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Number 514• November 20, 2008 | Past Issues













1) Direction for DHS? The Path Narrows

Recent buzz about President-elect Barack Obama’s potential cabinet choices could shed some light on the direction the Department of Homeland Security is headed. For weeks, pundits have listed what they see as necessary bullet points on the resume of the department’s next secretary. Opinions ranged from broad communication, leadership, and management skills to direct experience with counterterrorism, immigration, and disaster management.

Now, it looks as if the resume is finally in.

News agencies, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, reported Thursday that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was the likely pick to lead the controversial department. Napolitano, who has served as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general, has dealt with homeland security issues in her role with the National Governors’ Association. She also has extensive experience with U.S.-Mexico border security.

The question is, will that experience be enough to help her overcome the numerous agency obstacles, which include turf battles, management crises, continuous departmental reorganization, and many other well-publicized woes. Along with donning the prickly mantle of one of the most complex government agencies in history, the next secretary will still need to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, respond to disasters, and secure the nation’s borders. If Napolitano is officially nominated and confirmed, she’ll have to meet high expectations and overcome many challenges—including where to take the agency next.

On the campaign trail, Obama was less than talkative about how he would revamp DHS, although he alluded to several steps he would take. Those included five priorities: effective preparedness using comprehensive emergency response plans, increased support for first responders, improved interoperable communications, federal cooperation with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector, and risk-based fund distribution.

Some initial information gathering on how to best proceed is already under way. A department policy review has been launched and a long-term planning study is due in December. Until those results are in and a firm nomination is in place, DHS watchers will have to wait, see, and keep speculating.

Luckily they have lots of company—see the Web resources section below for a selection of online punditry and advice compiled about the presidential transition. And don’t miss Alexandra Jordan’s upcoming article in the January 2009 Natural Hazards Observer that looks at Obama’s take on security, preparedness, and climate change.

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2) Complaint Implies Oily Politics Kept the Sting out of BP’s Slap for Prudhoe Bay Spills

The investigation into two 2006 spills that allowed thousands of gallons of oil to soak the tundra wasn’t played out when the U.S. Department of Justice called it quits, according to a complaint filed this month by an nationwide environmental group.

Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility requested a probe into the shutdown, implying the Department of Justice could have been politically motivated to end a felony investigation of British Petroleum’s role in leaking more than 250,000 gallons of oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil field. The spill is considered to be the largest in Alaska’s North Slope area.

In 2007, the department allowed the oil company to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge and pay $20 million in penalties, according to the group’s press release. It did so over the objections of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Special-Agent-In-Charge Scott West, who asked for an extension of the 18-month investigation.

“Never … have I had a significant environmental criminal case shut down by the political arm of the Department of Justice, nor have I had a case declined by the Department of Justice before I had been fully able to investigate the case,” West stated in the release. “This is unprecedented in my experience.”

West, who recently resigned his post, believed a Bush appointee to the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division ordered the shutdown.

Allegations “that something sinister took place” are “simply not true,” according to a Department of Justice statement quoted in a McClatchy news article. “As with any investigation, there comes a point in time when further investigation is no longer warranted if it does not have a realistic chance of generating useful evidence.”

The probe request is under review by the Department of Justice Inspector General’s

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3) Shrinking Beaches Lead the Maldives to Bank on New Homeland

When you live on a series of white sandy islands threatened by the rising seas of climate change, preparedness becomes more than a best practice. That’s why the Maldivian government is saving up for the ultimate flood plain relocation program—the eventual replacement of their homeland.

"We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades," newly-elected president Mohamed Nasheed told The Guardian on November 10. “It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome.”

If sea level rise forces the Maldivians to abandon their atolls, many of which are less than five feet above water, they could seek higher ground in India or Sri Lanka, because of their similar cultures and climates, Nasheed told The Guardian. With the International Panel on Climate Change has predicting about 10 to 22 inches by 2100, investing a portion of the country’s $1 billion tourism budget might be a wise bet.

In the meantime, however, the Maldives is looking for more immediate monetary help to shore up the country’s fledgling democracy and improve social conditions, the Guardian reported. Read the complete story online.

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4) New Post Will Drive Disaster Risk Reduction Momentum

The United Nations has created a new appointment meant to increase international Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) action and cooperation, according to a U.N. statement
Monday. Margareta Wahlström has been named to serve as assistant secretary general for DRR, as well as the special representative of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in implementing the Hyogo Framework.

Wahlström, of Sweden, has 25 years of experience in disaster management
preparedness capacity building. She has held leadership positions in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and is a member of the Swedish Commission on Climate Change and Development.

Read the U.N. press release.

