculty and administration from TISS as well as Indian officials. For two weeks in August, they worked to identify gaps in the TISS program and develop a state-of-the-art disaster management curriculum to be implemented at TISS. They will continue to meet via an online portal every month to continue work on the curriculum, which they hope can then be replicated at universities across India to train more people to handle the disasters to come.

Oommen sees this becoming a way to train professionals already working in the field.

“We want to see if there are shorter programs that can be delivered to people who are already working in this field, like an adult education program or continuing education program, so more people can be trained in this area,” he said. 

Bridging new remote sensing research and effective education — built on good communication and getting timely, accurate info to the right people — is a key part of the methodology behind Oommen's global geohazards work.

flooded river
Flooding in India's Idukki district. Image Credit: I&PRD August 20

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.