How can urban communities prepare for the risk of mega disaster and the demand of long-term recovery? Cities may not be able to predict the future – but politicians, bureaucrats and the public can certainly prepare for the unexpected.

Patrick Roberts, Associate Professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP), consulted with Korean scholars and policy-makers on best practices in resilience during a recent trip to Seoul. A robust exchange of information was accomplished through the visit, with key takeaways from several presentations delivered by SPIA’s Dr. Roberts.

  • At the Korean Association for Policy Studies International Conference on Sustainable Society and Policy Changes, Dr. Roberts described his research around disaster recovery and participated in panel discussions on e-governance and poverty reduction. Disaster management is not just a matter of rational design, and formal rules and procedures. Instead, it is a process of construction, reconstruction, and adaptation, dependent on forces inside and outside an agency.
    Korean Association for Policy Studies International Conference
  • As a special guest among chiefs of staff to members of the Korean National Assembly, Dr. Roberts spoke about “Birds of Passage: The U.S. Congressional Staff System.” The U.S. Congressional staff system has not grown to meet increasing workloads, and it risks giving more power to interest groups. However, the staff system is supplemented by deep expert knowledge in the Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service and Congressional Budget Office.
    Korean Association for Policy Studies
  • Dr. Roberts spoke at a workshop on managing risk at Kookmin Institute for Strategic Governance at Kookmin University. He also delivered a paper on risk and recovery after Hurricane Katrina, building on his book, Disasters and the American State. The assumption of a rational, Weberian do-it-all disaster agency collided with the reality of a networked FEMA and contributed to what we have come to think of as failure during Katrina.
    Kookmin Institute for Strategic Governance

“Recovery is an ongoing state, not just one point in the timeline. It’s more than preparing, experiencing a disaster, and staging a recovery. It’s all of those plus building healthy communities, setting goals, and building bridges to those goals with social capital.” –Dr. Patrick Roberts

Kookmin U. students also spent time with Patrick, who shared his expertise in public administration and homeland security plus details on the global, diverse and highly interdisciplinary higher education system in America. Korean students were curious about the bucolic setting of VT’s main campus and the range of programs available in the U.S., from community college to liberal arts schools to large scientific universities. Innovative SPIA offerings, such as the Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security Policy Dr. Roberts directs, proved buzzworthy.

Describing the connections made while traveling in Korea, Professor Roberts said, “I was fortunate to encounter such kind Virginia Tech alumni as hosts and meet new friends and colleagues. Seoul uses an official slogan, ‘I Seoul U,’ and now I realize that Seoul must mean ‘offer warm hospitality.’”

Considering how far-flung VT pride is, Hokie World is more accurate than Hokie Nation! A SPIA alumni movement is gaining momentum in Korea, with B. Joon Kim leading the way. Dr. Kim is an expert on e-governance implementation and Associate Professor at KMU’s School of Public Administration & Public Policy. He and several colleagues hosted Dr. Roberts on his recent Seoul trip.

Other prominent CPAP alumni in Korea include H.W. Boo, chief research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, who frequently speaks with the press about missile tests, nuclear power and North Korean threats. Soo-Young Park is now teaching at Ajou University after serving as vice governor of Gyeonggi Province, a booming region surrounding Seoul. Maeng Joo Lee teaches at Kangnam University. And former Virginia Tech professor Sang Ok Choi remains active as an associate professor at Korea University and continues to publish on public administration and emergency and crisis managment. In-Su Kim serves as a postdoc in residence at the Alexandria campus.

Ties between SPIA and Korean counterparts run deep, and collaborations will continue. SPIA Urban Affairs and Planning Associate Professor Yang Zhang and Professor Roberts prepared a report for the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation on “Managing Recovery after Major Flood Disasters.” These two scholars and the Woodrow Wilson Center will co-host Korean officials for a visit to Washington, D.C. in October. Building bridges among global scholars, administrators, and policy analysts is an important SPIA contribution to advancing global understanding on vital issues like disaster preparedness.

Connect with CPAP alumni in Korea by contacting B. Joon Kim via email.