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5) Disaster Risk Reduction Focuses on Vulnerable Latin American Communities

Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas will get a needed boost, as well, thanks to a five- year, $4.5 million partnership between Florida International University and USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
The project will attempt to strengthen disaster risk reduction initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean by forming communities of practice—groups of stakeholders mobilized to consider disaster risk reduction strategies and act as agents of change.
We must address the region’s vulnerabilities,” stated FlU Professor Richard Olson who, along with Professor Pablo Sarmiento, will lead the project. “If disaster response is playing defense, this project is a real chance to play offense for a change.”
The pair plan to travel to disaster-prone countries such as Chile, Colombia, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and El Salvador, where they’ll talk to scientists, engineers, economists, and civic leaders to assess physical and social weaknesses and provide guidance on how to address them before a disaster strikes.

Read more about the project in the USAID/OFDA newsletter.

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6) Call Outs: Calls for Abstracts, Papers, Proposals, and More

Call for Participation
Evacuation Decision Making Survey
Georgetown University
Deadline: None set

Georgetown University researchers are asking emergency managers to complete an online questionnaire about evacuation decision making. Responses will be used for research sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The brief questionnaire is available online. The survey takes less than five minutes to complete and participants who share their e-mail address are entered into a drawing to win a Georgetown University sweatshirt. E-mails will be discarded after the drawing and are not connected to survey responses.

To learn more about the research project or ask questions, contact Professor Robin Dillon.


Call for Papers
International Community on Information Systems for Crisis Response and
Deadline: January 9, 2009
Research papers, research-in-progress papers, and practitioner presentations on information systems for crisis response and management are now being accepted. Submissions can be made for any of nine general tracks or a specific session in a track.
For more information on tracks and sessions, word limits, and how to submit, visit the ISCRAM Web site.


Call for Applications
Young Scientists Summer Program
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Deadline: November 19, 2009
Applications are being accepted for the International Institute for Applied Systems
Analysis (IIASA) Young Scientists Summer Program—a three-month residency offering
research opportunities to students whose interests correspond with IIASA’s ongoing research on global environmental, economic, and social change issues. This year’s program runs from June 1 through August 31.
Candidates should have a level of research experience typical for a student about two years away from receiving a doctorate or equivalent degree. For more information about the program and how to submit an application, visit IIASA Young Scientists.

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7) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see]
This recently-completed second phase of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s FEMA’s Recovery Transparency Initiative allows residents to monitor the status of rebuilding in their neighborhoods. Detailed maps, reports, and expected completion dates are included. The site is part of FEMA’s efforts to provide the public with information on how, where, and when rebuilding funds are being spent in the Gulf Coast.


Change for America
Those searching for yet another volume of opinion on how the incoming administration can get America back on track will want to check out Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th. The upcoming Center for American Progress publication includes sections on economics, domestic policy, and national security.  More than 10 chapters—including one written by Barak Obama’s transition chief John Podesta—are available for free download.


GAO’s 2009 Presidential Transition Site
Opinions about the transitional challenges facing the incoming administration and how to address them are rampant these days. Now the U.S. Government Accountability Office—a traditional transition resource—has weighed in with a Web site devoted to the switch, including urgent needs, long-term fiscal considerations, upcoming reports, and agency-by-agency issues.


The Political Economy of “Natural” Disasters
This Journal of Conflict Resolution article uses case studies and empirical evidence to examine differences in government disaster preparation and why international aid availability could lead to a lack of investment in preparedness measures. The full text is available online.


FEMA Learning Resource Center’s Disaster Bibliographies
From a video journal of 1969 Hurricane Camille to a simulation of the 2003 Station Night Club fire, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made accessing FEMA resources on specific events easy. The bibliographies of video, print, and other resources—some of them online—are arranged by category.


Copenhagen Climate Council’s Climate Community
When it comes to communicating about a changing climate, the Copenhagen Climate Council is changing it up with the launch of a new community where business leaders, academics, and government officials can brainstorm answers to the current crisis. Online forums, interviews, and a virtual summit will be features of the community, which is slated to go online in December.


DHS 2009 Grant Guide
The Department of Homeland Security this month announced $3 billion in federal grants would be available for state and local government preparedness efforts. The money will be awarded through 14 programs such as the Urban Areas Security Initiative and the Transit Security Grant program. Learn more about how your organization can make a successful bid for its slice of the security pie with this 27-page downloadable DHS guide.  

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8) Conferences, Training, and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

December 8-9, 2008
On Thin Ice: Addressing the Scientific, Economic, Environmental, Cultural, and Security Implications of Climate Change in the Arctic Region
Center for Stabilization and Reconstruction Studies and the Global Majority
Monterey, California
Cost and Registration: $100 before December 1, see Web site for registration process
This conference will provide a scientific assessment of projected climate change in the Arctic region, identify potential conflicts stemming from Arctic warming, and allow stakeholders to network and explore beneficial outcomes.


