Five Questions with Bert Struik

A Conversation between Shona de Jong and Bert Struik

Bert Struik retired from the Geological Survey of Canada and is an Adjunct Professor at Simon Fraser University and Emeritus Research Geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada. Dr Struik studied structural geology at the University of Calgary, receiving his PhD in 1980.

He served as the Director of the  Canadian Risk and Hazards Network, and more recently as technical support (2011 – ). He is also the founder and editor of the Risky Ground Newsletter of the Centre for Natural Hazard Research at SFU (2010 – ).

Dr Struik has spent 13 years managing and doing research into hazard assessment and risk assessment.


1. To what do you attribute your interest in disaster risk management (DRM) and when did you first become aware of your interest in this discipline?

Dr Struik: I was enticed into hazard research policy analysis, and then managing hazard assessment research. In 2004 -2005, I proposed that the Earth Sciences Sector of NRCan develop a geohazard-risk research program, and moved into research projects in that field in 2008. Early in that evolution, I developed an interest in promoting a National Land-use Code for hazard prone municipalities of Canada.

2. What do you do on the job and what are your favourite aspects of your work?

Dr Struik: Since retiring from the Geological Survey of Canada in 2014, I have supported further development of the Risk-based Land-use Guide (GSC Open File 7772), developed and supported workshops on hazard and risk related issues with SFU CNHR, ran the Risky Ground Newsletter and supported work at CRHNet.

3. What are some vital lessons your role has taught you? What do you think newcomers to the sector need to hear? What do you think sector veterans need to do to support newcomers?

Dr Struik: It is all about human (basic animal) dynamics. Risk reduction’s biggest influences are the shock of disasters, quickly tempered by politics and socio-economics. Understanding how to reduce risk is mainly about understanding people and how they think about the future. Risk is about the future. Since we have trouble perceiving the future, we have big trouble understanding and doing something about risk.

What I learned recently is that risk is non-stationary. Every potential change in the likelihood for a hazard event to occur, and in the number and vulnerability of assets exposed to that hazard, changes the risk. Mostly risk increases with time, and often exponentially.

And thirdly, amazing people are figuring out how to measure and reduce disaster risk. In places and time, their ideas are being incorporated into policy. Keeping track of it all is difficult, and it is often easier to think nothing is being done than realize the beneficial changes being made.

Oh, and trailer court (mobile home park) land-use laws are discrimination against the poor and a burden on society.

4. Which practice area is beyond the scope of your current work that you would most like to become involved in or what would your ideal DRM related job or project be?

Dr Struik: I want to get out of this, so I can spend more time doing things for my family and friends. If I had a second life, I would create visualizations of future disasters using artificial reality.

5: Looking ahead 10 years into the future, how will your current job description, roles and responsibilities change as a result of radical changes in technology, the environment (i.e. climate) or the economy?

The economy is about to drastically decline around the world, so the time to accomplish anything substantive is now. We are about to leave the “Hydrocarbon Age”.  The ideal is to isolate the most critical understandings, technologies and regulatory environments needed and to make them happen quickly, while resources are still available.

Research in risk needs to evolve to understand and use non-stationary risk. It needs to work hand in hand with those who create the future as a trusted artificial reality. That will capitalize on the influence of the shock of disaster. It will need to work hand in hand with risk mitigation research to provide alternate realities of low disaster-risk and high disaster-risk realities. It will need to figure out how to negate the influence of the movie industry, in such a way that decision makers viewing a risk-based alternate reality will understand that the reality is not fiction: It is a reality and therefore is very likely to happen.

These will not be my work. They would be the work of those still in the risk research and risk reduction business.

Further Reading


Presentation on risk-based land use planning:


Struik, L.C. and  Pearce, L.L. 2014. Land-use risk reduction: Achieving acceptable risk from hazards; (4.1MB)

Struik, L.C. and Hastings, N. 2014. Risk management scheme for land-use decision support; (2.8MB)

Struik, L.C. 2015: Living with slopes; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 6880, poster.

Struik, L.C. 2015: Living with creeks; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 6881, poster.

Struik, L.C., Pearce, L.D., Dercole, F., Shoubridge, J., van Zijll de Jong, S., Allan, J.D., Hastings, N., and Clague, J.J. 2015: Risk-based land-use guide: Safe use of land based on risk assessment; Geological Survey of Canada, Open File 7772, 2 volumes and a poster.

Risky Ground Newsletter of the Centre for Natural Hazard Research

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