Academic Spotlight: Dr Nat O’Grady
Dr Nat O’Grady is Postgraduate Research Director and Lecturer in Human Geography and Disaster at HCRI. Nat is a geographer with an interest in how technological innovations influence the geo-politics of security and governance.
“For me security is a way to understand how the world is shaped and reordered by the government,” Nat reflects. He believes his interests thrive in the environment that HCRI offers due to the variety of staff members who look at questions critically.
“What you get here is the opportunity to have conversations with people that are informed from completely different backgrounds and these conversations that we can have, informed by these different backgrounds, are centred on the specific site of humanitarian crisis,” Nat explains.
Nat’s research has examined the mechanisms of anticipatory governance with the UK Fire and Rescue Service. He explains how in the post-9/11 climate, there has been a push to take up these forms of governance which involve collecting data in order to predict possible future events.
With the UK Fire and Rescue Service, Nat looked into how anticipatory mechanisms, which were used for anti-terrorism security, could be used for fire response. He describes how technology was used in training firefighters by creating the illusion of a fire emergency scene through video and sound. After his thorough research on this project, Nat published his book ‘Governing Future Emergencies’.
Technology such as emergency infrastructures, Nat explains, can be important to humanitarian response.. For example, Nat has been following the Link NYC project, a free wifi infrastructure being constructed in New York. The project placed three thousand structures called Links across Manhattan. Each Link provides free Wi-Fi but can also be used to display public announcements in a crisis.
These Link kiosks can also be found in Manchester but use much less emergency communication functions. Nat reflects: “These technologies, depending on where they are, will have different ramifications to how humanitarian response actually takes place.” He explains that this is due to the interests of the developers who make the technologies. Nat acknowledges the challenge this creates as it makes it harder for new mechanisms to be placed in areas where humanitarian disasters are more frequent and have worse impacts.
Nat’s research continually highlights the positive and negative influences technology has on the humanitarian sector. For example, social media has had a great impact on how much information emergency response organisations can collect. On the other hand, social media has increased the circulation of fake news causing problems with people’s understanding of reality.
Similarly, Nat wants his students to be able to think critically just as he believes people should be towards misinformation. He says: “Not just to criticise things but to continually question what’s laid out to them as a way of building new worlds in effect.” Nat looks forward to developing his research at HCRI in order to address new developments in the humanitarian context.