Issue 82, January 2010
Managing risks
NTU’s new Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management is the first multidisciplinary research institute of its kind in Asia.

In 2009, more than 800 natural disasters occurred around the world. These included the devastating earthquakes of Indonesia, winter storm Klaus that swept across Europe, and Typhoons Ketsana and Morakot which hit parts of Asia.

Besides high death tolls, these natural calamities left a trail of destruction resulting in US$50b in economic losses. The recent earthquake in Haiti is a stark reminder that the incidence of such hazards seems to be rising.

To enable the international community to better understand the characteristics of risks related to disasters, NTU has launched the Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management (ICRM) – a multidisciplinary catastrophe risk management research institute and the first of its kind in Asia.

Involving NTU’s College of Engineering, Nanyang Business School and S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, ICRM will develop models and tools that can help governments and the industry to analyse potential losses from catastrophes and develop disaster-mitigation and risk-management strategies.

The institute will also serve as a platform for NTU professors to collaborate with professionals from the finance, insurance and reinsurance industry through projects in integrated risk assessment and management of natural and man-made hazards and catastrophes.

The new institute was launched on 21 January by NTU President Dr Su Guaning; the Guest-of-Honour, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS); and Mr Derek Teo, President of the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA).

Synergistic research
In his welcome address, Dr Su said that NTU had done pioneering work in earthquake investigation in Sumatra, an area of research that has been further strengthened with the launch of the S$150m Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) at NTU. The work of ICRM and EOS would be “highly complementary and synergistic”, he said, covering a spectrum of fields from basic earth sciences and engineering to the socio-economic realms of government and finance.

“Our research will help the community to better understand the fundamental characteristics of risks related to natural and non-traditional disasters or threats, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and non-traditional hazards, such as infectious diseases,” added Dr Su. 

“Singapore, with its connectivity to the global community and its location in Asia, can be a key node for risk management,” said Mr Heng, who sees ICRM developing into “a depository of knowledge and data on catastrophe risk management” and “a focal point for regional collaboration and public-private partnerships”.

Prof Pan Tso-Chien, Dean of the College of Engineering, has been appointed the founding Director of ICRM. The institute’s Advisory Board is chaired by Stanford Emeritus Professor Haresh Shah, a member of the NTU Board of Trustees and the founder of Risk Management Solutions Inc (RMS).

To kickstart its research in catastrophe risk management, ICRM will embark on two key projects. The first involves flood risk simulation and the development of a “flood-risk assessment package” to help the authorities assess the probability of floods occurring and their magnitudes, as well as to help the insurance industry establish equitable flood insurance premium rates.

The second project aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of seismic hazards and risks in Singapore based on NTU’s earthquake engineering research. This effort entails studying a basin with soft soils overlaying the bedrock, and developing simulations of ground motion from scenario earthquakes to estimate the degree of damage and financial loss to buildings if an earthquake occurred.

ICRM’s inaugural two-day symposium, held on 21 and 22 January, attracted leading researchers, the chiefs of top insurance and reinsurance companies, as well as risk and public policy think tanks from around the world.

© Corporate Communications Office