December 8-10, 2008
Second Canadian Voice Interoperability Workshop
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $375, open until filled
This conference will promote the transfer of best practices and develop an increasingly unified approach to public safety communications among public safety and emergency management interoperability practitioners.


December 8-12, 2008
Third Caribbean Conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management
Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency
St. Michael, Barbados
Cost and Registration: $530, open until filled
This disaster management forum reflects on, discusses, and measures the Caribbean’s progress in the context of the Enhanced Comprehensive Disaster Management strategy and programming framework 2007-2012.


December 10, 2008
National Risk Register Conference
London First and others
London, England
Cost and Registration: $591, open until filled
This conference will increase community safety and business continuity effectiveness by communicating partnerships and activities organizations must develop.


February 3-5, 2009
Fires, Floods, and Earthquakes: Turning Strategy into Action

Disaster Management Integration
Sacramento, California
Cost and Registration: $495 before January 4, open until filled
This training uses real world principles, practices, and lessons learned to give emergency managers the latest disaster management strategies. The emergency management phase integration will be discussed.


February 9-13, 2009
Hydrological Risks and Climate Change
Newcastle University
Newcastle, England
Cost and Registration: $221 to $812, open until filled
This course provides information on developments in flood risk estimation and flood plain mapping, drought risk and low-flow estimation, climate change, and future hydrological scenarios. Attendees will learn fundamental methods and theories underlying frequency analysis of rainfall and floods. Climate change impact and the limitations of existing future-climate scenarios will also be discussed.


February 18-20, 2009
Public Health Preparedness Summit 2009

National Association of City and County Health Officials
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $400 before January 15, open until filled
This conference will help public health and emergency preparedness professionals improve disaster and public health emergency planning, response, and recovery. Sessions will identify keys for public health preparedness, strategies for preparedness measurement, and preparedness resources.


February 25-27, 2009
ICESE 2009—International Conference on Earthquake and Structural Engineering
World Academy of Science, Engineering, and Technology
Panang, Malaysia
Cost and Registration: $256 before December 31, open until filled
Researchers, scientists, engineers, and students will share experiences, new ideas, and research results on earthquake and structural engineering and discuss practical challenges and possible solutions.


March 4-6, 2009
Third National Emergency Management Summit
International Association of Emergency Managers
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $995 before December 19, open until filled
The summit will assess risk and awareness of natural disasters, epidemics, and terrorism in the United States and set out practical approaches to planning, response, and recovery. The overarching goal is to increase disaster preparedness knowledge, learn to use scarce resources wisely, and effectively implement responses.


March 10-12, 2009
International Scientific Congress on Climate Change
University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Cost and Registration: $720 before January 10
The congress aims to synthesize the existing and emerging scientific knowledge to help make intelligent decisions about mitigation and adaptation in response to climate change.  The findings of the congress will supplement the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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9) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]

Coordinator for Emergency Operations
University of Texas
El Paso, Texas
Salary: $49,992
Closing Date: Not posted
This position is responsible for university emergency management programs and related technical and administrative activities. A bachelor's degree and four years of emergency planning experience working in emergency planning, management, or medical services, fire services, risk management, or hazardous materials management is required.

Emergency Operations and Security Manager
South Florida Water Management District
West Palm Beach, Florida
Salary: $80,537 to $138,049
Closing Date: Not posted
This position manages all elements of the district’s integrated emergency management and security management programs. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or related field and three years administrative experience including the direction of recovery or response to at least one major incident are required.

Emergency Management Officer
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Chicago, Illinois
Salary: $99,874 to $129,835
Closing Date: November 28, 2008
This position monitors and coordinates individual assistance activities under the Stafford Act. At least one year of experience equivalent to the GS-13 level of the federal service and experience with federal, state, and local emergency management recovery issues are required.

Disaster Risk Reduction Consultant
United Nations Development Plan (UNDP)
Khartoum, Sudan
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 25, 2008
This position develops disaster risk reduction documents using UNDP guidelines and will create a framework proposal for disaster risk reduction management based on regional initiatives. An advanced degree in international relations or related field and 10 years professional experience in crisis countries is required.

Shelter Department Senior Officer
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Geneva, Switzerland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 30, 2008
Responsibilities will include developing shelter risk reduction and preparedness and providing operational support to emergency response and recovery programs using technical assistance in program development, technical support to field deployment, or short-term field deployment if required. A degree or professional experience in structural/civil engineering, architecture, construction management, or a related technical field is required.

Project Manager
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 1, 2008
Responsibilities include managing disaster risk reduction project activities, ensuring communication between the center and other partner entities, and project administration. A degree in developmental studies, social science, or a related field and five years development sector experience are required.

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If you or your organization would like to add a job posting in the DR, please feel free to e-mail the information to

Questions for the readership and contributions to this e-newsletter are encouraged. Questions and messages should be indicated as such and sent to

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